My decade, their century: the Royal Air Force at 100

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This year the Royal Air Force (RAF) celebrates its centenary. It also marks the decade since I joined. Joining the RAF at the age of 23 fulfilled a lifelong ambition - I'd wanted to be a pilot since the age of nine, and had serious designs on a military career from 12. It’s daunting to think my own granddad had lied about his age and joined the army not much older at 14.

Back in February 2008 I started Initial Officer Training with close friends from the University Air Squadron and Air Training Corps. While in the RAF I was based at stations across the UK, working in both Fighter and Air Traffic Control. I obtained my pilot licence the day before I started at Cranwell, and made use of it throughout my tenure, as well as regular glider flights.

I moved on from the RAF in 2011 and I am delighted to have a military connection once again. This month I have started working for the CWGC as Project and Events Coordinator. Working to keep the memory of our armed forces alive is a great privilege. 

Last month I visited both Brookwood Military Cemetery and the Runnymede Memorial. The Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede is especially poignant for me. On my father’s side, my grandfather served in the Durham Light Infantry (DLI), my grandmother in the Women's Royal Naval Service, and my mother’s father served in the RAF. My DLI granddad kept a wartime log, especially moving as parts of it were written when he was interned in a prisoner of war camp. Despite connections all over, it’s the air force that strikes a chord with me. I still hold my pilot licence, and I can regularly be found in the Royal Air Force club in Mayfair!

At Runnymede, reminding myself of the greatest sacrifice my air force comrades made for us was phenomenally moving. The day I visited, the memorial was the very top of the world. The clear sky was a deepest blue, with only the astral crown, sitting atop the main shrine, disturbing it. From the top terrace, the view over the Thames interrupted, serendipitously, by aircraft from Heathrow, is as great a tribute as any to the fallen named here. Having visited sacred places the world over, this memorial struck a chord deep within me.

  CWGC Runnymede Memorial

CWGC Runnymede Memorial

The RAF was borne from two wings of the army and navy - the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service. Seen at first as a novelty, with parity to the cavalry or nautical craft, it took the events of the First World War to warrant a unique service entity. Although the world’s first independent air force, the “junior service” has been characterised as having “habits, not traditions”. The plucky new force, nicknamed “the Brylcreem boys” and later “the crabs”, soon had its chance to prove its worth providing air support to operations in Dunkirk, later in the Battle of Britain, and strategic bombing raids. Numerous post-1945 engagements of note followed from the tour-de-force long range bombing of Port Stanley, to the 40 days air offensive of the first Gulf War - paving the way for a succinct ground operation of barely four days.

The RAF, formed inauspiciously on April Fools’ Day, has been mocked by other services as the “100 year experiment”. The past century has been proof enough of the need for air power, and the importance of a single professional service dedicated to delivering it. In these uncertain times, the Royal Air Force is sure to be around for 100 years more.

I am proud to have earned the Queen’s Commission, and to have served. It’s kismet to have joined CWGC as the RAF marks its centenary. Being a part of the Commission means I can revisit military traditions I had left behind. My job will involve meeting people from all walks of life who are united in their interest to honour those fallen in service of our country. That commonality is what matters to me above all.

  Officers and S.E.5a Scouts of No. 1 Squadron, RAF at Clairmarais aerodrome near Ypres. The group includes two Americans serving with the Royal Air Force, Lieutenants D. Knight (extreme left) and H. A. Kuhlberg (extreme right). © IWM (Q 12063)

Officers and S.E.5a Scouts of No. 1 Squadron, RAF at Clairmarais aerodrome near Ypres. The group includes two Americans serving with the Royal Air Force, Lieutenants D. Knight (extreme left) and H. A. Kuhlberg (extreme right). © IWM (Q 12063)