As part of our Livery connection with RAF 603 (Edinburgh) Squadron a visit to the Headquarters of the RAF Regiment in Honington in Suffolk was kindly arranged by Squadron Leader Jerry Riley who has recently taken the Freedom of the Company. Honington is also the Headquarters of the RAF Police.
A convivial dinner was hosted by the Worshipful Company which preceded our visit to Honington the Home of the RAF Regiment.
Our guests included Air Marshal Sir David Walker and Station Commander Group Captain David Tait.
We were privileged to be hosted by Sir David Walker for a private tour of the Station where members of the RAF Regiment explained the range of armoured vehicles and weaponry that have been used in combat in operational theatres such as Afghanistan.
The role of the RAF regiment is to defend the airfields aircraft and airmen in order for them to operate effectively in areas where they are threatened on the ground by the enemy.
The Regiment was established by Churchill in 1942 following the fall of Crete and the loss of airfield and aircraft. He famously said that henceforth, “Every airfield should be a stronghold of fighting air – groundmen.”
This remains their role to this day although they have developed into an offensive as well as a defensive fighting force ,from participation in the Normandy Landings at Juno Beach to fighting at the Battle of Monte Cassino and to more recent conflicts in Kuwait ,Iraq and Afghanistan.
We were invited to watch the Graduation Parade for Trainee Gunners who had earned the right to wear the coveted Corps Flash on their uniform and which was enlivened by the music of the Central Band of the Air Force.
After lunch in the Officers Mess we were given an extensive tour of the Regiments Heritage Centre which told the story of the Regiment and contained a rich collection of equipment used in conflicts around the world in which it had played a decisive role.
When the Worshipful Company of Distillers confirmed its affiliation with 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron of The Royal Auxiliary Air Force, our commitment to the affiliation included the donation of a silver Quaich – “The Distillers Quaich” – to be presented annually at the Squadron Trophy Presentation Ceremony.
“The Distillers Quaich” made its debut at the 2017 Presentation Ceremony at 603 Squadron’s Edinburgh Headquarters on Saturday 9 December.
The Quaich was presented by the Master to Senior Aircraftsman (SAC) Michael Freshour, judged by the Squadron Permanent Staff to have made the biggest overall contribution to the Squadron, including charity fund-raising, over the calendar year. SAC Freshour has the unique (for the Squadron) possession of dual UK and USA Citizenship.
The Master also presented Michael with a bottle of the new “Master’s Cask” – an 18-years-old Knockando.
Supporting the Master at the ceremony was Immediate Past Master Richard Watling while the other presentations were made by Air Marshal Sir David Walker, Honorary Air Commodore of 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron, supported by Squadron Leader Jerry Riley, Officer Commanding 603 Squadron.
It is said that you learn more from failure than success, but there can be a heavy price to pay.
The Channel Dash was a hurried attempt to inflict damage on a large flotilla of German capital ships taking the quick route to get from Brest to Danish waters, in a move to protect the occupied country from an expected allied invasion. Spotted by chance by HMS Sealion, a lone submarine in the western approaches and again by an RAF reconnaissance aircraft, the two battleships and one heavy cruiser – the Scharnhorst, The Gneisenau and the Prinz Eugen supported by six destroyers and twenty-one other escorts – were making full speed up the Channel leaving very little time to prepare an attack against them despite them being just a few miles off shore.
Nonetheless with little air cover to support them the Fleet Air Arm launched an attack with six elderly Swordfish biplanes equipped with one torpedo each and a rear facing machine gun.
Pressing home their attack with incredible bravery, they faced the combined onslaught of the heavily armed ships and, now, the myriad of escorting Rocke-Wulfs and Messerschmitts.
All six aircraft of 825 Naval Air Squadron were shot down, 13 of the 18 airmen were killed, and four of the remaining five were injured. Some were fished out and others were never found. Some came ashore as far away as the Medway. Not one torpedo found its target.
On a bright but very cold February day marking the 75 Anniversary, the Master, Past Master Raines, and three Liverymen were privileged to attend a moving memorial service at the Yeovilton base, where the Chaplain told the story and led the service of remembrance. Packed into the little parish church were officers, men and women of the Squadron led by Admiral of the Fleet Lord Boyce, who as Warden of the Cinque Ports is President of the Channel Dash Association, Admiral Blount, head of the Fleet Air Arm and Commander Simon Collins the Commanding Officer of today’s 825 NAS. Two of the congregations were direct relatives of airman who flew the mission including one who won a posthumous VC.
Together they emerged to cluster around one of the five remaining Swordfishes standing proudly on the grass, to watch the four-ship Wildcat fly-past in memory of the men who gave their lives in this heroic operation.
In Ramsgate there is a memorial to the Squadron members who lost their lives, and in Dover there is another memorial to all the many men from the other forces involved in the operation; 72 Squadron RAF who fought the 250 strong Luftwaffe air cover, and the motor torpedo and rescue boats who gave what assistance they could and also took many casualties.
In the autumn there will be a service of remembrance in Dover, when we hope to be represented to witness a fly past of all the aircraft types involved, escorted by today’s modern helicopters. We shall raise a glass of a special gin distilled in their honour and presented by Honorary Assistant Chris Parker.