The sun shone on Minster yesterday (August 16) as a crowd gathered to celebrate, remember and mark the 80th anniversary of the death of Belgian Fighter pilot Flight Lieutenant Baron Jean de Sely Longchamps DFC who is buried in the village cemetery.
Baron Jean de Selys Longchamps DFC was a Belgian aristocrat and RAF fighter pilot during World War II. He is chiefly known for his single-handed attack on the Gestapo headquarters in Brussels in German-occupied Belgium.
On August 16, 1943, Selys Longchamps was killed while attempting to land at RAF Manston, his landing gear having been damaged by German Flak during a mission over Ostend.
Yesterday a service was held in the cemetery with more than 130 guests including Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Kent James Ryeland, members of the de Selys family who travelled from Belgium for the occasion, members of the 609 squadron, Wings of Memory Belgium, French biographer Marc Audrit, representatives from Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Kent County and Thanet District councils, the Armed Forces Parliamentary advisor, Canon Peter Bruinvels CC, KCC Armed Forces Champion Cllr Oliver Richardson, Tony Freudmann Managing Director of RiverOak Strategic Partners, Royal British Legion groups from across Thanet, ATC from Manston and 6 standard bearers.
Also in attendance was Heather Carson, 96, who is the last living person to have had a meal with the Baron the night before his death at Cleve Court.
Birchington Silver band played both the Belgian and British national anthems and entertained the guests as they arrived. The event was supported by Minster Parish Council , Minster and Monkton Royal British Legion Club and RSP.
A parade formed up at the cemetery entrance area and proceeded to the grave of Baron Jean de Selys Longchamps led by a local Royal Air Force Cadets and standard bearers. Parade marshal was Clive Bowles, Minster and Monkton Royal British Legion.
Twelve wreathes were laid and one beautiful floral tribute from the de Selys family. An F-16 fly past, flying low over the cemetery, was carried out by 349 Sqn, the Belgian Air Component.
After the event, a buffet was available for all guests at Minster and Monkton Royal British Legion Club.
County Councillor Derek Crowe-Brown was one of the event organisers. He said: “We were delighted to have 96 year old Heather Carson attend the commemoration. She recalled as a 16 year old dining with Baron Jean de Selys Longchamps DFC, at Cleve Court, Monkton, a few hours before he was killed.
“She was the wife of former Thanet MP Edward Carson who, after being educated at Eton and Cambridge and passing through Sandhurst, obtained a commission in the Life Guards and served in Syria, Italy, and Germany.
“Other speakers included the De Selys family, Belgian biographer Marc Audrit, Cllr Gary Cooke, Chairman of KCC, Canon Peter Bruinvels, KCC Armed Forces parliamentary advisor for the armed forces covenant, Tony Freudmann, RiverOak Strategic Partners and a member of 609 Squadron.
“Along with 15 members of the de Selys family we had Princess Delphine attend, she is the half-sister of King Philippe of Belgium and daughter of former King Albert II.
“In addition, several members of Baron Jean de Selys Longchamps 609 Sqn came to Minster, travelling from RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire. In addition to overseas visitors from Belgium we had guests from France, Holland and the USA.
“In honour of Flight Lieutenant Baron Jean de Selys Longchamps an F-16 flypast by the Belgian Air Component rounded off the commemoration in the cemetery. Following the commemoration in the cemetery, Minster and Monkton Royal British Legion hosted a buffet lunch.
“Six members of the Minster and Monkton Royal British Legion spent several months planning the event. Special thanks to Birchington Silver Band, 2433 Squadron Air Cadets, local standard bearers and many military veterans that attended the commemoration.
Master of Ceremonies and committee member was Cllr John Quittenden, Chairman of Minster Parish Council.
“Special thanks to Minster Parish Council, Minster and Monkton Royal British Legion, RiverOak Strategic Partners and Coles of Minster.”