This trip, organised by Terry May (17th), offered members (and wives, girlfriends etc) an event packed day at this well-established Station in the Suffolk countryside between Bury St.Edmunds and Thetford. Terry, who had served there in both Service and Civilian capacity, advertised this visit at our AGM and in our Newsletter with a limit of 35. Sadly applicants fell well short and the local RAFA Branch was invited to fill the gaps in our ranks.
Attendees assembled at 9am by the Guardroom for direction to allocated parking near the Sergeants Mess. All were issued with an Operation Order detailing our programme and driven to the “Sowrey Room” where RAF Honington’s history is on display. It was the ideal setting for team/coffee/biscuits and “meet-and-greet”. This room is named in memory of inaugural Station Commander Wing Commander Sowrey DFC, AFC who took office in 1937. Aircraft and personal soon rose in numbers so re-establishing the post at Group Captain level, resulting in his promotion. Our visit was hosted throughout by the Thetford & District RAFA Branch, whose Chairman John MacPherson welcomed us and explained that RAF Honington’s policy was to welcome visitors. We were then privileged to listen to Branch Secretary Ray Towler, an acknowledged expert in airfield research. Ray managed to talk about the Station from 1937 to present day in just over 20 minutes before answering questions. His interesting presentation was backed-up by slides/visual aids and was more professional that you would get at many business or educational establishments! Britain had declared war on September 3rd 1939 – and on September 4th aircraft from 9 Squadron took part in a German raid. However most of Honington’s war effort had been as a United States establishment with the entire Station made available for their sole use. Ray showed us the Station badge – stressing that the correct term is “badge” and not “crest”. A Station can only have it’s own badge after 10 years’ existence and Honington’s contains the words “Pro Anglia Valens” meaning “Valiant For England”. Military flying ceased in 1994 – the only aircraft now operating being a Suffolk Air Ambulance helicopter. A speaker knows he’s done well when his audience wants more, and such was the case here. Terry May proposed a vote of thanks to the historian.
We then walked to a Hangar (all parades here are held indoors irrespective of weather) where reserved seats had been set aside for us to view the passing-out parade of Trainee Gunner Course No.9/07. On parade after 26 weeks training were 48 Gunners all in the rank of LAC – this being the highest numerical graduation for sometime. Proud parents, relations and friends packed the seating area to witness a parade, which saw the RAF Regiment Band present. With the Regiment’s emphasis on drill a memorable parade ensued. The Reviewing Officer was Vice Admiral Peter Wilkinson CVO, BA, FCIPD, Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (Personnel). A proud Station Commander, Group Captain R.W. La Forte MBE, MA, BA looked on and maybe was thinking of his earlier days, for he commenced service as a Gunner! The Padre blessed the parade before they departed to the strains of the Royal Air Force March Past, composed in 1918 by Sir Walford Davies and still going strong!
After photographs we were treated to complimentary lunch at the Sergeants Mess, then driven on a Station tour by John MacPherson who works there and knows every nook and cranny. Next stop was the RAF Regiment Museum, which is full of interesting exhibits and photographs dating back to their 1942 formation. All are captioned so visitors are informed about what’s on display…but we went one better as Assistant Curator Warrant Officer Bob Hargreaves MBE personally conducted us around. Bob has a wealth of experience from many theatres and his every word merited full attention. The Heritage Centre is so large that, even though we spent much time there, we didn’t get to see all (missing out on the Uniforms Hall and Northern Ireland Section).
Our visit ended in the Sergeants Mess bar where we were introduced to RAF Liaison officer Squadron Leader Chantelle Baker BA, who like everybody else was supportive of our visit. Over drinks, personalised RAF Honington Visitor’s Certificates were presented by Terry May – except for our Chairman Jim Wilcox who had his formally presented by the Squadron Leader. We assembled at 9am and departed at 4pm – and time had flown by! Truly the sign of an enjoyable visit; so thanks to all behind such success!