The Royal Air Force (RAF) has “defended our freedom gallantly”, Queen Elizabeth said on Sunday as she sent her “heartfelt congratulations” to the service as it celebrated its centenary. One hundred years ago, on April 1st, 1918, the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service merged to create the RAF — the world’s first independent air service.
During a breakfast reception at a building on the Strand, London, that was formerly Hotel Cecil – the first headquarters of the RAF — a printed message from the queen was read out by Aircraftsman Adam Wood.
The 16-year-old from Aylesbury, who is one of the youngest members of the RAF, told a room packed full of dignitaries, including the chief of the air staff Air Chief Marshall Stephen Hillier and chief of the defense staff Air Chief Marshall Stuart Peach, that the queen sent her “heartfelt congratulations”.
“The anniversary of the world’s first independent air force is of great significance, and it is fitting to pay tribute to the tenacity, skill and sacrifice of the men and women who have served within its ranks over the last century, and who have defended our freedom gallantly,” the queen’s message said.
“Through its enduring focus on professionalism, excellence and innovation, the Royal Air Force stands as a shining example of inspiration around the world today and for the next generation.
“May the glory and honor that all ranks have bestowed on the Royal Air Force light its pathway to the future guarding our skies and reaching for the stars.”
The queen finished the message with the Latin motto of the RAF, Per Ardua ad Astra, which translates into English as “through adversity to the stars”.
Mr Hillier told the Press Association that as the RAF entered its second century, the anniversary was a “chance to reflect back on a first century of achievement, success, courage and sacrifice”.
Pressed on what the message from the queen meant to the RAF, he said it was “tremendously important”, noting how King George V also sent them a message when the service was first formed.
“And now to have Her Majesty the Queen sending a message to her Royal Air Force and recognizing what we have achieved in the past and also looking forward to the future, it is a tremendously significant moment for us,” he said.
When asked whether when he first joined the RAF he ever imagined he would have been chief of the air staff during the centenary of the service, Mr. Hillier said: “No.”
“I joined the Royal Air Force quite a few years ago now, but I joined the Royal Air Force because I had a love of flying, I wanted to be a pilot . . . but also because I wanted to give myself as many opportunities as possible, to challenge myself and get greater responsibility,” he added.
“I guess that has happened as each year has gone past, and one day I found myself in command of the Royal Air Force — it is just a huge privilege, I am tremendously proud to be in command of the Royal Air Force.
“And on our 100th birthday as well — [it] just makes it even more special. But I do that on behalf of everybody in the Royal Air Force and the Royal Air Force family.”
Celebrations on Sunday also included a service at the RAF’s church, St Clement Danes in London, which was attended by veterans, serving RAF personnel, and former Countdown presenter and honorary Group Captain Carol Vorderman.
Vorderman, who co-hosted a gala at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday marking the start of the centenary celebrations, said it was a shame the event was not televised.
“It was really emotional and should have been shown, the various stories that so many members of the public won’t know about,” she added.
Spotted doing a selfie with a number of RAF air cadets on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice following the start of the RAF100 baton relay, Vorderman described the RAF as a “family”.
“Even if you’re not serving personnel it has a wider family, and that is not a cliché, it is the truth,” she said.
“It is very welcoming and it has touched so many millions of lives in different families over the years, and it is wonderful.”
As part of 100th anniversary celebrations a Battle of Britain veteran took to the skies at the age of 96 in a Spitfire. Squadron Leader Allan Scott was only 19 when he shot down his first German bomber while serving as a pilot during the Second World War.
On Sunday, he was part of a Spitfire flypast at Biggin Hill in Kent - where he was originally posted in 1941 - to mark the centenary celebrations.
“The RAF has stood in defense of Britain for a century,” Scott said.
“It’s part of me. I can’t wait to get up there flying again in my beloved Spitfire. It’s a beautiful aircraft. It fits you like an overcoat.”