On Sunday 10 June 18, No. 56 Squadron personnel were able to exercise their newly acquired ‘Freedom of the District’ in the village of North Weald, parading through the village in this, the Royal Air Force’s Centenary year. The squadron - based at RAF Waddington - is one of the oldest and most notable units of the Royal Air Force, having played a part in the Battle of France and the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940.
The community were able to enjoy the parade by 56 Squadron, a picnic, music courtesy of the Epping Forest Band and the band of 56 squadron ATC, as well as a magnificent fly-past from a Hurricane of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The sunny day concluded with the laying of the wreaths- a wonderful tribute to over 250 servicemen, servicewomen and civilians employed at the station, who lost their lives in peace and war since the airfield’s inception, 102 years ago.
The ‘Freedom of a District’ is quite the honour, having been a custom as far back as Ancient Roman times, the honour is granted to military units which have earned the city's trust and as such allows them the freedom to parade through the district, and is an affirmation of the bond between the unit and council with the community of North Weald. The honour was only very recently bestowed upon 56 Squadron by the Epping Forest District Council on 24 April.
No. 56 Squadron stands to remain as a significant part of North Weald’s history; whilst North Weald is no longer an air base, it stood as an important fighter station during the Great War and remains the spiritual home of 56 Squadron having been based there from 1927 until 1941.
Seeing the local community turn out to show their support in such numbers was a proud moment for the Squadron further strengthening the relationship between 56 Squadron, North Weald and Epping Forest District.
Officer Commanding 56 Sqn said:
“It is with a great sense of pride that 56 Squadron first exercised the Freedom of its spiritual home at North Weald and marched on to its Battle of Britain airfield on 10 Jun 18. Representing the RAF in its centenary year with a superb parade, the Squadron further reinforced the enduring links between the Service and the District of Epping Forest – a connection that goes back more than 100 years. Made to feel very welcome by the local community, 56 Squadron personnel were in high demand by the residents, especially for photographs! The Firebirds all look forward to the next time we exercise our Freedom."