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British and French Cadets mark the Entente Cordiale with exchange visit

As Princes, Presidents, Prime Ministers and Service Chiefs gathered to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the Entente Cordiale, a flight of 13 French Air and Space Cadets from BA116 set out to visit their twin RAF Air Cadet Squadron in Saltash, Cornwall. The visit was the initiative of the Escadrilles Air Jeunesse (EAJ) lead for BA 116, Sqn Ldr Philippe Girard, the principal of the Technical Lycée Luxembourg in Vesoul. With the complete support and sponsorship of Base Commander, Colonel Anne Labadie, Philippe’s vision was to add an extra international dimension to the EAJ offer. 

A pilot partnership was agreed with 335 (Saltash) Squadron, RAF Air Cadets based in Saltash overlooking the River Tamar. Video introductions were made followed by the proposal from the Franche-Comte cadets to go to Cornwall and parade with their British partners. With the blessing of Commandant RAF Cadets, Air Cdre Tony Keeling, a simple concept was designed using regional air links and low-cost airlines to benefit from a range of service and cultural activities in the South West. 

Activities on Ex Channel Hop 2024

The group arrived on Monday, 22 April, and by the next morning, were in RAF St Mawgan learning about the RAF, the base and the local area before joining RAF Air Cadets to head out with the Defence Survival Training Organisation (DSTO) for a superb mini-survival package. Wednesday saw the cadets surfing in Newquay, followed by the highlight visit to 335 Squadron, where they taught each other their respective services’ drills, and flew drones and flight simulators. Personal training the next morning was delivered by the St Mawgan gym personnel, followed by fieldcraft with Plymouth and Cornwall Wing, which included lunch in the field with ration packs. 

The afternoon was spent with the Royal Marines in Plymouth, where the cadets were able to see a different side of air operations through the prism of the 3rd Commando Brigade’s Air Cell. They met RAF Commandos and two French exchange officers (Navy and Marines) in Plymouth. The final event was a visit to the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton before the French cadets, aged between 15 and 18, returned to France on the Friday evening flight.

The concept was simple and, in principle, can be delivered very economically. It offered cultural and linguistic immersion and a fun and varied service package topped off with the most important element, the establishment of bonds of solidarity and friendship between the cadets of the two Squadrons. While national flagship events are hugely important and symbolic, local initiatives such as the one put together by BA116 and 335 Sqn allow the Franco-British cadet partnership to be delivered across the regions.

RAF Air Cadets and EAJ Cadets jump

A huge thank you goes to Anne as it would not have happened without her drive and determination. The list of credits is long: Grp Capt Maxine Fletcher, Regional Commandant SW, Wg Cdr Helen Simpson and Dave McKinley, Station Commander and CO DSTO respectively and their teams ranging from RAF Police to catering, media and the Gym staff; Jamie Norman, Comd UKCF and especially to Benoit Colombier, his EO from 9 BIMa; Wg Cdr Peter Ward and his superb team from Plymouth and Cornwall Wing (especially Plt Off Jon Burgess who was the host officer throughout), Andy McDermott, CO 14 Regt RA, and finally the biggest thank you of all to the cadets of BA 116 and 335 Sqn for their engagement and enthusiasm.