The Parish Church of St Eval
On 14 September 1971 a Shackleton MR 2 from No 205 Squadron landed at RAF St Mawgan at the end of a long flight from RAF Changi, Singapore. On board the aircraft, captained by Flt Lt Travis Spurling, was a simple wooden cross which had been erected on Sin Cowe Island in the South China Sea to mark the grave of Fs D N G Dancy, the flight engineer of Shackleton VP254 which crashed on December 9TH 1958 with the loss of all on board. The cross and the body of FS Dancy were eventually recovered by HMNZS ROTOITI and HMS ALBION and landed ashore at Singapore. The cross was retained in the C of E Church at Changi until 205 Squadron disbanded in 1971when it was decided to return the cross and a Baptismal font cover presented to the Church by the Squadron in 1959 back to the UK. Both items were to be returned to the Parish Church of St Eval, in the words of the CO Wg Cdr R A Pendry “The Church of the Maritime Air Force”.
It seemed most appropriate that the CCMAA decided at their 2004 AGM that the Association needed a spiritual home and concluded that St Eval was the obvious choice. The church has provided a physical landmark for mariners and latterly airmen for centuries; it is the final resting place for many of our comrades; the community of St Eval made great sacrifices when the airfield was built, to provide an operating base for Coastal Command units and to this day the church has continued to give spiritual inspiration and comfort to serving RAF personnel.
Our Chairman, Andrew Neal, consequently wrote to the Vicar, the Rev Graham Shield, and the PCC asking that the CCMAA be allowed to “adopt” St Eval as “The Church for the Coastal Command and Maritime Air Association”. After discussions and consultations with the Diocese, this was approved. It was then agreed, that following the Association’s Annual Dinner in October, a service should be held at St Eval to mark the occasion.
On Sunday 16 October the service commenced at 1100 conducted by the Venerable Brian Lucas, past Chaplain-in-Chief of the Royal Air Force and the former Chaplain at St Mawgan who received the Cross from the 205 Sqn crew back in 1971. The order of service, kindly produced by Gillian Lovegrove, commenced with the hymn “God is our strength and refuge” to the tune of the Dambusters March, as an ex Dambuster (Vulcan not Lancaster!) I knew we were off to a good start. The church was packed with both Parishioners and members of the Association and all enjoyed a stirring and emotional service which included one of Padre Brian’s famous sermons. During the sermon the padre reflected that it was 50 years almost to the day that the first Neptune was lost together with all on board while on SAR over the Atlantic searching for a Spanish trawler. The first Neptune entered service with 217 Squadron at RAF St Eval in 1952, the area is steeped in Maritime Air History. The choice of hymns was robust and most appropriate and we were fortunate to have the internationally famous organist Jennifer Bate to lead us in some enthusiastic singing.
As part of the service Ann Spooner and Peter Gordon, on behalf of the Association, presented a copy of the book of remembrance to the Church, the book will remain on display in the Church. In addition the wreath laid on the Coastal Command Memorial by Her Majesty the Queen during the service in March 2004 was handed into the safekeeping of the Church. Following the service Parishioners and members retired to the Airways Inn to finalise the days events!
The service was an outstanding climax to a memorable weekend, I am not a religious man however each time I visit St Eval Church I always feel comfortable and at ease, I am forever grateful to the Parishioners of St Eval for maintaining the links with the past and hopefully we now have a link to the future. I commend those who have not already visited the Church of St Eval to do so, I guarantee you will enjoy visiting our spiritual home.
As part of the service a poem by the late Squadron Leader Tony Spooner DSO DFC AE was read by his widow Ann. Tony was a distinguished pilot in Coastal during the war and was instrumental in providing the Memorial in Westminster Abbey, in his memory I reproduce his poem:
|John Cairns, Events Sec. 205 Squadron Cross image from St Eval Church|