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RAF charity shines spotlight on unsung heroes on Battle of Britain Day

By Kirsty Brown

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To mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain the RAF Benevolent Fund, the UK’s leading RAF welfare charity, has led a national tribute to all those who played a key role in the battle with a poignant light show projected onto Remote Radar Head Buchan, near Peterhead.

A special tribute was deemed important on the 80th anniversary of the battle by the Fund, which has been supporting members of the RAF Family for more than 100 years.

The charity hopes the tribute will encourage the nation to stop and consider the contribution of those whose stories are not often centre stage when we reflect on the Battle of Britain, for example those who worked on the ground to support the famous ‘Few’ fighter pilots.

Air Vice-Marshal Chris Elliot, Controller of the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, said: “We often talk of ‘The Few’, the fighter pilots who took to the skies during the Battle of Britain.

"Their contribution was exceptional, and it is important we remember them and their experiences.

"What we don’t reflect on enough, within the Battle of Britain story, are the lives and experiences of those who were involved on the ground during the battle.

"Particularly, the women who were behind the scenes, as radar operatives, filter room attendants serving in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force or members of the Royal Observer Corps.”

The light show took place at RRH Buchan, an active radar site which is an essential component of today’s UK Air Surveillance and Control System.

The projection paid homage to the giant Chain Home radar towers that once stood 360ft tall and ran all along the Coast of the UK, from Cornwall up to the Shetland Islands, and the female radar operatives and filter room assistants who played such a crucial role in receiving and reporting the information back to Fighter Command.

The RRH Buchan is not where the link between Scotland and radar ends, however.

Radar was pioneered during the Battle of Britain by Brechin-born Scotsman Robert Watson-Watt, who used radar technology to provide advance warning to airmen as far back as 1915, a year after the start of the First World War.

A graduate of the University of Dundee, Sir Robert’s Chain Home system of radar towers proved invaluable in detecting enemy aircraft.

The 80th anniversary of the Battle Of Britain.
The 80th anniversary of the Battle Of Britain.

Station Commander RAF Boulmer and Director Battlespace Management Operations, Group Captain David Keighley, said: “It is an honour to be part of today’s tribute to the Few, and it is right that we continue to commemorate both their outstanding achievements and their courage in the face of adversity.

"We should also pause to remember the thousands of ground crew and other support staff who played a vital role in keeping the airfields and the air defence systems running.

"Although the threats and the technologies of today are very different, the role of securing the skies above the UK is just as important now as it was then.

"To this end, I am immensely proud of our integrated RAF, Civil Service and contractor team that continues to ensure the safety and security of our airspace 24/7, 365 days a year.”

The last surviving member of ‘The Few’, Battle of Britain pilot John ‘Paddy’ Hemingway, said of the contribution of radar: “In reality, the system worked so well that the time from a blip on the radar to a squadron in the air to meet it was six minutes, and the climb rates of the Hurricanes and Spitfires put the fighters at 15,000 feet within six minutes of leaving the ground.

"Time was a crucial factor in the battle.

"The ability to get to fighting altitude – 10,000 to 15,000 feet, usually – proved critical, and the aid of radar early warning would prove to be one of the vital British advantages in the battle."

Now aged 101, John said: “I’m very happy to represent my comrades as the RAF Benevolent Fund celebrates the 80th anniversary in this imaginative way.

"There is no doubt in my mind we should applaud all those who fought during those difficult months, not just the pilots.”

In England, a light show also took place at Bawdsey transmitter block in Suffolk, the first fully operational aircraft radar station in the world, and where Watson-Watt went on to develop its capabilities with his team.

Like Second World War ground crews and radar operators, many RAF veterans and their partners remain unaware of the support they can receive from the RAF Benevolent Fund.

Last year the charity launched a major campaign to encourage RAF veterans and their partners or widows(ers), including members of the Royal Observer Corps, in need to get in touch with the charity.

Sergeant John Wright served at RHH Buchan as radar manager for a total of eight years during two postings.

Now retired from the RAF and living in Dunfermline, John and his wife, Mary, who also served in the RAF, were helped by the RAF Benevolent Fund when their young son, Lewis, was diagnosed with multiple disabilities including epilepsy.

Commenting Mary, who served as a telcomms operator during her 12 year career, said: “Throughout my time in the air force I was aware of the RAF Benevolent Fund, but never thought to call on their services.

"That all changed when we brought Lewis home from hospital.

“The Fund helped John and I make significant changes to our home to ensure it could accommodate Lewis’ needs as he grows up, including converting our garage into a living space for Lewis and creating one large family living space which Lewis can access in his wheelchair.

"Since John retired from the RAF last year, they’ve continued to support us, with help such as an electric wheelchair for Lewis to give him more independence.

"The Fund came to our aid when we needed it most and has made a life-changing impact.”

Air Vice-Marshal Chris Elliot said: “We believe there are hundreds of thousands of veterans out there who need support, many of them in their twilight years.

"It’s our duty to get them back on the radar and receiving the help they so rightly deserve.

"That is why we’re calling on the public to help us find them before it’s too late.

"They may be your friends or relatives.

"If you know of someone who might need some support, get in touch today.”

If you know any RAF veterans and their partners in need, you can refer them to the Fund by visiting rafbf.org or by calling 0300 102 1919.

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