On 1st April 1918, King George V wrote: “Today the Royal Air Force, of which you are the minister in Charge, comes into existence as a third arm of the Defences of the Empire” in his letter to Lord Rothermere. This statement marked the official forming the RAF through the merging of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service.
Over the subsequent century, the RAF’s history is filled with dedication to duty and acts of individual bravery, but also the technical achievements and scientific advances that the Service has achieved through the years. This pioneering spirit was present from the very early days of military aviation, when the simple act of climbing into an aircraft of the flimsiest wire and fabric construction required reserves of courage and self-belief in equal measure. Flying was inherently dangerous, with many airmen destined to lose their lives in training accidents before they ever came close to the frontline.
St Clement Danes Church in Central London play a key part in this history as the Central Church of the RAF. As well as holding the Books of Remembrance the church also contains over a thousand slate squadron and unit badges in the floor. Many Colours and squadron standards are laid up in the building. The church’s part in the RAF’s history is demonstrated most clearly by its annual Founder’s Day service commemorating the RAF’s formation and rich subsequent history as well as paying tribute to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice over the years.
This year’s service featured the Launch of the 1941 campaign appeal in support of St Clement Danes as well as a Service conducted by the Reverend Geoffrey Withers and was attended by the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston who gave a reading too.
After the opening hymn and trumpet fanfare, the Chaplain’s opening words of the Bidding Prayer gave the service context:
“In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we come together this day in St Clement Danes, the Central Church of the Royal Air Force. We gather with colleagues, comrades, friends and their families to give thanks to God on the one hundred and fourth anniversary of the Foundation of the Royal Air Force in 1918.”
The first reading, read by Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston from Isaiah Chapter 50, gave a sense of the spirit of resilience and tenacity of the RAF:
“The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backwards. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.”
The Band of the Royal Air Force Regiment - under the direction of Principal Director of Music, Wing Commander Piers Morrell - performed a number of pieces prior to the service with the Choir of St Clement Danes performing during the service under the direction of Director of Music, Mr Simon Over.
The end of the service saw the Queen’s Colour for the Royal Air Force being paraded from the church.