Thursday 29 March 2018

Sunday service at St Michaels Church in Mill Hill to mark the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the RAF

My Fathers Squadron badge
This Sunday sees the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the RAF. It is no exaggeration to say that without the sacrifice and courage of the pilots of the RAF, the concept of free speech, democracy and equality would not exist today. The efforts of the few, as mentioned by Winston Churchill in his famous address to the houses of Parliament on 20 August 1940, where he said "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few" was the turning point in the second world war. 

Hendon is the spirtitual home of the RAF and has a long association with the service as well as the history of aviation as well as housing the amazing RAF museum.  I was rather surprised that the London Borough of Barnet had not planned a civic service to mark the event. My enquiries to various councillors were met with a response of "we are leaving it to the RAF museum to do all that" (click here for their events calendar). This is a matter that is close to my heart.

My father was a bomber pilot with no. 40 Squadron of the RAF. Bomber command suffered 55,000 casualaties during the second world war. For their efforts, they went unrecognised. My father died in 1987, without even receiving a campaign medal, despite flying 40 active service missions, being shot down, losing his best friend Spud Murphy (see below) rear gunner in the process.

I published my fathers war diary from 1944 several years ago to mark Remembrance Sunday. It is a remarkable document, mixing tragedy with moments of fun. Here is a short extract. Quite chilling really.

Mon 7th Bombed Padria Italy 9X500HE. Bombs fell right on Marshalling yards full of trucks (target). Jimmy Keily and crew missing. Arrived back at 06.00 slept all day 

Wed 9th - Went to Barletta. enjoying wine tasting almost as much as we bought. Blagged our way through the door. Soaked on the way back

Thurs 10th - Innoculations for Typhus today. testing aircraft 
Sun 13th - did two trips to Anzio - dropped 36 X 250lb HE bombs. Had bad weather freezing -29C Spud (rear gunner) had almost to be chiselled out of his box. Hope 36 X 250lb bombs did good work on the Jerries.

Thur 17th - Flying Kit stolen. 1 Blue Kit bag. 1 Leather helmet, 1 pr Gauntlets, 1 Suit, 1 pr shoes, 1 pr Sunglasses, 1 pr sick gloves. Bombed San Stefano. Had trouble all the way with 'B' but made grade OK. Brought back a perfect photo of Target.
Fri 18th - Went to flight and told 1-B had been repaired. Ken Lyon was blown up on take off in 'B' - the kite I had the previous night.
My father in flying suit
What is perhaps most poignant for me is the way that the tragic entries are interspersed with the tales of fun and frolics. The crews were quite clearly living under the  shadow of death, which could strike at almost any time.
Whilst my father was remarkable, he was just one of 125,000 airmen who served. Each was as remarkable in their own way. Recalling them, I realise we are all standing on the shoulders of giants.

I discussed the anniversary with Fr Steven Young at St Michael and All Angels church. I mentioned my Fathers service and how I'd like to see the anniversary marked in Mill Hill.  He kindly asked me to attend the Easter Sunday mass at St Michael & All Angels church and lead a prayer remembering the valour and sacrifice of the RAF. For me this is a great honour. The service will be held at 10am this Sunday.

At the moment, the issue of anti semitism is a hot topic. Without the sacrifices of the aircrew of the RAF, their would be no debate to be had. I sincerely hope that as many people as possible who wish to pay tribute to the RAF can come along. I believe that to build a better future, we need to have an appreciation of the past and the sacrifices of those that helped us build such a free and fair society.

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