The event was the culmination of an idea which must have begun with the formation of the Association in 1975 but only really began to take shape about three years ago.
The Arboretum, which opened in 1997, comprises 150 acres of trees and memorials devoted to the remembrance of those have who lost their lives in the service of their country as members of the armed forces. Peter Heys, the Association Chairman and Ken “Nobby” Clark both visited the arboretum in 2003. Both returned convinced that we had, at last, found the site where we should erect a memorial to the men lost in Hood.
Plans were discussed at the Reunions in 2006 and 2007. Following that there followed a period of intensive work by the Committee to agree the budget, design and contracting arrangements. These continued through the spring of 2008 and concluded with the service on Saturday 25 October.
The service was always going to be an occasion on which many varied feelings would be with those present: remembrance, thanksgiving and pride among them. But the day was given an more solemn reflect full air by the recent passing of the Association’s President and the last of the three men who escaped alive from the loss of the ship, Ted Briggs. Although we were all sad that Ted was not with us in person I think we felt that he was there with us in spirit and all hoped that he would have approved!
Members gathered at the Arboretum from around 10.15 on what was initially a bright day but with a biting wind blowing across the arboretum grounds. We were able to have a cup of tea or coffee and look through the albums of memorial photographs which had been brought along by Paul Bevand as well as a display of photographs of past Association events which Commander Keith Evans had provided.
At 11.30 we made our way outside to the memorial which was covered with a White Ensign. As well as Association members we were honoured to be joined by representatives of the navies of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Poland all of whom were there to remember their own countrymen who died in the ship.
Standard bearers from the H.M.S. Hood Association, Derbyshire Royal Naval Association and the Fleet Air Arm were brought to attention and marched forward. The White Ensign was lowered to half mast.
Our Chaplain, the Venerable Archdeacon John Green began the service with an opening prayer. Keith Evans welcomed everyone and expressed his personal regret that Ted was not with us. He then read an account of the loss of the ship from Ted’s book Flagship Hood. The service continued with prayers: a commendation of the 1,415 men who were lost with the ship, a prayer for the ‘Hood family’ – all of us who are brought together by our common interest in remembrance, and for the armed forces of today and they continue to work for our freedom. We then said together the Our Father and the Naval Prayer before singing Eternal Father Strong to Save. By this time there were spots of rain in the air and the biting wind was worse than ever.
Then came to the climax of the ceremony as Rear-Admiral Wilcocks, who lost his Uncle in the sinking of Hood, came forward and unveiled the memorial. Archdeacon Green read the dedication and Act of Remembrance.
This was followed by the Last Post and a period of silence. Wreaths were laid as follows:
Peter Heys, our Chairman, on behalf of Ted Briggs;
Commander Keith Evans, our Vice-Chairman, on behalf of the H.M.S. Hood Association;
A Royal Marine officer, in memory of the Marines lost in Hood;
Lt. Commander Oborn, on behalf of the Royal Australian Navy, in memory of the 4 Australian Seamen lost in Hood;
Commander Hoey, on behalf of the Royal New Zealand Navy, in memory of the New Zealand Paymaster Sub-Lieutenant lost in Hood and also on behalf of the French Navy in memory of the 5 Free French sailors lost in the ship;
Commander Stovell, on behalf of the Royal Canadian Navy in memory of the 3 Canadian Midshipmen lost in Hood;
Two Flag Officers of the Polish Navy, in memory of the 4 Polish Midshipmen lost in Hood;
Mr. Nicholas Evans, on behalf of Pangborne School in memory of the 3 former scholars who were lost in Hood;
Mr. Duncan McDonald-Heaney, on behalf of Battlecruiser Hood, South East London Memorial.
Following the laying of wreaths, the service concluded with the singing of the National Anthem and a Blessing.
After the service we all returned to the Arboretum building where refreshments of wine and sandwiches were available. There then came the cutting of the cake which was splendidly adorned by a large Hood badge. This ceremony was performed by Commander Keith Evans and Ann Davidson, daughter of William Stone, our oldest member who was unfortunately not able to be with us on the day.
Following the cutting of the cake Paul Bevand proposed a vote of thanks to Peter Heys, Commander Keith Evans and Derick Collins on whom had fallen the burden of all the organisational work for the ordering of the memorial, the liaison with stone mason and Arboretum about the placement as well as the considerable work that had been involved in organising the dedication service itself. Peter responded by thanking members for their support and attendance and particularly Archdeacon Green who had agreed to be our Chaplain and had done such a splendid job with the service. Archdeacon Green said that it was an honour for him to be the Association’s Chaplain and that we form a vital link between the Royal Navy of the past and the Royal Navy of today.
Following those few informal speeches, members began to leave at the end of what will be a day that will live long in the memories of those who attended.
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