by James Snaith
The grave of Baron Jean de Selys Longchamps. Picture: Minster Matters
A fighter pilot ace who performed a dramatic raid on the Gestapo for the RAF was remembered in Minster on the 70th anniversary of his death.
Many leading members of the armed services, villagers and others from the Thanet, Kent and Belgium communities came together on an overcast day.
They gathered to commemorate the bravery of Baron Jean de Selys Longchamps, who had links to the Belgian royal family. He was killed instantly when he crash-landed his Typhoon fighter-bomber at Manston on the August 16 1943, aged 31.
Seven decades on, ten of de Selys Longchamps family members, journied from Belgium to attend the special two-hour service at Minster Cemetery where he is buried.
The commemoration made history for the Wings of Memory (WoM) Belgian organisation, set up to mark and preserve the memory of lost Second World War airmen for future generations. It was their first event outside Belgium.
Standard bearers at the Wings of Memory Service. Picture: Minster Matters
Also present were the Chief of Defence of the Belgian Air Force, representatives of the RAF 3 and 609 squadrons with whom the baron flew, Ramsgate ATC, Royal British Legion standard bearers from across east Kent, Thanet district councillors and Minster parish councillors, WoM members and other dignitaries.
More than 20 wreaths were laid at the grave and there was a flypast by a Typhoon from 3 Squadron and 2 F-16’s from the Belgian Air Force.
Minster Royal British Legion also played a prominent part.
Children from Minster and Monkton schools scattered poppies over the cemetery’s war graves.
Guests at the Wings of Memory Service. Picture: Minster Matters
Wings of Memory chairman Chris Van Heghe said the occasion was important for the countries the airman represented, his family and WoM.
He said: “We are very happy to see that his memory still lives and that people are interested in what we are doing, we are very grateful that the people of Kent are helping us with the commemoration.
It’s always important to remember, to make sure people who fought in the conflict are not forgotten, what they did and achieved for our freedom and liberty is recognised.”
The fighter ace, who forged papers so he was able to join the RAF, flew out of Kent on a number of occasions with the 3 and 609 squadron.
He was also remembered for his rebellious actions of bravery which are legendary in Belgium.
The laying of wreaths withSquadron leader Jeff Metcalfe of RAF 609 Squadron. Picture: Minster Matters
Mr Van Heghe said: “The most important thing he did was a raid on the Gestapo headquarters in Brussels.
“He did not have the authority to do it at the time, but he did it on his own and gunned the Gestapo headquarters.”
Among the baron’s remaining relatives who journied to Minster was his niece, Sybille, who was just one when he was killed.
She said: “I have never seen his grave and it was quite emotional to see it for the first time.
“I don’t remember him, I was too young, but he was quite a poet, just before he died he wrote me my first love letter for my 1st birthday and I kept that as a souvenir.
“He was a very courageous man like many other soldiers, we were very lucky to have someone like that in the war.
“He helped saved Europe and it’s very good that young people and the British people keep it in mind and the memory alive.”
Baron de Selys Longchamps died returning from a mission over Ostend, when his aircraft is thought to have been hit by flak.
The 2433 (Ramsgate) Squadron Air Cadets band led by Wing Commander Cliff East. Picture: Minster Matters
Flight Lieutenant, Robert Barckley, 93, who served with the baron in Kent, travelled from North Wales to remember his fallen comrade.
He said: “He was a special friend of mine when we were flying Typoons. There were quite a few Belgians flying with us.
“At the time of his death I was in Spain trying to get home after being shot down in France. I didn’t find out he had gone until I had got back.
“I’m not an emotional person, you can’t be because you used to lose so many friends and pilots but I was very sad. He was a very nice person and terrific pilot and the sort of person you don’t want to lose.
“I’m pleased I could come here today to remember him.”