Ladies & Gentlemen, we’re back!
Thursday the 29th of March saw No XI Squadron re-emerge as a Typhoon Squadron when the Squadron Standard was handed back at a stand up parade at RAF Coningsby. The reviewing officer was AM I McNicoll CBE Bsc FRAeS RAF DCinC. Attending the parade were about 45 Association members who included 11 former Commanding Officers and 7 of our WW2 members; Bill Chilvers, Harry Hewitt, Frank Proctor, Roger Watson, Timber Wood, Bert Salvage and Ken Harding.
It was nice to see our President, AVM Peter Collins, back on his feet and mobile once again after his fall. Unfortunately AVM John Price had planned to attend but was not feeling well enough the day prior to the stand up. This would have been the first Association event he would have attended after he suffered a stroke, and then a fall whilst on the road to recovery, our best wishes to him. Our chairman, AVM Cliffe, was also unable to attend and was missed by many.
Though the weather for the parade was less than perfect, it was great to see 2 Flights march onto the parade ground with a back drop of a Tornado F.3, a Lightning F.6 and a brand-new Typhoon F.2. The music for the parade was provided by the band of The RAF College. The parade formed up and then the Standard of Number XI Squadron was marched on, still furled in its sheath, (in the Standard party was W.O. Tony Moore who most of you will remember from Leeming).
The Standard was unfurled and handed over to the receiving Standard party and XI Squadron was complete. There was a flypast of 4 Typhoons which seemed to be a bit ‘off course’, but with the cloud being so low I was told that they were using the ILS for the out of use runway to come in below cloud. Both Flights then marched past the reviewing Officer two or three times and marched off the parade ground. Though the weather was cold and damp this did not stop us from enjoying the spectacle. We then all retired to the Officers mess for a cocktail party!
It was then back to the Hotels to change into our best ‘bib and tucker’ ready for the Stand Up dinner on the evening.
Before dinner we all went out onto the grass in front of the Mess to watch as a Hurricane from the BBMF perform a series of flypasts just for us, I’m sure it was just for our WW2 members really and I thought I saw the odd tear. If we let them they would have been off to the BBMF to see it in! I must say I was pleased to see so many ground crew, some only a couple of weeks out of training, at the dinner, and I had a interesting chat with two SNCO’s who seemed very keen to make sure that contact between ‘other ranks’ and the Association was kept up and improved on. It was also very interesting to watch the faces of the ‘new guys and girls’ just out of training when the Squadron history was read out in between courses, a mixture of fascination and awe! The biggest round of applause of the evening though went to Gp Capt. Tony Smyth, our oldest surviving Squadron Commander and his nurse, Jane Reynolds who had made the trip from Somerset to be with us for the event. May I add our thanks to Jane for looking after Gp. Capt Smyth both at home and over the two days they were at Coningsby. Also present at the dinner was Major ’Bull’ Pittner who will be joining the Squadron later this year. I’m sure that you will make him feel welcome when you meet him at future reunions. May I add our thanks to the Mess staff for a wonderful meal, how they squeezed us all in is beyond me, thank you all very much. After the dinner there was a wonderful speech by the new Squadron Commander Wg Cdr Gavin Parker, where he told us of the future plans for the Squadron. It is evident that the Squadron has some very tough times in store for all concerned. He then handed over to AVM Peter Collins who gave (by his standard) a very short speech, but included his usual joke at the end. I think we would all feel cheated if it wasn’t there!
As many of you now know we had commissioned a painting By Trevor Ker-Lewis of two Typhoons to present to the Squadron on their stand up. After the after dinner speeches the task of presenting it to the Squadron Commander was taken on by Harry Hewitt and Frank Proctor, and a fine job they made of it too. The painting has been called ’Eagles Reborn’ and shows two Typhoons at high altitude one breaking up and away from the other. It was received well by the Squadron and Association members and placed on display in the Officers Mess foyer, (it has since been taken to the C.O.’s office). As dinner was now over it was in to the bar where more than one or two beers were drunk!
Friday saw the day dawn pretty much the same as Thursday, damp and cold! A visit had been arranged to the BBMF hanger, and it was nice to see the various Spitfires and Hurricanes, along with 2 Chipmunks and a Dakota being serviced for the coming show season. A bus then took the majority of people to 3(?) Squadron hanger where a service of dedication was held for the Squadrons new aircraft. There was also a chance to get a closer look inside one (if you were prepared to wait a while). Some of us then decided that as it was a ‘cool’ day it was a good idea to walk to the Officers Mess for a light lunch, in the belief that it would warm us up…. It didn’t work! So after a light lunch with some hot coffee we went back to our respective hotels to prepare for the party in one of the HAS’s later that evening.
The party seemed to be a great success, but not being 21 for quite some time, we had a couple of beers and made our way to the door. I was however, ’accosted’ on the way by more than 3 or 4 of the ground crew that had been at the dinner the previous evening who wanted to say that they had enjoyed it and when was the next one!! Here’s hoping...
About 10 of us ended up in the Leagate bar though talking over old times for another couple of hours. The present Squadron has a lot to live up to. No XI Squadron has a long and distinguished history, but the history of a Squadron is not just the places it was based at, the aircraft type they flew and which battles it fought in. The people who served on the Squadron from the C.O. down to the lowliest LAC and the stories they have to tell make up a big part of that history. This present No XI Squadron is no different, they will have their up’s and down’s but I know that the heart of No XI Squadron is beating strongly and they will write their own history, in their own way, in their own time.