Town centre resounds to centenary celebrations for the RAF

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The SOUND of military bandsmen resounded through the town centre, crowds lined the street and Chesham’s celebration of the Royal Air Force’s centenary got underway.

The Sunday afternoon events in Chesham on April 15 began with personnel from RAF Halton forming a Guard of Honour at the War Memorial in the High Street and laying a wreath.

Tricia Birchley and Sir Henry with dignitaries-and senior RAF officers-after the church service

Tricia and Rob Woods inspecting the parade

The RAF Regiment band

Led by the Band of the Royal Air Force Regiment and carrying the Queen’s Colour Standard (flag)  the Guard of Honour then marched along the High Street towards the Clock Tower where they were greeted by HM Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire, Sir Henry Aubrey-Fletcher who took the General Salute.

Sir Henry was joined on the dais by Patricia Birchley, the Chairman of Buckinghamshire County Council, Group Captain Woods, Station Commander RAF Wycombe and Wing Commander Karen Moran, Deputy Station Commander RAF Halton. The Guard of Honour then marched back along the High Street to the war memorial.

The Queen’s Colour Standard was presented to RAF Halton by HRH The Duchess of Cornwall on a visit to Buckinghamshire last year.

Following the parade a church service organised by Buckinghamshire County Council took place in St Mary’s Church. Cadets from 2204 (Chesham and Amersham) Squadron, part of the Herts and Bucks Wing Air Training Corps supported the events. The Team Rector of Great Chesham, the Revd Simon Cansdale led the service and the Bishop of Buckingham, the Rt Revd Alan Wilson preached.

One of the guests invited to the church service was Diane Rutter, Services Director at Community Impact Bucks. The organisation which recruits volunteers to support local charities has done a lot of work with RAF High Wycombe to help service personnel and their families integrate with local communities through volunteering. However Diane also had another reason to attend, her grandfather was one of the founding members of the Royal Air Force when it formed in 1918.

Diane explained how her grandfather joined the RAF: “Aged 18, my grandfather, Joseph John Burchett (JJB) Rutter, joined the Royal Horse Artillery as a gunner during the First World War. In November 1917 he transferred into the Royal Flying Corps and trained as a pilot at RFC Netheravon.”

JJB, as he was known to his family, was a flight instructor and trained pilots who were needed on the Front in the First World War. 12 hours of flying was all that was required for them to qualify for the task and sadly many of those trained were never to return, despite the quality of the training they received from JJB.

JJB continued to fly as an RAF Reservist until 1929 and re-joined the RAF in World War Two as Squadron Leader.

Another guest of honour at the commemorative service was veteran pilot Jimmy James, 95, from Chesham who served in the RAF for 37 years. Jimmy is a member of St Mary’s Church and was a Flight Lieutenant. He spoke movingly about his experiences of flying with the RAF including his memories of being shot down over Italy during World War II when he was seconded to the Royal Australian Airforce in Squadron No 450.

Patricia Birchley, Chairman of Buckinghamshire County Council commented after the day’s events: “What a wonderful and fitting way to mark such an important milestone in our country’s military history. Buckinghamshire has a long held association with the Royal Air Force. We may only have RAF Halton and RAF High Wycombe remaining but the county has been home to 16 different air bases.

“Today’s celebrations have been about commemorating the great work done by all those who have served in the Royal Air Force since it was founded in 1918 and also looking forward to the future and all those who will serve under it, protecting our Queen and country for the next 100 years.”

Photos by Buckinghamshire County Council.