RAF celebrates 100th birthday
AN RAF veteran of the Second World War bombing raids will launch a baton relay tomorrow to mark the 100 years of the air force.
Air Commodore Charles Clarke joined the RAF at the age of 17 – flying in Lancasters as a bomb aimer in 619 squadron during the Second World War.
He was shot down and imprisoned in the prisoner of war camp famed for the Great Escape – and said he never imagined he would see the centenary of the service. It was during a sortie in early 1944 that his aircraft was hit , forcing him to parachute out of the plane, where he was captured by the Nazis and taken to Stalag Luft III.
The infamous camp in Poland was where Allied Pows constructed tunnels and attempted to make a daring bid for freedom in March 1944, known as the Great Escape.
But it was in January 1945 that Mr Clarke was evacuated from the prison as Allied forces advanced, and ordered on the long march with other Pows by the Nazis before being rescued.
It was 100 years ago on April 1, 1918 that the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service merged to created the RAF – the world’s first independent air service.
Just 15 years after the first ever powered flight undertaken by the Wright Brothers, the decision was made after the War Cabinet inquiry criticised the poor organisation of Britain’s air forces.
Those recognised as the founders of the RAF include Lieutenant General Sir David Henderson, from Glasgow, and Lord Hugh Trenchard – the first chief of the air staff.
Tomorrow, Mr Clarke will pass a specially designed baton to one of the youngest RAF members – sending it on a 100-day tour.
The 94-year-old from London said ahead of the event: “The glamour of the RAF was the main attraction to me as a young boy.
“I was first taken for a flight when I was about eight years old, and of course the Battle of Britain was happening just before I joined. Even though I was young, I never regretted my decision to join, and the RAF has always been very good to me.
“I never expected this anniversary to take place in my lifetime, but I am full of admiration for the current generation coming through.”
The baton relay will begin outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, before visiting every region in the UK as well as overseas locations such as the Falkland Islands and Afghanistan.
With 20 RAF sports associations involved in the relay, the baton will also be carried by a variety of RAF equipment, including aircraft and vehicles, before it returns to London on July 10.
The RAF 100 baton itself is made out of brass, oak and aluminium to symbolise aircraft construction through the years, and was designed and manufactured by RAF apprentices.
In the shape of the RAF roundel, rings of red, white and blue LED lights will illuminate the baton, and it will also feature the RAF badge.
Mr Clarke is set to pass the baton to Aircraftsman Adam Wood, whose grandfather was also in the RAF.
“I’m really proud to have been chosen, as one of the youngest airmen in the RAF, to receive the baton from Air Commodore Charles Clarke,” the 16-year-old from Aylesbury said.
“Having looked on the three services’ websites I was attracted to the RAF, and logistics stood out for me.”
Meanwhile, the chief of air staff has told how those who founded the RAF would be proud of what it has become a century on.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, has previously said his inspiration for joining the service was his father, Aircraftsman Victor Hillier.
Asked what the founders of the RAF would make of the service today, he said: “Trenchard said ‘We are building the foundations of a castle’, and what we have done is build the walls and complete that castle.”
The centrepiece of the RAF 100 celebrations will take place on July 10, with a parade on the Mall and a Buckingham Palace flypast.
A Spitfire, front, flying alongside a Hurricane from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. They will feature in the RAF flypast on July 10.
602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron flew Spitfires during the Second World War.
A First World War Handley Page bomber landing at RAF Andover in Hampshire.