On a circuit not unfamiliar with heroes, 23 D-Day veterans took pole position on the Goodwood Motor Circuit today, in one of the most poignant tributes ever held at Revival.
‘West Sussex at War’ was the title of this year’s Track Moment on the Sunday, marking 70 years since Operation Overlord, and 75 years since Westhampnett Farm was turned into RAF Westhampnett.
With special applause reserved for the veterans, and the thoughts of everyone never far away from the tens of thousands more who never returned, Lord March summed up the mood:
’We are really honoured to have the D-Day veterans with us today. These are men to whom we are so grateful, but seldom have the opportunity to show it.’
More than 100 WW2 vehicles, from military Austin 7s to a Sherman tank, created a traffic jam from the chicane to Madgwick, with the D-Day veterans in Willys Jeeps cheered by hundreds of Union flag-waving civvies and Army Land Girls lining the straight.
Even by Goodwood standards, it was a memorable ‘magical step back in time’, particularly when the unmistakable roar of a Rolls-Royce Merlin V12 drifted down to the circuit, announcing a flypast by the only two extant Lancasters, accompanied by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfires and Hurricane, their wings glinting in the September sunshine.
With the strains of ‘Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye’over the PA, the sights and sounds reduced the thousands of spectators around the circuit to awed silence. And when the band struck up ‘Jerusalem’the poignancy of the moment was complete.
The parade of vehicles provided a time-warp glimpse of WW2 on wheels, with the Sherman – thought to be first tank on the circuit since 1944 –joined by staff cars, ambulances, fire engines, half-tracks, lorries, tractors and even the odd Rolls-Royce.
The parade also featured around 35 motorcycles, all made either in the UK or the US between 1938 and 1945. The ride-out of BSAs, Royal Enfields, Matchless, AJSs, Harleys and Ariels was a special motor cycling Revival moment in its own right.
With 400 ‘extras’as Land Girls, servicemen, civvies and evacuee children, it all amounted to the largest track parade in Revival history.
Lord March said RAF Westhampnett – the perimeter roads of which were to become the Goodwood Motor Circuit in 1948 –and its aerodrome neighbours ‘played a critical role in ensuring the success of Operation Overlord’.
Lord March recalled Winston Churchill’s ‘Never before in the field of human conflict…’speech but said this year the emphasis for the West Sussex at War tribute was on a whole community: ‘not just the fabled few but indeed the many’.
And it was indeed the many, epitomised by 23 true heroes, that this year’s tribute and track parade so perfectly honoured.