The Royal Navy swoop in to keep Remembrance in Cornwall and the South West moving

The Veterans Charity when working with Great Western Railway on the 2023 Routes of Remembrance event (based on Poppies to Paddington from 2020), we found out that the railway would be closed for improvement works, between Penzance and Plymouth meaning there would be no trains to carry the dozens of wreaths from Cornwall to Paddington Station.

We set about seeking the assistance of with Captain Stuart Irwin’s RN team at Royal Navy Air Station Culdrose to provide a Merlin helicopter, on a routine training flight, to carry poppy wreaths from their base, to the Royal Citadel in Plymouth. Home of 29 Commando, to then be delivered to Plymouth railway station ready for the first train from the south west to platform 1 at Paddington Station.

The Veterans Charity invited participants from previous years, to deliver wreaths to the Bodmin Armed Forces and Veterans Breakfast Club (AFVBC), the Veterans Halt – home of two more Cornish AFVBC’s or the Helston Community Hospital, who also agreed to support the collection of wreaths.

Wreaths were received from Bodmin on bonfire night after overcoming some challenging weather and some serious traffic issues in Cornwall. On the morning of the 6th, the wreaths collected at Helston Hospital, celebrating it’s centenary events, when they held a special hand over service and blessing to The Veterans Charity team.

On Monday 6 November one of our Trustees, led a group consisting of Derek Thomas MP, the mayors of Helston and Penzance, the NHS Armed Forces Network lead, and veterans representing, the Penzance, Penwith, Camborne & Redruth, Helston, Falmouth & Penryn Veterans Breakfast Clubs, a standard bearer from the Royal Navy association and the Penzance Station Manager.

Mr Pete McQuie led the organisation of the visit and was supported by the regional Royal Navy South West Engagement team led by Commander Steve Henaghen, Lt Cdr Trevor Brookes and  Lt Cdr Andrew Murray, whilst Lt Cdr Steve Ivill, a veteran participant of a number of very special Routes of Remembrance in Cornwall.

After a visit to the Mess, the guests were led to 814 Squadron for a memorial service and then were escorted to the balcony viewing area, whilst the Merlin Mk2 was refuelled on the pan and wreaths loaded. Once cleared for take off the Merlin lifted off with a flyby for the guests and then headed to The Royal Citadel in refinery.

With the planned engineering work preventing trains from running between Penzance and Plymouth, GWR also arranged a replace bus service for the fourth Poppies to Paddington event, that departed Penzance bus station at 11.30am on 9 November, driven by an infantry veteran working for Go Cornwall buses. Who was honoured to be carrying our cargo of remembrance.

In World War I London buses were utilised to carry troops to the battlefields of France and Belgium, so it was another fitting replacement to the trains.

This year we were remembering 70 years since the end of the Korean War, often referred to as the forgotten war.

We will especially remember the 81,000-Armed Forces personnel who took part in the Korean conflict, particularly those of the Gloucester Regiment and the Royal Fusiliers, who were involved in some of the heaviest fighting and have links to the GWR region.

Six ‘Poppy’ trains are expected to collect more than 200 wreaths from GWR stations ahead of the service at Paddington’s iconic Tommy war memorial by Charles Sargeant Jagger, on Platform 1. A number of local train services such as Barnstaple, Exmouth and Redhill also joined the Inter City trains.

Iain Henderson of The Veterans Charity, said:

“When I asked GWR in 2020 to borrow a GWR Inter City train, to carry wreaths to the capital, initially just to help one elderly veteran upset at the loss of several key anniversaries in 2020 because of the pandemic, such as VE Day 75, so he could have something he could safely take part in. Has now grown into a global event, supported by HM Armed Forces, Commonwealth nations and NATO allies, as well as many organisations and transport companies. Thank you to all that help us keep remembrance moving”.

Captain Stuart Irwin, RNAS Culdrose, said:

“An aircraft on a training sortie was available so we were delighted to step in on this occasion and help with this annual event. Remembering those who have lost their lives in the defence of our country is important to us here at RNAS Culdrose.”

GWR Sales and Marketing Director, Amanda Burns, said:

“We’re incredibly grateful to RNAS Culdrose and Go Cornwall for supporting our fourth Poppies to Paddington operation and ensuring poppy wreaths from Cornwall can be placed by the war memorial at Paddington.

“Poppies to Paddington was conceived in 2020 to ensure communities within the GWR network could honour our fallen heroes despite the restrictions in place around Covid-19, and this kind-hearted gesture by RNAS Culdrose and Go Cornwall sums up the very essence of the occasion.”

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