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HMS Campbeltown - alongside the Quai du Commerce

HMS Campbeltown in her final moments - extract from Jack Russell's painting 'The Greatest Raid of All'

The 50th anniversary of the raid was celebrated both in Saint-Nazaire and in the raiders' departure port of Falmouth. HRH the Duke of Edinburgh was guest of honour; and the new Type 22 frigate HMS Campbeltown hosted a reception while moored in the Bassin de Saint-Nazaire, close by the U-Boat Pens once home to the 6th and 7th U-Flotillas.

A total of 81 Charioteers took part in this emotional reunion, accompanied by 100 relatives and friends: and the occasion was marked by the presentation, to both Falmouth and Saint-Nazaire, of copies of Jack Russell's painting of the original HMS Campbeltown sailing through the darkness of the Loire Estuary at the head of her diminutive fleet.

At the dinner held in the Royal Duchy Hotel on Wednesday April 1st, and before proposing the silent toast to The Fallen, Captain Michael Burn, whose 6 Troop had suffered heavy losses in the raid, took time to remember Bill Gibson and Peter Harkness, two of his Troop Lance Sergeants who were both killed, recalling - 'How when we were on training, Bill and Peter used to go into pubs and, as if by accident, allow to fall out of their battledress pockets onto the bar photographs of Nazi parades and Hitler and so on. When people asked "where did you get those?", they would say, "Oh, just a little job we did the other day". And of course they got pints galore!'

Given that the passage of time was already beginning to take its toll of the Society's original Members, it was somehow fitting to remember just how young so many of the Sailors and Commandos had been when called upon to fight. At just 22, Bill Gibson was tragically representative of the many who, in the last days before their departure from Falmouth, wrote 'last letters' which they hoped would never be delivered to their families. In Bill's case the first paragraph of the letter he wrote to his father, reads, 'My Dearest Dad, by the time you get this I shall be one of the many who have sacrificed their unimportant lives for what little ideals we may have; my own ideals I can thank you for.' And the letter ends, 'It is unnecessary for me to say how sorry I am at not being able to do a lot of the things I've longed to do in order to pay you back for the chance you gave me. At a time like this I turn to you Dad and God: I hope there will be peace for everyone soon. My love to everyone. I'll remember you.'

1992: 50 years; a new century beckons

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