Group Captain Mike Neville, Director of Strategy and Fundraising at the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, tells us about the recent opening of the MOD Lyneham Garden of Remembrance. Mike was station commander at then-RAF Lyneham for two years, during which time 200 servicemen were repatriated through Lyneham from Iraq and Afghanistan. Here, Mike tells us of the importance of the Garden.
The opening of the Garden of Remembrance was an amazingly moving ceremony and my first time back to RAF Lyneham since it had migrated to become MOD Lyneham, a centre for engineering excellence and the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers training.
The service was attended by a very large number of families who had lost their loved ones on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and who had been repatriated through RAF Lyneham.
I recognised many of the faces and seeing them again reminded me of those dark days when we were repatriating too many of our brave 'boys'. During my two years in command alone we repatriated 200 servicemen.
I knew some of these men and one in particular I knew very well – Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe.
I was very touched by Sally Thorneloe's extremely kind comments to me at the Service that although the team at RAF Lyneham couldn't have made the day of her husband's repatriation any easier, doing what we did in the way we did it made the day bearable. That was all I ever asked of my team. Unless we got it right on every occasion, families could have faced an even more trying and difficult time, and that was unacceptable.
To hear Sally compliment us for a job well done, despite how poignant the day was for her, made me think how much I valued my team at the time, how proud I was that they treated every repatriation as if it were their first, and how they took responsibility at every level to ensure the day went as well as it could possibly go.
I always told my team to imagine that it was their family at the repatriation and ask them to think of what their families would want and need at that most tragic of times.
Seeing the Station again and the wonderful Memorial to those fallen men did more than bring a tear to my eye – it made me reflect on the people we lost, the bereaved families and friends, and my team who did so much to make the repatriations as bearable as possible.
The Garden of Remembrance is a fitting way to remember a part of what was RAF Lyneham's role in supporting defence and it gives grieving families a beautiful place in which to reflect upon their loved ones.