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APPALLING DECISION TO CLOSE ST GEORGE’S CHAPEL, BIGGIN HILL, MUST BE REVERSED By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

04 Jan 15. Forgive the rare intrusion on a Sunday but when the ‘Mail on Sunday’ story informing readers about MoD plans to close St George’s Chapel, Biggin Hill in order to save a paltry £50,000 annual running costs was brought to my attention my first thought was that this just could not be true. My second thought was that with a General Election now just four months away this was not just an ‘own goal’ by the Minister of State for Defence, Anna Soubry, MP for Broxtowe but a plan that when a certain occupant of 10 Downing Street gets to hear about will hopefully be aborted.

Sadly I can confirm that the ‘Mail of Sunday’ St George’s Chapel closure story is true and even worse, one that Minister of State for Defence, Anna Soubry has gone out of her way to defend. The hapless or should I say callous minister who has only been in the House of Commons since 2010 says of the decision to close the chapel in 2016 that spending £50,000 a year on keeping it open is “inappropriate use of defence resources”.

St George’s Chapel stands on the site of the former Royal Air Force station at Biggin Hill, Kent, arguably the most famous and adored of all former Battle of Britain fighter stations in the south of England. As we line up to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain later this year it seems to me that the high handed decision to close St George’s next year pays callous disregard of such a revered place and one that is a very fitting and beautiful memorial to 544 British and Commonwealth airmen who lost their lives in the most important battle ever to be fought over the skies of Britain. The decision also shows complete disregard for what was designed to be a permanent shrine of remembrance.

As the ‘Mail on Sunday’ reminds us, this was a chapel that enjoyed huge support when it was built from former Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. He said in 1951 at the time of its construction and when funds to build such a place were equally short that “as a nation we have short memories, and it is as well [this memorial] should bring to our remembrance the cost of victory in the days when one of our fighter pilots had to be worth ten. They died without seeing the reward for their efforts; we live to hold their reward inviolate and unfading”.

May I also remind the hapless MP for Broxtowe that Sir Winston Churchill is buried in the churchyard at Bladon, Oxfordshire, a truly wonderful place that I know well and that also happens to be within the Witney constituency of Prime Minister, David Cameron. Later this month we will remember that it is fifty years since the great wartime leader died in January 1965.

May I also remind her that at the same time that she has been actively supporting MoD proposals to close St. George’s Chapel she has been embroiled in a decision by Kimberley Town Council, a place within her own constituency, to spend £40,000 on work to Kimberley Cemetery Chapel. While she claims on her own constituency website, “the chapel [Kimberley Cemetery] is a lovely building enjoying magnificent views and that it should be modestly restored” it seems to me  that she neither has any like, comprehension or understanding of why memorials such as St George’s were built and of what they mean and say to so many people.

I doubt that this particular Minister of State has ever bothered to go to St George’s Chapel. I doubt too that she has bothered to go to the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede and read the many messages left by families of those airmen and women no longer with us and whose bodies were never found. I regularly go to Runnymede and I will never forget.

I wonder whether the Minister has bothered to go up to the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas in Staffordshire yet or to the Bomber Command Memorial in Piccadilly. How wrong it is that defence policy should be in the hands of people that just do not understand and even less care that those who lost their lives in the defence of freedom did it for us. How sad that this Minister has no love or comprehension of Laurence Binyon’s beautiful words found in the poem For the Fallen:

‘they shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning we shall remember them’.

Anna Soubry should back down on this appalling decision to allow the MoD to close St George’ Chapel down in 2016. If the MoD has no wish to fund the future of such a beautiful and iconic memorial and one that is still revered not only by Battle of Britain survivors but by families of those that were lost and whose are celebrated then she should go out of her way to find an alternative solution or organisation prepared to stump up the very small amount of funding required to keep this very fine chapel that I myself have visited going as the permanent memorial that the late Sir Winston Churchill envisaged.

hwheeldon@wheeldonstrategic.com

Tel: 07710 779785

 

 

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