On Saturday 3rd July, Branch representatives we were welcomed in Brest to commemorate the sinking of the French fleet in 1940 at Mers-el-Kebir. The first part of the busy day was mass in the Church of Saint Louis starting at 09h00. Jimmy Rowe, who normally carries the Branch Standard was unable to be present so Mick Berrill, Branch Vice Chairman, kindly travelled up for the day in his place.
Present were representatives from HMS Hood Association among many others. The large side chapel of the Church was packed for the service, which was led by a priest who spoke very kindly and clearly. The wonderful organ playing was really special. This Church was razed to the ground during the first World War, with only the crypt remaining intact.
The fort at Pointe St Mathieu near Brest where the afternoon ceremonies took place on 3rd July
- the anniversary of the tragedy of Mers-el-Kebir
VIPs in the front row by the fort at the Pointe
St Mathieu during the ceremony
After the mass, the party moved to the Kerfautras cemetery, where they participated firstly in a ceremony at the Memorial, laying a wreath on behalf of the Branch, and then in another at the grave of the Unknown Sailor.
After lunch, the party travelled in hot sunshine to the Pointe St Mathieu, where they were entertained with talks while awaiting the arrival of the dignitaries: M Hubert Falco, Secretary of State for Defence; Sir Peter Westmacott, Ambassador for Great Britain; civil and military authorities; and a delegation of the association of former sailors of HMS Hood, presided over by Vice Admiral Wilcocks.
The Marseillaise was played, followed by speeches by the President of the Association, the British Ambassador and the French Secretary of State. Names of people wishing to lay wreaths (including one on behalf of the Branch) were announced before they stepped forward in line and laid them all together. The last post was played followed by the silence. After this, there were heart wrenching first hand accounts of the events on that dreadful day, as well as some poems. The party was invited inside the Cenotaphe before leaving for the Keraudy centre close by for a very welcome drink.
Memorial in Kerfautras Cemetery before the wreaths were laid
Memorial in Kerfautras Cemetery after the wreaths were laid
It was a long day, but branch officers thought it well worth going all that way, and were made so very welcome everywhere. One of the most useful aspects of these events is the opportunity to improve relations with French veterans and their organisations.
The wreath Rodney Curtis, Chairman, laid on behalf of the Branch
at Kerfautras Cemetery on Saturday 3rd July
French and British contingent after the ceremony