During the weekend of 26 and 27 September 2009, Aalter commemorated its liberation by Polish forces from German occupation 65 years earlier. The liberation of the region 'Meetjesland' was important for the allied effort as this was an ideal area to stage air operations over the Scheld estuary, allowing access to the port of Antwerp in support of allied combat operations for the liberation of the rest of northern Europe.
A group of people from Ursel therefore decided to celebrate the old Ursel airfield, which was used by Typhoon fighter-bombers during operation Infatuate to support Canadian ground forces during the battle for the Scheld estuary. Ursel was known to the RAF as B-67 airfield, and for a few weeks became home to four RAF squadrons of 123 Wing, including the famous 609 squadron, a mixed British-Belgian unit. 609 squadron is now part of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and is based at RAF Leeming. A delegation from this unit joined the tribute to the liberators as guests of honour. They showed up on Saturday morning with another very special and honoured guest, which would attract more than a few stares over the weekend: William de Goat.
During their trek through Europe in aid of allied ground operations in 1944-1945, 609 always had their mascot with them, a goat they had named William, Billy to its mates. It even had a rank bestowed upon it, and indeed, has been promoted since, now having achieved the rank of Air Commodore. Of course, the real William passed away long ago and is now represented by a stage prop, which has been customized to his likeness.
First stop for the delegation was the current airfield of Ursel, which hosted a celebration for the Belgian handlight Fund which assists handicapped pilots by installing a system on the stick, negating the need for rudder input by the pilot's feet. The club had just installed this special system in one of its planes, and the 609 squadron delegation was keen to talk with pilots who have already used this system. They also used this opportunity to meet the pilot of the Stinson Reliant which would play a key role during the weekend's celebrations. The Reliant, a superbly restored D-Day veteran, was flown by Remko Sijbert.
Next on the programme was lunch and a presentation about the history of Ursel B-67 airfield by BAHAat member Cynrik De Decker at the town hall of Knesselare, of which Ursel is part. During the reception there, pleasantries and gifts were exchanged to strengthen the ties between 609 squadron and the Ursel community.
The afternoon walk at the site of B-67 airfield required a quick change into combat fatigues. A considerable number of local people and aviation enthusiasts showed up to discover the remains of the old airfield. Ursel-based formation team The Victors and the Stinson Reliant performed a flypast for the visitors, before the Reliant broke off for 2 passes to demonstrate the location of the runway with 2 passes. The walk ended near a group of cows who had clearly never seen so many people with a pass of a Seaking of the Belgian Air Component.
Following a quick hop to meet with Aalter Alderman Philippe Verleyen at the Aalter liberation re-enactment camp, the old airfield was the scene for a wonderful sight: a series of sunset flypasses by the Victors and the Stinson Reliant. The flypasses included a moving 'missing man' formation and a poppy drop by the Reliant, a wonderful sight for all those present. A delicious dinner at the Ursel restaurant Villa Maria concluded a successful day.
Sunday dawned early. 609 Squadron, accompanied by William, joined the morning mass at Ursel. Subsequently, a tribute service next to the church included the unveiling of a commemorative sign which will be integrated in Ursel's renewed village centre soon, speeches by Alderman Herlinde Trenson, Kurt Plyson and Flt Alfie Hall of 609 Squadron, remembering and honouring the past. Ursel's school children released white balloons and the Stinson Reliant made two more flypasses before the guests of 609 squadron, local politicians and veterans proceeded to the nearby care centre Onderdale for lunch.
The rest of the commemoration ceremonies took place in Aalter, with a tribute at the monument for the Polish soldiers who died in the liberation battle, and a music tattoo which also included fly passes by The Victors and Stinson Reliant, culminating in a beautifully timed poppy drop and a missing man formation. This part of the programme finished with a visit to nearby Coninckshof, including the German prison bunker inside one of the sheds.
The weekend was a resounding success and laid a firm base for more elaborate activities regarding B-67 airfield in the future.
During the event Wings and Wheels 2007 at Ursel airfield, the static display featured a Tucano from the RAF.
The presence of this aircraft was part of the RAF's efforts to pay tribute to the old Ursel B67 airfield.
The major RAF recognition came near the end of the event though, when Ursel was woken up by a number of impressive flypasses by a Eurofighter Typhoon. The Eurofighter Typhoon is the newest Royal Air Force fighter and bears the same name as the Hawker Typhoons which were stationed at Ursel in 1944. A terrific tribute! Here are two clips of the flypast: