A high-profile rededication ceremony for a special memorial in the Cheviot Hills is to take place this autumn following a major overhaul.
Part of the wider RAF 100 celebrations to mark the centenary of the air force in 2018, a project is currently ongoing to repair and upgrade the monument and enhance the memorial as a whole.
Erected in May 1995 in the College Valley, it commemorates 38 Allied airmen from five nations who lost their lives on the Cheviot Hills between 1939 and 1946 in 13 crashes.
Perhaps the most famous saw Sheila the sheepdog awarded an animal bravery award for her involvement in the rescue of American crew, after a B17 Flying Fortress crashed in December 1944.
However, as explained by retired Group Captain Tim Willbond, who is project director and was involved in the 1995 scheme when he was in charge of RAF Boulmer, it has worn very badly in recent years, not least because it is made of slate.
The redesigned monument will be made of a much hardier polished granite and bronze with the aim of it not needing significant work for 50 years or more.
At the same time, the scope of the memorial is to be expanded with the shepherds and other residents of the College Valley who undertook rescues, thus reducing the death toll on the hills, will be commemorated through a special seat. Another seat will feature silhouette cutouts of the aircraft involved.
Plus, the deaths of eight German airmen, currently recorded in Cuddystone Hall, are to be included as ‘it’s time to be more inclusive’.
Gp Capt Willbond said: “I’m very optimistic that we are going to end up with a really first-rate memorial that will stand alongside any national monument of the like.”
The original was unveiled and dedicated by the Duke of Gloucester on May 19, 1995, and a high-profile rededication ceremony is planned for September 6 this year, with some VIPs lined up to attend.
The total cost of the project is around £25,000 and the fund-raising efforts, led by the Alnwick and Rothbury branches of the RAF Association, are going extremely well.
Gp Capt Willbond said: “We have raised nearly all of the money we need, we are short of about £3,000. We have had some most amazing responses.
“The people of Wooler and the surrounds have been extremely generous. It really is quite humbling how keen people are for this to go ahead.
“The College Valley Estates are right behind this too and couldn’t have been more helpful.”
If anyone wishes to contribute to the fund-raising, they can contact Gp Capt Willbond by email on tc.willbond@ btinternet.com