RFA ready to pay its respects at remembrance ceremonies

Topic: Fighting armsRoyal Auxiliary Fleet Storyline: Remembrance

Husband and wife Stephen and Lisa-Marie Channing will be among 15 Royal Fleet Auxiliary sailors representing their service as the nation remembers this weekend.

Normally out of the limelight, RFA personnel will be on very public show at the Festival of Remembrance in the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday night, and again the following morning taking part in the National Act of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in London.

The RFA has served alongside the Royal Navy since 1905, providing a vital support function – initially mostly fuel, but today beyond tankers it operates ammunition/stores vessels, amphibious support ships, the aviation training/casualty treatment ship RFA Argus, and two brand-new command ships: RFA Proteus for seabed surveillance and monitoring and RFA Stirling Castle as a mothership for hi-tech autonomous mine hunting systems.

In doing so it has served in harm’s way in every major conflict the Royal Navy has fought – both World Wars, the Falklands, the two Gulf Wars – and suffered heavy losses as a result.

Today RFA ships are deployed in the Gulf, Mediterranean and in home waters.

Four RFA personnel will be involved in the Royal British Legion-led event at the Royal Albert Hall, while 11 comrades will lead the contingent of civilian services – such as the Coastguard – marching past the Cenotaph on Sunday.

Like many personnel across the Services taking part in this weekend’s ceremonies across the land, marching down Whitehall presents a proud moment to honour relatives who died for King or Queen and Country.

“My family have lived in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight for generations,” said Stephen, from Ventnor on the Isle of Wight.

“The war memorial in our local park has the names of my family members who were killed in action during both world wars,” said Stephen.

“Being part of the November ceremonies is a chance for my wife and I to pay our respects to not just our own family members who have served our country but to all those who have served & to the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Also on parade in Whitehall is Chief Officer John James. “It is an absolute privilege for the RFA to be leading the Civilian Services Contingent at the Remembrance Parade in 2023,” he said.

“The team has been training very hard and I'm really proud of them. They are all dedicated sailors who have seen significant but varied service in the RFA and it's a pleasure to march alongside them.”

Steward Karen Howell’s family history spans both world wars – and considerable sacrifice: a great granddad who fought at Jutland, another who served at the Khyber Pass and subsequently as an air raid warden in WW2, a great great uncle killed at the Battle of the Ancre (in the closing stages of the Somme), a great uncle in the RAF who was posted missing, and finally a granddad and grandma who both served in the RN in WW2.

“They made the family proud and I hope I do the same by representing the Royal Fleet Auxiliary,” said Karen.

“Remembrance Day has always been extremely significant to my family. It’s a day to remember and honour the members of the armed forces who have died in the line of duty, but to also remember those who are currently serving and protecting our country.”

Assistant Chef Dylan Thomas volunteered to be one of the 11 marching past the Cenotaph “to remind those that the RFA also helped fight in World War 2.
“I’ve always gone to Remembrance Sunday with my dad growing up, so it’s always been a big part of our family as my dad was in the RFA for many years. I will also be thinking of my great grandfather Jack as he was wounded in the trenches in World War 2”

The RFA contingent has been prepared for the ceremonies by former Royal Navy Warrant Officer Barry ‘Dickie’ Henderson who now works for the RFA as a management instructor and ceremonial officer.

“Having been involved in state ceremonial throughout my career, I have carried out over 15 cenotaph and Royal Albert Hall events,” he said.

“No year is any more important than the last, every year carries the same meaning to me. It’s about remembering those who have fallen, those who continue to fall, both regulars and reservist of all armed forces, the supporting services, for which the armed forces cannot fight without, and the families of all.”