RAF Boulmer welcomed members of the community to a reception to commemorate the Battle of Britain this week, where the Station Commander paid tribute to the efforts of the Search and Rescue crews.
The occasion provided the opportunity to remember the valour and commitment that was fundamental to the decisive victory in the skies above London and the South East, the sacrifices made by brave pilots and the dedication of the many who supported the Few.
Guests of the Station included civic dignitaries and representatives of the many organisations throughout the county with whom the station has close ties, giving RAF personnel the chance to thank all those who have provided tremendous support to the station, its people, and their families.
The evening included a Sunset Ceremony accompanied by music by the Band of 5th Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and a parade of RAF Boulmer personnel, the lowering of the RAF Ensign and fly-pasts from a Typhoon from RAF Lossiemouth and a Search and Rescue Sea King helicopter from ‘A’ Flight 202 Squadron.
Addressing guests, the Station Commander, Group Captain Mark Coleman, said: “As leaders within your own fields, your support directly to me, my people and their families, means I am able to provide Search and Rescue and an ever-present Air Command and Control capability in defence of the homeland. It enables me to generate and sustain, 24/7, 365 days a year, 10 oer cent of the Station population on overseas operations.
“Your backing permits me to hold people at the highest levels of readiness, able to move within 24 and 48 hours, anywhere in the world, and capable of operating out of the most extreme environments. Please do not underestimate the significance of your support and my gratefulness for your loyalty to the Service and to this magnificent station.”
During his speech, Group Captain Coleman detailed the successes of the station over the last year.
“A Flight 202 Squadron have retained their readiness states throughout the year responding to distress calls across the north of England and southern Scotland no matter the time of day and in the most challenging weather conditions. Sergeant Neil Clements was presented with the Billy Deacon Search and Rescue Memorial Trophy by His Royal Highness Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh earlier this year, recognising his bravery and perseverance during a rescue. While Sergeant Clement’s actions were duly recognised, the bravery that every member of the flight displays in executing their duties, often in the most challenging of circumstances, continues to inspire me and the personnel on this Station. The UK Search and Rescue Force as a whole has recently been awarded the Firmin Sword of Peace.
“Away from the flying activity on the Station and unseen to the public, we delivered a safe, secure and peaceful air and space environment during the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, and almost 12 months ago to the day, delivered the same Air Security posture for the NATO summit held at the Celtic Manor Resort in Wales.
“We have been instrumental in the ability for Defence to execute Exercise JOINT WARRIOR three times. Providing tactical and operational control of all air assets in what is considered the biggest multinational exercise of its kind involving more than 50 ships, 70 aircraft, and 13,000 personnel from 15 different nations. As I speak, personnel from this Station are preparing for the next JOINT WARRIOR which will commence in October.
“The last two years has seen a resurgence of Russia strategic air activity, with the Command and Reporting Centre executing NATO air policing and counter-terrorism missions under increased command, political and public scrutiny.
“The School of Air Battlespace Management remains at the forefront of International Battlespace Management training, with the creation of a NATO specific course in April 2015. Recognising the quality of our training systems through our flexibility to understand the operational and training need, we were delighted when the Swedish Air Force chose the School as their own school’s blueprint. This demonstrated real success for the School of Air Battlespace Management; giving partner nations what they want, showcasing our facilities, and highlighting the other types of training available.”
Referring to the departure of the Sea Kings from RAF Boulmer, Group Captain Coleman said he was sure that guests would join him in saying a heartfelt thanks to the crews of A Flight 202 Squadron after 40 years of Search and Rescue operations at RAF Boulmer.
“The iconic yellow helicopters, their operators and support crews will cease operations on September 39. However, and as is tradition with the disbandment of a squadron or flight, their formal farewell will be ceremonially recognised. The conclusion of the Battle of Britain parade in Alnwick on September 20 will see a slow fly-past (operations and weather permitting) of one of the flight’s Sea King helicopters. We have worked closely with the Squadron to ensure that the send-off is fitting, and I hope that you agree, the parade is a perfect vehicle to highlight the homeland protection afforded in equal measure between the Spitfires of 1940 and the Sea Kings of 2015, both of which operated from this local area.
“Members of the Flight are exceptionally grateful for the support they have received from the local community over their history and I am sure you will join me in wishing the team the success they truly deserve as they commence the next stage in their careers.”
Meanwhile, a commemorative board has been unveiled at the station’s RAF School of Aerospace Battle Management with the aim of capturing the history of the Fighter Control Branch and the involvement of its personnel and Aerospace Battle Managers (ABM) in campaigns, conflicts and battles since the Second World War.
Group Captain Tim Willbond, the initiator of the honours board, explained the rationale behind its creation.
“A Battle Honour is awarded by the sovereign to a military unit for their achievements in specific wars or operations of a military campaign and the unit can emblazon the name of the battle or operation on its colours or uniforms. In general, Fighter Controllers have always been embedded in other units or Force formations such as happened during the First Gulf War.
“I felt that the design of this campaign board was the best way to capture the information in a way that shows the Fighter Control Branch has a special heritage. Hundreds were involved in campaigns in every theatre of operations from Burma, Crete, Malta and El Alamein to Rhodesia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The board tells a compelling and stimulating story and will honour the contribution of our veterans and engender an esprit de corps among Fighter Control veterans and the ABMs of today, and gives ABM students a sense of identity with the past.”
Twelve former RAF Boulmer Station Commanders have funded the design and construction of the board and three of them were present during the unveiling ceremony.
Accepting the campaign honours board on behalf of RAF Boulmer, the Station Commander, Group Captain Mark Coleman said: “I would like to express my gratitude to Group Captain Willbond and the 12 former RAF Boulmer Station Commanders who have funded this project. It is a excellent way of highlighting the contribution that Fighter Controllers and Aerospace Battle Managers have made since the formation of the Branch 75 years ago. Future students to the Branch will look on this as a topic for debate and discussion in the years to come.”