19 April 2018
Jesse’s Hereford Times column: Celebrating the RAF

The first of April marked one hundred years since the creation of the Royal Air Force—the world’s oldest independent air force—from the merger of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service.

It goes without saying that the RAF has had an extraordinary record since then:  in warfare and in peace-keeping, in supply and relief efforts and in search-and-rescue operations, among many other things.  When the astonishingly brave Violette Szabo—the first woman ever to be awarded the George Cross—was dropped behind enemy lines in France on two missions in 1944 as an agent of the Special Operations Executive, it was the RAF that dropped her.

So we should give huge thanks in celebration of the RAF’s centenary.

But the RAF also has a more personal meaning for me.  We have always been flying mad in my family.  My grandfather, Nigel Norman, was Air Officer Commanding No. 39 RAF Wing during the Second World War, and died on active service in 1943. 

My uncle Desmond was a brilliant aircraft designer who created the Britten-Norman Islander—for many years one of the world’s best short-tale-off and landing light aircraft, still in service and heavily featured in the James Bond film Spectre.  (Clue: it’s the scene where the aeroplane goes skiing.)

Desmond, my father Torquil and their other brother Mark all did their national service in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force; and I and my two brothers in turn all got our private pilot’s licences, complete with the hair-raising experience of a first solo.

But the RAF has also played a significant role in the life of this county.  Notably, RAF Credenhill served as a key training centre during World War Two, and then on until 1994.

The base was used as part of the Commonwealth Training Programme, as an assembly point for officers and airmen about to proceed to Canada for further training.  It provided airframe and engine fitters for Bomber Command’s Halifaxes and Lancasters and for Fighter Command’s Hurricanes and Spitfires, and torpedo experts for the torpedo bombers of Coastal Command.  These airmen played a major role in keeping our aircraft fit for flying.

The 100th birthday of the RAF offers an important moment to reflect on its glorious history.  That history will be remembered at a special ‘Commemorate, Celebrate, Inspire’ service in Hereford Cathedral on Sunday 29th April.