Monday 21st June marks the start of Armed Forces Week, a series of events, videos and articles celebrating the range of activities and people comprising Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.
Beginning with an opening message from the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, the week explores the work of our people at home and around the world and closes with Armed Forces Day on Saturday 26th June.
Monday is launch day where senior leaders from across Defence take the opportunity to celebrate the UK’s Armed Forces and their contribution to keeping the UK and its allies safe.
It’s a chance for the Armed Forces and Royal Air Force community to reflect on the previous year as well as looking to the future with the likes of the RAF Air Cadets, who are celebrating their 80th Anniversary this year, as well as focussing on Astra, the RAF’s campaign to build the Next Generation Royal Air Force that includes innovation and improvement to how the Air Force operates. With Astra now in its second year, some of the progress already made includes:
- Enhancing our offer to personnel through modern, flexible working options and accommodation models that allow more freedom of choice while demonstrating our commitment to the wellbeing of our people.
- Establishing a network of 1,000 Astra Ambassadors across every RAF Station to encourage conceptual thinking and support the growth of grassroots ideas.
- Integrating more online and virtual reality modules in our training courses, including cutting-edge synthetic training to help significantly reduce the time it takes for personnel to reach the front line. This brings additional benefits, including substantially reduced costs and less environmental impact.
- Launching a 10-year infrastructure plan to upgrade accommodation and facilities, so they are fit for the Next Generation Air Force. This supports our ambition to achieve Net Zero 50 by constructing sustainable buildings with accurate energy monitoring, real-time energy consumption and the identification and elimination of wasted energy.
- Introducing new 3D printing technology across a network of units that enables us to produce replacement parts for equipment quickly and efficiently.
The past 12-15 months has been a year like no other and the RAF was mobilised from the outset of the pandemic to support the Government and National Health Service during the greatest time of national need since the Second World War.
More than 750 RAF personnel, Regulars and Reserves including medical staff, planners, logisticians, and evacuation crews were deployed across the UK to support hospitals, ambulance services, local communities, and other Government Departments in the fight against COVID-19.
RAF Transport aircraft played critical roles repatriating British citizens stranded overseas by global travel restrictions and delivering vital medical equipment and vaccinations to those in need.
The RAF supported the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by repatriating nearly 800 UK and European passengers from overseas at the start of the pandemic. RAF Brize Norton handled three repatriation flights before MOD Boscombe Down assumed the task, receiving flights from China, Japan and Cuba.
In response to the pandemic, the RAF generated and held at readiness 1,300 personnel and mobilised almost 500 Reservists, primarily to support the Government’s Mobile Testing Units throughout the UK.
Planners, liaison officers and logisticians were also sent to the national, regional, and local headquarters of organisations including the NHS, Department for Education and Department for Transport to help plan and execute COVID response efforts. A fleet of suitable aircraft were held at a constant state of high readiness for COVID-related tasks, conducting evacuation flights from Northern Ireland and the Scottish Isles.
The Joint Helicopter Command-led Aviation Task Force Headquarters, based at RAF Benson, deployed RAF Pumas and Chinooks along with Army Air Corps Wildcats and Royal Navy Merlin helicopters in transport and air ambulance roles. They enabled the rapid movement of life-saving equipment and the ability to extract critically ill patients from remote locations. The tri-Service task force ensured that helicopters were on permanent standby from the Scottish Highlands to the Isles of Scilly.
Tuesday covers the unique contributions made by the Devolved Nations and the Commonwealth to the RAF and Defence; how the UK works for all four countries of the Union and maintains its links with the Commonwealth through Defence engagement and its service personnel.
In Scotland, RAF Lossiemouth conducts Quick Reaction Alert keeping the northern UK skies safe while down south in England, RAF Coningsby does the same. Wales is host to RAF Valley where the next generation of fast jet pilots for the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force train and in Northern Ireland, the RAF works alongside fellow Armed Forces personnel from Joint Helicopter Command FS Aldergrove.
In Northern Ireland, Armed Forces Day was celebrated on Saturday 19th June and included a spectacular flypast from the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, The Red Arrows.
The RAF regularly works with many nations across the Commonwealth, be it on Exercises and Operations or through training opportunities such as Captain Stewart of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Captain Stewart is an exchange pilot who recently followed in his grandfather’s footsteps by serving with the Royal Air Force on Operations in Africa. Flying Chinook helicopters with 27 Squadron in Gao, Mali, he contributed to the RAF providing a heavy lift capability to the French military deployed on Op Barkhane, the French Counter Insurgency Campaign in the Sahal region of West Africa.
Captain Stewart’s grandfather, Robert Brown served with the Royal Air Force during World War II including service with what was known as the Desert Air Force during the North African Campaign. Sadly, Robert passed away just over a year ago but before he died he was able to see Captain Stewart off as he left for the UK on his exchange.
Specialist RAF personnel have deployed globally in 2020 to support and deliver bespoke training to International Partners. Such activities have included training for non-commissioned officers, marksmanship principles, skill at arms training and tactical leadership skills.
The training is delivered using efficient coaching and mentoring, enabling foreign partners to deliver security within their borders. Short Term Training Teams have been deployed to Commonwealth nations including Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, and Pakistan.
Force Protection personnel also deployed to India to support Exercise INDRA DHANUSH, working alongside Indian Air Force colleagues to share operational experiences and demonstrate equipment capability, while continuing to foster this important relationship.
Wednesday is Reserves Day 2021. Reservists give up their spare time to serve in the Reserve Forces, balancing their civilian life with a military career to ensure that should their country require them, they would be ready to serve as part of the military.
The Reserve Forces make up approximately one sixth of our Armed Forces personnel and as such are integral to protecting the nation’s security at home and overseas, particularly providing capability in specialist areas such as medical and cyber.
Reservists are everywhere, but you might not know it. So on Reserves Day, our Reservists wear their uniform in their civilian life, even if that means while working from home in some cases. Keep an eye out for them this year. If you are participating then remember to use the hashtag #SaluteOurForces.
Thursday is an opportunity to mark the 10th anniversary of the Armed Forces Covenant in its current form. The Armed Forces Covenant is a promise by the nation ensuring that those who serve or who have served in the armed forces, and their families, are treated fairly.
The covenant focusses on helping members of the armed forces community have the same access to government and commercial services and products as any other citizen.
This support is provided in a number of areas including:
- education and family well-being
- having a home
- starting a new career
- access to healthcare
- financial assistance
- discounted services
The covenant supports serving personnel, service leavers, veterans, and their families. And is fulfilled by the different groups that have committed to making a difference.
- Central government, overseen by the Ministerial Covenant and Veterans Board
- Single services (Royal Navy, British Army, Royal Air Force)
- Businesses of all sizes
- Local government
- Cadet forces and their adult volunteers
The Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust supports the Armed Forces Covenant by delivering funding programmes that create real change to Armed Forces communities across the UK.
It is a charity and is classified as a Non-Departmental Public Body, or NDPB, and look after the Armed Forces Covenant Fund, worth £10m each year.
The Armed Forces Covenant Fund has four broad funding themes now and in future years.
- Non-core healthcare services for veterans.
- Removing barriers to family life.
- Extra support, both in and after Service, for those that need help.
- Measures to integrate military and civilian communities and allow the Armed Forces community to participate as citizens.
The Armed Forces Covenant Fund also works with HM Government to run other funding programmes that have a positive impact on Armed Forces communities.
Friday is a day to celebrate the veterans of the Armed Forces. The day allows the RAF to focus on the positive impact our veterans have had on their community and each other during the last 12-15 months.
In June this year, members of the Armed Forces joined veterans of the Normandy Landings witness the opening of the British Normandy Memorial at a ceremony at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.
While the veterans were unable to visit the British Normandy Memorial in Ver-sur-Mer, France due to the coronavirus travel restrictions, they gathered at the National Memorial Arboretum to watch a live stream of the events in Normandy.
The event took place on the 77th anniversary of D-Day – one of the largest military invasions in world history and the beginning of the end of the Second World War.
RAF veteran, 98 year old George Sutherland, walked two miles on VE Day last year in aid of a soldiers’ club in Belgium threatened with financial ruin by the pandemic. Sutherland, who escaped to Britain when Nazi Germany invaded Belgium in 1940, walked from Lijssenthoek Commonwealth War Cemetery in Poperinge to Talbot House, a clubhouse for all ranks founded in 1915 in Poperinge.
I made it! Today I walked from Lijssenthoek to my home from home to support @TalbotHousTubby . We also remembered all my comrades on #VEDay. #standwithTalbotHouse give what you can on https://t.co/0bBzSqGqrI— Aircraftsman George Sutherland (@GeorgeSutherl) May 8, 2020
Thank you for all the support along the way. Photos by Eric Compernolle pic.twitter.com/xGqxduWqP3
In October last year, Retired Squadron Leader, Alexander Gilbert DFC, was appointed to the rank of ‘Chevalier in the Order National de la Legion d’Honneur, after receiving notification by the French Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Ms Catherine Colonna. The award is France’s highest honour of merit, which recognises military and civilians alike. It states that: ‘This Honour recognises military engagement and steadfast involvement in the Liberation of France during WW2’.
In December, the RAF brought some Christmas cheer to a 98-year-old Second World War Spitfire pilot after learning that thieves had stolen from his home a cherished photo of him flying the iconic aircraft.
Dr Edmund James, the last surviving pilot of his Squadron was moved to tears as Wing Commander Marshall Kinnear, Station Commander of RAF St Mawgan in Newquay, presented him with an almost identical framed photo signed with a very personal message from the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston.
After hearing from a family member that the picture had been stolen from his home in Falmouth in October last year, the RAF were able to track down a sequence of 16 photos from the Air Historical Branch taken only seconds apart, finding an almost identical match of the aerial shot that took pride of place on Dr James' wall.
In August last year, three Scottish veterans met the Red Arrows at Glasgow Prestwick Airport to mark the 75th anniversary of Victory Over Japan Day, which effectively ended the Second World War. Veterans Whitson Johnson, Albert Lamond and Barney Roberts greeted the pilots as they stopped to refuel during the Red Arrows’ nationwide tour and exchanged their stories of serving in the Armed Forces three quarters of a century apart.
Ninety-six year old Whitson Johnson served in the RAF from 1942 to 1947 deciphering codes in support of the Fourteenth Army in the Far East and spent time in Bombay, Calcutta, Chittagong, Hmawbi and Burma.
Ninety-four year old Albert Lamond served in the Royal Navy from 1943 to 1947 as a Signalman and was at Sword Beach during the D-Day campaign. He was later attached to the Pacific Fleet that joined with the American Navy under the command of Admiral Halsey of the U.S. Navy in the Far East.
Ninety-three year old Bernard “Barney” Roberts served in the Royal Navy from 1942 to 1947 initially serving on a minelayer to protect the Arctic Convoys from German U-boats before fighting in Italy and later in North Africa.
Saturday - Armed Forces Day 2021
Towns and cities across the UK marked Armed Forces Day with more than 100 events taking place nationwide. The annual event is a chance for the whole country to celebrate the work of service personnel, reservists, veterans, cadets and their families and friends.
Unfortunately, the national event that was due to take place in Scarborough, had to be postponed until next year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, many parts of the UK, and Armed Forces communities around the world, still managed to hold smaller, localised as well as virtual events.
One hundred Service personnel and their families were invited to attend the Armed Forces Day event at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, for a special lunch as a thank you for their efforts over the last year. Many of the personnel in attendance have been busy supporting the UK’s response to the pandemic, from driving ambulances to supporting the vaccine roll out.
In London, as a special tribute, the Armed Forces took over the iconic billboards of Piccadilly Circus. The monumental screens showed moving portraits of Armed Forces personnel alongside a thank you message from the nation.
Other events were held by communities across the country with fairs, flypasts and family fun.
The awesome sight of the @rafredarrows saluting our Armed Forces personnel at the National Memorial Arboretum today!— Armed Forces Day ???? (@ArmedForcesDay) June 26, 2021
The nation is coming together to say thank you to the entire Armed Forces community ????#ArmedForcesDay pic.twitter.com/Llt3Fh61Mt
Armed Forces Day, now in its thirteenth year, is an opportunity for the nation to show its support for the entire Armed Forces community, from Service personnel to veterans and cadets to service families.
The Armed Forces Day National Event 2022 will be hosted by Scarborough following the postponement of this year’s event.
More information is available on the Armed Forces Day website.