Honouring hills’ lost air crew

Five-year-old Leyton Blake from Chirnside lays a Remembrance Cross at the memorial.
Five-year-old Leyton Blake from Chirnside lays a Remembrance Cross at the memorial.

Around 20 hardy souls gathered in the College Valley to observe an Act of Remembrance for those air crews lost in the Cheviot Hills during the Second World War.

The event was organised by the Parade of Colours Team from Coldstream with assistance from Brian Humphreys of the RBLS Riders Branch (Jedburgh), Cadets of 1016 Berwick Squadron of the Air Training Corps and the Factors of the College Valley Estate.

Since the production of the documentary film ‘To The Border Bred - The Border Collie Story’, the Parade of Colours have kept a promise to the son and family of a United States Airman killed in the Cheviots on December 16, 1944 when the B17 (serial number 44-6504) crashed into West Hill killing Flying Officer Fred Holcombe and Sgt Frank Turner.

This incident also saw the award of the first (civilian) Dickin Medal - the animal VC - to a sheepdog called Sheila for saving the lives of four of the survivors.

Over the past three years, due to Risk Assessment and logistics, this Act of Remembrance has been observed at Wooler War Memorial but all were delighted to once again be able to return to the College Valley where the story began.

Everyone gathered at Cuddystane Hall on a lovely if bracing December morning to observe Remembrance and the promise made to Mr Rod Merrit (son of Sgt Turner) was once again fulfilled.

Thanks go to Andrew Spratt, Standard Bearer of Jedburgh Branch RBLS, who has not missed one of the previous Remembrance gatherings for this event - including participating in the documentary film.

Cadet Sgt Andrew Young gave an excellent recital of the USAAF Hymn, and Cadet Cpl Sam McWilliams deputised for the usual Parade wreath bearer Mrs Ali Martin.

Chirnside Primary 1 pupil, five-year-old Leyton Blake, laid a Remembrance Cross, on behalf of Mr Rod Merrit, in his own impressive style. At five he hasn’t quite mastered a salute yet but has a knack of doing his ‘own thing’ with a respectful bow of his wee head!

Speaking on behalf of the organising team, Keith Cockburn said: “Thanks must go Fl Lt Susan Gillies, PO Lucas Emmins, Sgt Richard McCrae and the Cadet Detachment of 1016 Sqn. Our association with the Cadets of the Squadron now extends over four years and they never fail to impress us with their impeccable manners, attitude, discipline and obvious pride in what they are undertaking.

“These youngsters are a credit to the Royal Air Force Cadets, to their officers, instructors and their families but more so - these Cadets are a credit to themselves. It is an absolute pleasure and privilege to associate with the Squadron and the Parade Team offer them our sincerest salute.”

In 2016 the Parade of Colours Team have travelled over 2,500 miles from west coast to east observing the Act of Remembrance at War Memorials in Stranraer to Blyth, and finally into the Cheviot Hills.

Their War Memorial Challenge 2017 will start on April 14 in Coldstream. The challenge next year - for Passchendaele 1917 - is 100.

Keith added: “We intend visiting approximately 45 memorials with the main Act of Remembrance in Newbiggin By The Sea at 6pm on April 14. On Saturday, April 15 we will join the Northumbrian Easter Egg Run at Woodhorn to cheer them off before the Parade Team continue their War Memorial Challenge to Whitley Bay, Blyth, Ashington, etc.

“Anyone wishing to join with us at a specific Act of Remembrance can contact me by email at kesbgm@hotmail.co.uk stating WMC17.

“Remembrance truly isn’t just for one day. Remembrance is in very good hands with the youth of our regions, they are after all our future.”