RAF cel­e­brates 100th birth­day

The Herald - - NEWS - GE­ORGINA STUBBS

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.

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