The past six months for 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron have been dominated to a great extent by the shared experience of dealing with Covid-19. Indeed, the Squadron’s new Officer Commanding (OC) Squadron Leader Derek Read joined from RAF Force Protection HQ on 20th March, just days before the Prime Minister announced the rigorous restrictions that came to be understood across the country as “lockdown.”
The arrival of the virus changed the Squadron’s work schedules with most of its planned activity falling away and the Edinburgh Headquarters placed on a reduced manning level. During the initial weeks of the lockdown the Squadron was asked to mobilise personnel to support Government efforts to combat the virus and this rapidly became its core activity, with protection of the Squadron’s own personnel also a priority.
The Squadron was asked to mobilise as many personnel as possible and through late March and into April, around 25% of its reserve manpower was organised and committed to fill various roles providing Force Protection at RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Brize Norton while a number of others were on UK backfill duties or overseas operations.
Things quietened down a little in May and June and while the fight against Covid-19 and support for the Squadron’s deployed personnel both continued, some normality returned with planning for a scheduled Annual Continuous Training Camp at Barry Budden in Angus.
The lockdown brought challenges to the Squadron’s recruitment plans but while the face to face element of the process was not possible, enquiries continued to come in and helpful contacts were made in a virtual sense.
Meanwhile, with full safety measures in place, the training of Squadron personnel for mobilisation continued with four RAF Police and eight RAF Regiment Phase Two personnel completing their professional training, becoming fully ready and prepared to support the needs of the Service.
In July, the Squadron’s mobilised personnel who had been sent to Lossiemouth were diverted to help create Covid-19 mobile testing units in the North East of England. At the end of July, this role passed to civilian operators and the 603 personnel either returned to Lossiemouth or were returned to civilian life.
Despite all the other calls on time and resources, 603 Squadron was able to see through its plans for the Barry Budden training camp and this went ahead from 5th September with colleagues from 2622 (Highland) and 2503 (County of Lincolnshire) Squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.
The purpose of the two-week camp was to consolidate the year’s training in larger, combined exercises. RAF Regiment personnel stayed on after the first week while their RAF Police colleagues dispersed to RAF main operating bases to take part in on the job training.
Despite their various duties supporting the service through the lockdown and beyond, 603 Squadron personnel managed to stage a fund raising event for the Squadron’s nominated charity, The Yard, which supports disabled children and their families. Recalling the Squadron’s vital role in the defence of the island of Malta in World War Two, Squadron personnel took on the challenge of running the exact distance – 1,616 miles – between Malta and RAF Turnhouse in Edinburgh where the Squadron was first formed.
This raised £1,040 to help the wonderful work undertaken on behalf of families by the team at The Yard – https://www.theyardscotland.org.uk/
Finally, as Autumn arrived, 603 Squadron has been asked to mobilise more personnel for UK backfills to RAF Brize Norton and RAF Scampton.
The experience of 603 Squadron this year has reflected the difficulty and dislocation created by Covid-19 across the country and beyond. The year that was planned has largely been abandoned but the Squadron and its personnel have been extremely busy supporting the service and the wider country, and as the year moves into its final quarter with a second phase of the virus a distinct threat, 603 Squadron will remain ready, prepared and committed to delivering assistance to wherever it is needed.