17 Mar 22. Once again, I was honoured to be a guest at the Royal Air Force Association’s Lords and Commons Branch for the Annual Dinner held in the House of Lords. It was a pleasure to be amongst so many friends and to be reminded of the fantastic work that the charity does for members of the RAF Family.
Last evening was more poignant not only because er were reminded of the important work that all sections of the RAF are doing to support Ukraine and those deployed in many other parts of the world but also because we were able to reflect on events forty years ago in the Falkland Islands.
Hosted by Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Stirrup and Robert Courts, MP for Witney and who is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, suffice here to say that last evening was a truly delightful affair and one that will I am sure be long remembered by those who attended and who were able to listen to wise opening remarks from of our hosts, followed by a superb address (the main elements of which I repeat further down) given by the RAF Association President, Air Marshal Sir Baz North – this in salute of those who fought to defend the Falkland Islands from the illegal invasion by Argentina, some of whom were in attendance last evening, and those who lost their lives and finally, from Air Marshal Sir Gerry Mayhew, RAF Deputy Commander Operations who so brilliantly linked what our military did during the battle of the Falklands forty years ago with what the RAF is also doing today in support of the illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
United by the bond of friendship, adapting to changing and increased needs of the RAF Community and universally recognised as being the ‘Charity for The RAF Family’, the Royal Air Force Association (RAFA) was founded in 1929 and was originally known as ‘Comrades of the Royal Air Force Association.
Gaining Air Ministry support in 1933, this following official recognition by the Air Council, the first president of RAFA was Viscount Trenchard who was instrumental in establishing the Royal Air Force in 1918. RAFA has been doing very valuable work for the RAF Community ever since.
The Royal Air Force Association is a registered charity whose primary purpose is to promote, through comradeship engendered by its members, the welfare by charitable means of all serving and former members of Air Forces, their spouses and dependents together with the widows, widowers and dependents of those who died whilst serving or subsequently.
Those of us who work closely with the military professionally know how important it is that members of our armed forces deserve support not just when they are serving but through the remainder of their lives. Their families need support as well and RAFA is there to support them and all members of the RAF Community. I have nothing but enormous respect for the huge variety of work and support that they do on behalf of all members of the RAF family and having seen this at first hand, I know that they do it very well.
I recall Air Marshal North putting it very well two years ago when he said “that over the past one hundred years members of the RAF and their families have stood shoulder to shoulder, working selflessly in order to protect the rights, freedoms and privileges that the [people of our nation hold dear. Collectively” he said “it is our duty to ensure that we will always be there for them in their hour of need, as they have been for us. This is a duty the RAF Association intends to honour”.
In his address last evening Air Marshal North said:
“In the face of unprovoked aggression such as that which we are witnessing in in Ukraine, the rights, freedoms and privileges, that we in the United Kingdom are so fortunate to enjoy, are perhaps more evident than ever. As a nation, and as members of the RAF Association, we are able to enjoy our freedom and independence, while deporting ourselves with a compassion, integrity and with a spirit of inclusivity: we share a determination to do that which is right”
“I am sure that the poignancy of gathering here, in our nation’s seat of democracy is not lost on any of us as, with our friends around the world, we standby to play our part in maintaining peace and stability in Europe and the Atlantic regions”
“Tonight, I invite you to reflect on the events of four decades ago, where another act of unprovoked aggression was about to take place, in the shape of the invasion of the Falkland Islands. British military personnel who lost their lives in that brief but bloody conflict, and to the survivors, for whom life would never be the same again”.
He said with much pleasure that “we are honoured tonight to be in the presence of some of those who played a variety of roles in that conflict” These included Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Lord Craig of Radley who was at the time Vice-Chief of the Air Staff, former Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford, then a Wessex pilot on exchange with the Royal Navy, Ian Bretherton, an RAF technician who played a vital ground communications role from a requisitioned P&O ferry and Martin Withers, who piloted the RAF Avro Vulcan XM607 to carry out both the first and last of the famous Black Buck missions (the account of which is so brilliantly told in Richard White’s book ‘Vulcan 607) and who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his part in the action and finally, three Harrier pilots who all flew operationally during the conflict serving on 1 Squadron – Mike Beech, Nick Gilchrist and, Jeff Glover whose aircraft was hit by a Blowpipe surface air-to-air missile over the West Falklands and who after successfully bailing out, was held captive as a POW for seven and a half weeks and who after eventually recovering from his injuries, was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Services in the Air. Noting other family members also present last evening, Air Marshal North said “Collectively you have our grateful thanks and we salute you all”.
Thanking Lockheed Martin for their generous support in making last evening possible and for the wide ranging support that the company provides to the RAF Association including headline sponsorship of the RAFA Rides event, Air marshal North spoke of how RAFA had made over a quarter of a million phone calls to check in on members of our community and provide regular friendship through Covid. He thanked the many volunteers and those that have provided financial support to the RAFA Connections for Life service and those that have pledged support to RAFA’s latest largescale outreach campaign and which involves gathering together a combined force pf RAFA employees, volunteers and corporate partners to phone no fewer than 5,000 RAF veterans, widows and widowers to check on their welfare and offer them help.
He spoke of the Rothbury House development now nearing completion and the additional 26 retirement apartments this creates, the Finding it Tough and Navigating Dementia resilience programmes, the growing number of RAFA Kidz activities that provide high quality and affordable childcare at RAF Odiham, Cranwell and Digby bases and that will soon take over operation of nursery’s at RAF Leeming and RAF Brize Norton.
And importantly, he reminded that as RAFA income has fallen during the past two years because of Covid, that the Association finds itself financially as being in a “manageable but taut” situation and that “annual income is not expected to return to a level that meets our welfare output until 2025; consequently we have been drawing heavily on our reserves and will continue to do so for the next three years”.
I am in no doubt that the Royal Air Force Association is doing a brilliant job for members of the RAF Family and will do so for many years to come. It is then up to all of us who understand the importance of the RAF Family and how so many need the support that RAFA provide to support them however we can. If you can support either by fundraising, volunteering or by donating please go onto the RAF Association website ‘Give Support’ page.
Thank you and my personal thanks to the RAF Association as well for all the exceptional work that the do for the RAF Family.
CHW (London – 17th March 2022)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785