61c – Thorney Island Part II

As we rounded the southern edge of Thorney Island and started our way back north, we passed some strange looking structures out in the water, just beyond the shoreline.  It took me a moment to realise that these would have been navigational aids, guiding aircraft in to the runway just to our right.

Old Aircraft Lights at Thorney IslandJust beyond this we discovered a quiet corner of the island that gave us the most unexpectedly poignant experience of today’s walk.  There were two memorial benches on a small piece of grass, looking out to Emsworth Channel.  One was dedicated to Corporal Sean Reeve of the 63 SAS Signals; the other to Acting Lance Corporal Steve Jones of the 264 SAS Signals.

SAS Memorial Benches

Both benches had ammunition boxes next to them, secured on a post.  Inside these boxes were Books of Remembrance, including photos of the men.  We walk passed so many benches dedicated so so many people; it was good to connect to these two faces of men now gone.

Sean Reeve Memorial BookCorporal Sean Reeve was 28 when he was killed, with three others, when their vehicle was blown up by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in June 2008.  He lived in Brighton and used to fish off both Shoreham Pier and Brighton Marina.  This is perhaps an odd thing for me to mention, but to me this was a strange co-incidence with our path around the coast of Britain.  We have walked along both Brighton Marina and Shoreham Pier during our Coastal Walk.  After over 400 miles, Brighton Marina was the first place we saw a fish caught; Shoreham Pier was the second.  We have not seen a single fish caught since then.  I read nothing into this.  It is simply a detail I could not help but notice.

Steve Jones Memorial Book cropped

Acting Lance Corporal Steve Jones, aged 25 when he died, was one of ten personnel killed when their C-130 Hercules was shot down north west of Baghdad in January 2005.  His parents chose this place for the memorial bench because Hercules aircraft once flew from here.

What is particularly sad is that, in both cases, the deaths of these men and their companions were considered to be preventable.  I remember when Sean Reeve died, as it was widely reported in the press that he and his colleagues had to use the more lightly armoured Snatch Land Rover they were travelling in due to vehicle shortages.  Their commander had requested replacement vehicles but had been refused.

The Hercules Steve Jones had been travelling in was not fitted with explosion-suppressant foam, something considered to be one of several  “serious systemic failures” in the RAF at the inquest to his death and the death of his colleagues.

These are sad facts; facts which perhaps one might find easier to forget and not dwell upon, but of course it is important to recognise, remember, and do something about them.

It is safe to say that my son had not been in the mood for walking today (nor for the four-hour round trip it took to get us to get here).  Although I had told him that we should be back in the car by 12:30 that afternoon, we arrived back late.  We found ourselves sitting at both benches for a while, contemplating the loss of these men and so many others.  Our walk was the weekend after Remembrance Sunday, and it was clear from the fresh poppies and other flowers that the families and friends of Sean Reeve and Steve Jones had come to visit recently.  We wrote in both books, before wrapping them back up in their protective bags and locking the ammunition boxes.  Then we headed off, continuing on our way.

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Landing Lights: N 50° 48.380 W 000° 55.296
  • Memorial Benches: N 50° 48.838 W 000° 55.973

Walk #61 Statistics (of which this post forms the third part):

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3 Responses to 61c – Thorney Island Part II

  1. That’s a moving and thought-provoking post. They were younger than our sons. RH

  2. Neal says:

    I am the brother of Sean (Vic, as he was known to his Squadron and others he served with).

    On behalf of Sean’s family I would like to thank you for your kind words and the sensitivity of your comments. As a family the love and pride we feel for Sean is beyond words. The messages left in the Books of Remembrance at his memorial bench are of great comfort to us all.

    Sean died a soldier but more than that he was a friend, a brother, a son but perhaps above all a good man. One whom we his colleagues, friends and family are blessed to have known.

    Both Steve and Sean were dedicated SF Signallers. I never met Steve Jones but every year since 2008 on 11/11 I have met his parents for Remembrance. I know he was a wonderful son and brother and highly regarded by his colleagues.

    The vehicle Sean was in at the time he was killed and for the duration of his tour was a Snatch Land Rover. A vehicle designed for urban use in Northern Ireland and later modified for Iraq and Afghanistan. The IED that killed Sean and his three colleagues Sarah, Paul and Richard was estimated to be in the region of 50 – 100kg of explosives. A device capable of inflicting enormous damage to any armored vehicle. In this instance the issue was that the Snatch was not capable of taking an off-road route which lead them to be channeled into a vulnerable area which they need not have been forced to travel had a more suitable vehicle been made available.

    Sean had volunteered to extend his tour by two months in order to pass on valuable knowledge to his replacement, a newly qualified signaller who has since gone on to serve several tours tours in Afghanistan.

    On the day he was killed Sean had already been “stood down”, no longer on duty from the day before in preparation and awaiting his transport out to Camp Bastion for his flight home. News came through of a Taliban breakout from a local prison. Although no longer on duty, in the knowledge that he had a day to spare he volunteered for the operation to his commander.

    Sean was killed on the 17th June 2008. He was repatriated and returned home to RAF Lyneham on the day of his 29th birthday, 23rd June 2008.

    Sean Reeve touched the lives of many during his short stay on this earth and I count myself as one of them. I still remember the day he was born. He was always special. He always will be.

    • Wingclipped says:

      Dear Neal –

      Thank you very much for your comment, and for the further information. Even though it has been two years since we passed through Thorney Island I remember this spot very well. It is a quiet place that I imagine is not frequented by many people, at least compared to many of the coastal places we have travelled through, but the number of comments in the two books and the words written show that it has touched many people and that neither your brother nor Steve Jones will be forgotten.

      All the best

      Nic

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