United by the bond of friendship, adapting to changing and ever increasing needs of the RAF Community, the Royal Air Force Association which was originally known as ‘Comrades of the Royal Air Force Association was founded in 1930. Gaining Air Ministry support in 1933 following official recognition by the Air Council, the first president of the organisation was Viscount Trenchard who had been instrumental in establishing the Royal Air Force in 1918. It 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 all too well that members of all three elements of our armed forces deserve support. RAFA is there to support members of the RAF Community and it does that job very well. Air Marshal North put it very well when he said last evening “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”.
Last evening, I was once again honoured to be a guest at the RAF Association (RAFA) Lords and Commons Branch annual dinner held in the House of Lords. A great occasion that was attended not only by senior serving members of the Royal Air Force including the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston who would later address the meeting, but by senior members of industry and politicians from both Houses of Parliament.
The Royal Air Force Association chose the occasion the annual Lords and Commons dinner to give a preliminary launch to what it being called by the organisation as ‘The Greatest Appeal’ and which over the next four years aims to raise £40 million in order to not only provide the continuing practical support and friendship that it has been doing since its foundation to members of the Royal Air Force community, serving and non-serving and their families deserve, but to recognised ever increasing and changed needs of the community.
Following opening remarks made by co-chairs the Lord Stirrup and Robert Courts, Member of Parliament for Witney and West Oxfordshire and whose constituency is home to the RAF’s largest base at Brize Norton, RAFA President, Air Marshal Sir Baz North said that last year the Association helped over 85,000 individual, in many cases help that transformed their lives. He reminded how RAFA aims to empower people by giving them the expert advice and practical support that allows them to stay strong. Working across all age groups he also mentioned that as a result of being asked by the RAF to help in one particular critical welfare need – providing access to affordable childcare – three new children nurseries have been set up at RAF College Cranwell, RAF Odiham and RAF Digby. Talking of another initiative he also mentioned progress and success of an initiative announced at last year’s dinner in relation to the Association providing bespoke mental wellbeing training courses under the title ‘Finding it Tough’ which are available free of charge to all RAF Veterans and their families, those of serving RAF personnel and also to civilians who work closely with the RAF Community.
In a poignant and very well delivered address and one that marked the preliminary launch by the RAF Association of the ‘Great Appeal’, Squadron Leader John Peters, pilot of an RAF Panavia Tornado GR1 aircraft shot down by Iraqi ground forces during Gulf War One (the allied operation to liberate Kuwait following the invasion of that country by Iraq) and who, along with his navigator, Flight Lieutenant John Nichol during the early stages of Operation Desert Storm was subsequently held, beaten and tortured by his captors for seven weeks before being released provided a vivid reminder of what it was like during that dreadful period in his life; detail of the torture and sleep deprivation suffered, of how he felt when he was forced to talk and be pictured on TV by his captors, the shame he felt before he was subsequently released and, following recovery, was able to re-join his Royal Air Force squadron. I say poignant because this was a timely reminder of why organisations such as the RAF Association are out there supporting all members of the RAF family through the many problems that they face including mental stress of situations such as the one outlined so vividly and eloquently by John Peters last evening. An Ambassador of the RAF Association and someone who I personally know and respect, the message why organisations such as the RAF Association are so important for all the RAF Community will not have been missed.
There are approximately 1.3 million RAF community members who RAFA believe are urgently in need of practical support and friendship. Resilience, Empowerment, Community and Friendship are watchwords and translate to maintaining strong relationships at home and at work, providing physical and mental well-being and professional effectiveness support, helping to maintain freedom and dignity allowing those it supports to remain independent as long as possible and in helping valued members of the community to thrive. Put simply, RAFA aims always to offer help that reduces isolation, build friendships and offer rest, respite and recuperation.
To put the Great Appeal into context would be for me to remind that organisation has received a 250% increase in requests for support over the past year alone. One of the increasing issues faced is the need to support dementia and to that end RAFA has form3ed a multi-layered strategic partnership with CGI, one of the largest IT and business consulting businesses in the world and that is aimed at creating innovative online resources and other projects designed for instance, to support RAF personnel and their families who are caring for someone with dementia.
Further History of RAF Association
Throughout the early thirties the Association made rapid progress, establishing benevolent schemes and distributing Christmas hampers to unemployed members. In 1936, King George VI gave his patronage and the Association has been honoured with having Royal Patronage ever since.
Following the outbreak of the Second World-War in 1939, the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force reformed, and the Women’s Royal Air Force Old Comrades Association which had been created in 1919 opened its membership to all ranks of the new female air service. In 1941, the two Old Comrades organisations for airmen and airwomen merged, resulting in a combined membership of nearly 20,000.
By 1943, with more than a million serving in the RAF, the organisation’s name was changed to the Royal Air Forces Association. A National Council, under the chairmanship of Air Chief Marshal Sir John Steel was formed to replace the Central committee of CRAFA.
The foundations of the charity’s present structure were laid during the remaining wartime years, and the Association was fully prepared for the consequences of demobilisation, which began in 1945. Welfare officers, employment officials and legal advisers were appointed at National Headquarters and at local branch levels. At the Air Ministry’s invitation officials attended Release Centres to inform demobilised Air Personnel how the Association could help them. In 1947 membership reached a peak with around 200,000 members and some 565 branches throughout the UK and in some overseas territories.
During this time, membership enrolment reached as many as 10,000 a month and, with the danger that the organisation might have become oversubscribed, the decision was made to distribute most of the administrative work over nine separate areas, each with its own HQ.
The Association has continued to maintain its Royal links and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth is the current Patron. The Duke of Edinburgh was President between 1954 and 1967 and the Prince of Wales in 1986.
At the start of the 21st Century it was clear that the Association needed to adapt to an ever-changing society and its welfare needs. The RAF Association underwent a complete reorganisation and Central Headquarters relocated to the heart of the country in Leicester, and in the process, amalgamated the Association’s Areas into five. In recent times the Association has continued to be at the forefront of providing support to the RAF family. As well as continuing to help those who served in WW2 and has provided assistance to vast numbers of service personnel including veterans of the conflicts in Korea, The Falklands, The Middle East, and Afghanistan.
Today, the RAF Association carries on its vital and is needed even more than ever. The Association continues to operate a wide network of over 350 branches and has a membership of over 74,000. Our welfare officers continue to seek out those in welfare need and provide a range of services to help ease their suffering. Over eighty years later and we’re still making a huge difference to the lives of former servicemen and their families.
The Royal Air Force Association along with the other principle RAF Charities, The Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, The Royal Air Force Charitable Trust and the RAF Museum were all extremely active during the RAF 100 Commemorations in 2018.
CHW (London – 2020)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785