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Combined Operations Pilotage Parties

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A private visit by HRH The Prince of Wales

1st July 2015

 

 

  We were delighted to welcome our patron His Royal Highness Prince Charles to visit the COPP Memorial on Wednesday July 1st this year. He spent over an hour on the site, laying a wreath and listening to an excellent introduction and short prayer by the Reverend Pennie Paine.
 
This was followed by a splendid speech by the Hon. Timothy Knatchbull, Lord Mountbatten's grandson, who was deputising for his mother Countess Mountbatten. Mr Knatchbull said the Island has a special place in history as the location of one of the most remarkable, important but little known units of the Second World War.
 
The Prince had a special word with the 4 remaining COPPists, JIm Booth, John Ashford, Roger Gilbert and Stanley Pond. He was also able to talk to Ian Piper whose generous gift of granite from the former Duchy Quarry made everything possible. He then met Mike Beel, Eileen Walton and Rosemary Satchwell of the organising committee.
 
A splendid additional feature was the performance of an anthem by the pupils of Hayling College.
 
Finally the Prince did an extensive 'walkabout' among the large crowd of well wishers.
 

 

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Timothy Knatchbull's speech.

 

 

Your Royal Highness,

I think it was in 2010 that Robin Walton and Jim Booth came to see you. The half hour booked in your diary turned into something very much longer, and it is typical of the support you give to caring citizens and local communities across the UK that you swung into action. The rest is history.

Robin and his committee were able to secure the generous support of so many extraordinary people and organisations that obtained this magnificent piece of granite, transported it from Cornwall, engraved it, and erected it here on Hayling Island.

Hayling Island has a special place in history, as the home of one of the most remarkable, important and little known units of the Second World War.

COPP was set up in 1941 on the instruction of Lord Mountbatten - the man you called Uncle Dickie - for me 'Grandpapa' . How proud he would be today that the bravery, sacrifice and dedication of the men of COPP were being honoured and brought to the attention of a new generation, in a way that will reach all future generations.

Anyone in doubt of the absolutely unique contribution of these men to the world we live in today should bear in mind this historic signal, sent from the Chiefs of Staff having visited the D Day landing beaches in 1944, to Lord Mountbatten, who had by then been sent by Churchill to be Supreme Allied Commander in South East Asia.

This is that message from the Chiefs of Staff:

‘Today we visited the British and American Armies on the soil of France. We sailed through vast fleets of ships with landing-craft of many types pouring more men, vehicles and stores ashore. We saw clearly the manoeuvre in progress of rapid development. We have shared
our secrets in common and helped each other all we could. We wish to tell you at this moment in your arduous campaign that we realise how much of this remarkable technique and therefore the success of the venture has its origin in developments effected by you and your staff of Combined Operations.
(Signed) Arnold, Brooke, Churchill, King, Marshall, Smuts.'

It is a very rare message in the long history of warfare, and it acts as testament to the unique contribution made by Combined Operations, and its almost unbelievably brave men, typified by the Pilotage Parties, the men we now know and love as COPPists. How wonderful that we have some survivors here today - they are VIPs above all others -  and their families. We salute you, and we thank you.

The one man above all who would have liked to be here would have been my dearly beloved grandfather Lord Mountbatten. How proud he would be of the recognition being given to the COPPists today.  His daughter, my mother Patricia, godmother to Prince Charles, has sent this message from her home in Kent.  Her name is Countess Mountbatten of Burma, and
many of you were here in 2012 to see her dedicate the memorial. It meant a great deal to her, as she had personal knowledge of the COPPS while serving as a Wren on the south coast.

This is her message:-

“I am so really delighted to know that HRH Prince Charles is visiting you today to lay a wreath at the wonderful COPP Memorial he was such a great help in achieving.

I am very sorry not to be present myself but do send everybody my best wishes and congratulations”.

As usual Mum has summed it up beautifully. Thank you to Robin Walton, Mike Beel, and all the hard working people in this community of Hayling Island which hosted these men in the hardest days of their lives, and helped them make it possible for us to live in freedom and prosperity. May they never be forgotten.

Your Royal Highness, when you are ready, Major Pilcher has your wreath, ready for you to lay. Thank you Sir for honouring these men.

 

 

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  AN ISLAND AT WAR By ROBIN WALTON
 

Hayling Island made an extraordinary contribution to the nation’s war effort during World War Two, yet it has always been overshadowed by its famous neighbour Portsmouth. As a result, it has been largely overlooked in official histories of life on the home front.

In 1939, the Island was virtually taken over by the armed forces, and the population trebled as holiday camps, hotels and large houses were all requisitioned for military use. A particular point of interest to emerge, is the huge contribution to the cause made by women serving in all sorts of capacities, and even the male dominated Civil Defence unit was under the command of a very smart lady.

The list of military activities is quite remarkable - landing craft training and repair, anti-aircraft defence, construction of elements of the D-Day Mulberry Harbour, the D-Day rehearsals, and not least the extraordinary Combined Operations Pilotage Parties unit based at Hayling Island Sailing Club.

All the while the civilian population got on with life as well as they could, joining the Land Army, Air Raid Wardens, Home Guard, and the Red Cross. Robin Walton has been tireless in seeking out so many fine stories, mementos and first-hand accounts of the war years, and especially a mass of wonderful photographs, which illustrate those times for us so effectively. 

The big story nationally and indeed internationally, has to be that of the Combined Operations Pilotage Parties, the top secret unit which was based at Hayling Island Sailing Club from 1943 up until the war’s end. Their memorial on Beachlands now forms the centrepiece of the Hayling Island WWll Heritage Trail, which runs along the Island’s southern shores, and is the very first WWll Trail in the whole UK..

All of this is beautifully captured in Robin Walton’s book, which highlights the enormous part played by women, just how young most of the people in our story were, and yet how mature they all seem in the many photographs illustrating our Island’s story.

 

 

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For further details about the book contact :

Robin Walton

50 Bacon Lane
Hayling Island
PO11 0DW

admin@coppheroes.org

Tel: 02392 718441

Author - Robin Walton

Illustrator - Mike Beel