As you can imagine, the last year has been quite an interesting one for Royal Air Force Music Services. With almost all concerts and parades being cancelled, our only real musical output has been through social media. However, musicians from RAF Northolt and RAF Cranwell have been supporting the UK Government’s response to COVID-19 through numerous Military Aid to the Civil Authority (MACA) taskings.
We currently have 68 personnel deployed throughout Wales supporting the Welsh Government and working closely with NHS Wales to provide vaccines for the highest priority and most vulnerable groups. RAF musicians are working in teams alongside Defence medics who are, for the first time, administering the vaccines themselves. Corporal Emily Eastburn-Pentreath summed up their work perfectly by saying that she was:
proud to be supporting this tasking, assisting the NHS and the Welsh Government with the delivery of a vaccine that is bringing people hope!
The involvement in this deployment comes after several RAF musicians supported Whole Town Testing of Merthyr Tydfil in late November 2020. At its peak output, the team were testing over 1000 people every day. One of the team, Corporal Dave Coyle felt he was:
able to make a real impact in Merthyr Tydfil and the local community. It was a pleasure to be able to assist the local authority there
From late December to the end of January, we also had a team deployed to Derbyshire within Joint Military Command (East) who were conducting mass testing. They helped to establish and run three active testing sites where members of the local communities could receive a COVID-19 Lateral Flow Test without the need for an appointment whilst also receiving their results within 30 minutes.
Not all of our musicians have been working away from the local area however, some have also been supporting Silver Testing here at RAF Northolt. The COVID-19 Silver Testing Team are able to provide testing for personnel across the London region who are deployed overseas at short notice, our very own 32 Sqn for example, and the team enables flexibility for other military personnel to carry out essential taskings abroad.
Five other musicians were tasked to support and advise local secondary schools on how best to achieve large scale testing of students and staff. With responsibility on the schools to plan and run their individual testing sites, which in some cases covered several thousand students, the input and experiences of our personnel was an enormous help to them.
Our Principal Director of Music, Wing Commander Piers Morrell, is also currently detached to the Cabinet Office as Lead for the COVID National Situation Validation Team. He and his team are responsible for collecting regional information and reporting directly into the Government.
Our musicians have stepped up into different and challenging roles since April 2020. They have transferred their teamwork and communication skills needed on the parade square and concert platform to their deployments across the country. This is a sentiment shared by Director of Music and Acting OC RAF Music Services, Squadron Leader Richard Murray:
We are proud of our musicians who have been, or are currently deployed in support of the Government’s response to the COVID pandemic. Feedback on their contribution has been extremely positive, demonstrating the capability and adaptability of our personnel
All these various deployments go to show that although it maybe difficult to be a musician, it’s actually not so troublesome to be a military musician with a face mask on.
Written by Sergeant Tim Hynd, Central Band of the Royal Air Force