-H.M.S. Hood Association Online Archive-
Visit to Brest, France for Mers-el-Kébir Ceremonies, July 2006
Updated 06-May-2014

In July 2006, an official delegation from the H.M.S. Hood Association travelled to France to participate in memorial services for French servicemen who died as a result of the unfortunate and tragic action at Mers-el-Kébir in July 1940.

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July 2006 saw members of the H.M.S. Hood Association make a trip to Brest, France. The purpose of the trip was to join the members of the L'Association des Anciens Marins de Mers-el-Kébir in remembering the 1,300 French sailors who lost their lives in the July 1940 action between the Royal Navy’s Force H (of which Hood was flagship) and the French squadron under the command of Admiral Gensoul. This was the first official trip abroad by an Association delegation since a visit to the Bismarck memorial service in Germany in the 1980s. This trip was also historic in that it would be the first time veterans from the two sides had met one another.

The seeds for this visit were laid in 2005 when the annual Hood reunion was attended by L'Association des Anciens Marins de Mers-el-Kébir Vice-President Hervé Grall. Hervé, whose father was lost in the action, kindly invited the Hood Association to attend the French services. Hood Association President Ted Briggs was very keen to build upon the gesture of reconciliation which Hervé’s visit had represented. Unfortunately, due to his health, Ted was not able to make the trip to France himself. He was however, very glad to see members of the Association make the trip in his place.

Nobby at the Battle of the Atlantic Museum

The delegation travelled in two parties. Commander Keith Evans, who was representing Ted as the official delegate, travelled by car with his wife Heather. The second party comprised veterans Robert Philpott, Ken ‘Nobby’ Clark, Percy Price and web site researcher Paul Bevand. We flew across from Southampton to Brest Airport, and a very pleasant and trouble free flight we had. We arrived on Saturday evening and were met at the airport by Hervé who had arranged our accommodation at the Cercle Naval – the French Naval Club in Brest.

As Keith and Heather were not due to arrive until Sunday evening, the rest of our delegation spent a very pleasant day with members of the L'Association des Anciens Marins de Mers-el-Kébir. We met at the hotel at 10am. Our hosts were Commander Albert Ligner who served in Richelieu after the war, Marcelle Landure, Joëlle Podeur and Ronan Poilverd. Hervé brought with him René Wook, a French veteran who had served in the destroyer Lynx during the action. We were driven to the fishing village of Camaret where we had lunch. In the afternoon we had a tour of the Battle of the Atlantic Museum. Returning to Brest we met up with Keith and had an evening meal in a local restaurant before saying goodnight to our hosts.

Monday, being the anniversary of the action, was the day on which most of the formal events took place. After breakfast we were again met by Hervé and our hosts from the L'Association des Anciens Marins de Mers-el-Kébir. Unfortunately the morning was not kind to us weather-wise and, as we formed up outside the St Louis Church for the service of remembrance, there was a heavy downpour. Before the service, we met more French veterans including André Jaffre, one of the few survivors of the sinking of the Bretagne as well as relatives who had lost loved ones in the action.

Captain Butler, Rear-Admiral Traub, Vice-Admiral Laurent Meret, Ambassador Sir John Holmes, Brest Mayor François Cuillandre, Admiral’s secretary

After the service of remembrance we were driven across Brest to Kerfautras Graveyard. Before the formalities commenced, we had the opportunity to meet more French veterans including Jean Hatton, a survivor of battleship Dunkerque. This was the part of the day that would see the dignitaries from both sides join us. The French side we were joined by the Mayor of Brest, François Cuillandre and Vice-admiral Laurent Merer, Préfet Maritime de l’Atlantique and Rear-admiral Traub. Representing the British side was Sir John Holmes, the United Kingdom’s Ambassador to France and the Royal Navy’s attaché to Paris, Captain Nick Butler.

The Unknown MEK sailor’s grave

The service, which took place at the grave of the unknown sailor, included a guard from the French Navy and the band of Musique des Equipages de la Flotte. Standards were present from the French Naval and Veterans Association. The significance of the occasion and the desire for reconciliation was stressed by speakers from both France and the United Kingdom. Speeches were made by Hervé Grall, Keith Evans and Sir John Holmes.

The culmination of the service saw wreaths laid on the grave of the unknown Mers-el-Kébir sailor by both Associations and the civil and military authorities. The French press and TV were much in evidence and many of the veterans were interviewed afterwards. Following the service, we walked the short distance across the cemetery to the Mers-el-Kébir Memorial where wreaths were again laid.

We then moved onto the civic reception at Brest Town Hall which had been laid on by the Mayor of Brest. The Mayor made a speech to which Hervé made a reply. Afterwards there was a lunch and an opportunity for people to mix informally and exchange to stories. Having thought we had just had lunch, we were taken to a local restaurant for another one!

La RECOUVRANCE

After lunch we drove to the St Mathieu Memorial, Aux Marins Morts pour la France. Here we had a service in memory of the five Free French sailors who died in the sinking of H.M.S. Hood. Again there were speeches made, this time by the French Admiral, Keith for our Association and Hervé. There was again an impressive display of standards from the various French veterans Associations.

With that the formalities of the day were at an end. We adjourned to an inn for some light refreshments. We were able to chat informally with veterans and met Léon Le Roux, a Dunkerque survivor.

It had been a long and eventful day and there had been many emotional moments. I think we all felt, on both sides, that it had been a great success. We were of course especially grateful to Hervé and our friends from the L'Association des Anciens Marins de Mers-el-Kébir, who had driven us everywhere, made all the arrangements we could possibly need and had treated us as old friends and honoured guests.

We were delighted to welcome their reprensentatives to the annual Hood Association reunion dinner the following May.

Assorted Photos

Click on any of the photos below to view enlarged versions

Nobby Clark at Brest commercial harbour
Nobby Clark at Brest commercial harbour

Camaret Yacht Harbour
Camaret Yacht Harbour

(L-R) René Wook (survivor destroyer “Lynx”) with Robert Philpott and Percy Price
(L-R) René Wook with Robert Philpott and Percy Price

Nobby at the entrance of the memorial
Nobby at the entrance of the memorial

Visit to the memorial
Visit to the memorial

Nobby, Albert, Percy, memorial guide, Marcelle Landure and Joëlle Podeur
Our veterans, the guide, Marcelle Landure & Joëlle Podeur

Ronan Poilverd (Joëlle’s son), Robert, Percy, René
(L-R) Ronan Poilverd (Joëlle’s son), Robert, Percy and René

L-R) Keith, Percy, Nobby and Robert
(L-R) Keith, Percy, Nobby and Robert

St Louis Church : Robert and Percy shaking hand with André Jaffre
St Louis Church: Robert and Percy shaking hand with André Jaffre

(L-R) Percy, André, Robert, Nobby and Keith at St Louis Church
(L-R) Percy, André, Robert, Nobby and Keith at St Louis Church

Jean Hatton,  René and 2 other veterans
Jean Hatton, René and 2 other veterans

Ronan Poilverd, Lieutenant-Colonel des Pompiers de Paris (Paris Firemen )
Ronan Poilverd, Lieutenant-Colonel des Pompiers de Paris

Commemoration ceremony
Commemoration ceremony

Commemoration ceremony
Commemoration ceremony

Commemoration ceremony
Commemoration ceremony

Commemoration ceremony
Commemoration ceremony

Keith delivers his speech at the ceremony
Keith delivers his speech at the ceremony

Sir John Holmes present his speech
Sir John Holmes present his speech

(L-R) Hervé Grall, M.P. Mrs Lamour, Admiral, Captain Butler, Sous-Préfet and the Mayor
(L-R) Hervé Grall, M.P. Mrs Lamour, Admiral, Captain Butler, Sous-Préfet and the Mayor


Placing wreaths on the Unknown MEK sailor’s grave
Placing wreaths on the Unknown MEK sailor’s grave

Placing wreaths on the Unknown MEK sailor’s grave
Placing wreaths on the Unknown MEK sailor’s grave

Mers-el-Kébir Memorial
Mers-el-Kébir Memorial

Mers-el-Kébir Memorial
Mers-el-Kébir Memorial

(L-R) Sir John Holmes, Captain Butler, Hervé Grall and René Wook
(L-R) Sir John Holmes, Captain Butler, Hervé & René

(L-R) Commander Laurent and Nobby
(L-R) Commander Laurent and Nobby

Lunch with veterans of both associations
Lunch with veterans of both associations

St Mathieu Memorial  (Aux Marins Morts pour la France)
St Mathieu Memorial  (Aux Marins Morts pour la France)

Hervé Grall presents his speech during the commemoration ceremony at the at St Mathieu Memorial
Hervé Grall presents his speech during the commemoration ceremony at the at St Mathieu Memorial

Keith presents his speech during the commemoration ceremony at the at St Mathieu Memorial
Keith presents his speechduring the ceremony

Commemoration ceremony at the at St Mathieu Memorial
Commemoration ceremony at the at St Mathieu Memorial

Commemoration ceremony at the at St Mathieu Memorial
Commemoration ceremony at the at St Mathieu Memorial

Commemoration ceremony at the at St Mathieu Memorial
Commemoration ceremony at the at St Mathieu Memorial

Commemoration ceremony at the at St Mathieu Memorial
Commemoration ceremony at the at St Mathieu Memorial

(L-R) Keith, Percy, Captain Butler, Robert and Nobby
(L-R) Keith, Percy, Captain Butler, Robert and Nobby

The group with a French veteran
The group with a French veteran

aboard the Churchill
Keith and his wife Heather

Ronan, Albert, Paul, Marcelle, Joëlle, Percy, Robert and Nobby
Ronan, Albert, Paul, Marcelle, Joëlle, Percy, Robert and Nobby

Brest Town hall
Brest Town hall