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The Queen Consort and the Royal Air Force

The saying ‘wearing of many hats’ certainly rings true of Her Royal Highness, Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall. Not only in the literal sense, as she’s often regarded as having a strong sense of style in the fashion columns, but also figuratively too as she has several titles attributed to her - from her royal titles to her patronage roles. One title of significant importance to the Royal Air Force is her role as Honorary Air Commodore of RAF Leeming.

More recently known as Queen Consort, Camilla has made many important visits to RAF stations over the years. From escorting His Royal Highness King Charles, to representing Her late Majesty the Queen, to more recent solo visits, Camilla is a familiar and welcome face at RAF stations. Her genuine interest, good nature, willingness to get involved as well as her respect for the RAF and its personnel has left a strong impression, marking herself as a treasured visitor at stations. 

There have been a couple of memorable visits over the years when The Queen Consort has graced her presence at RAF stations up and down the country and, as we mark Their Majesties The King and Queen’s coronation celebrations, we take a look back at those times and the imprint she’s left on those she’s met.

Going back to 2014, the red carpet was rolled out for her when she visited RAF Leeming to mark the opening of a new medical centre on base. The £4.9m state of the art facility replaced the dated building that had been in situ since 1939. Camilla met with wounded servicemen and women, medical personnel and local school children as part of her visit and unveiled a plaque to commemorate the occasion. A fly past took place in her honour.

The Duchess met Corporal Paul Bentley-Crane who was receiving treatment in his recovery from a broken leg from physiotherapist Flight Lieutenant Anna Dowling. He assured The Duchess his treatment was going very well after she enquired after his progress, and she praised staff for working so hard. She also spent time with some of the patients in the rehab gym within the medical centre and made them feel at ease when discussing their injuries and treatment.

“All the staff were assembled in the waiting room. It was planned to introduce her to some of the key personnel but I was struck by how relaxed and friendly she was and she took time to talk to many different staff, asking about their roles. She singled out the cleaner who played a vital role in ensuring the smooth running of the medical centre and spent time chatting to them. This gesture made them feel incredibly special and valued for the role they play at the centre and showed how genuine a person she was.”

Wing Commander Jon Hodgson
Senior Medical Officer, RAF Leeming

After a short pause, where The Duchess was undoubtedly busy with her other Royal duties, 2017 was a busy year for her as she made numerous visits to RAF stations. Her first visit of the year was an important one, and involved another trip to North Yorkshire as RAF Leeming marked its centenary celebrations of 100 Squadron.

This was The Duchess’ second visit to 100 Squadron after presenting them with a new Squadron Standard in 2010. As well as meeting personnel, families and veterans from the Station she was treated to a viewing of a drill from the renowned Queen’s Colour Squadron (now the King's Colour Squadron), followed by a flypast of 100 Squadron’s distinctive black Hawk T1 jets.

At the time of her visit she said: “I’m honoured to be here on this historic occasion to celebrate the Centenary of 100 Squadron. When I presented their new Standard to them in 2010, who would have known that this generation of pilots would be conducting operations in the skies above Syria and Iraq, in the most intense and sustained air operation that the RAF has conducted in the last 25 years?

“On this very special occasion we honour the heroism and valour of our predecessors. But let’s not forget that as today marks the passing of the baton to the new generation of Airmen, the next chapter of this Squadron is yet to be written.”

RAF Halton, in particular, has made strong connections with Camilla over the years. From meeting veterans, welcoming new graduates, engaging with local school children and cadets, she takes it all in her stride.

It was in April of 2017 that Camilla attended a graduation parade at RAF Halton, meeting the most recent Air Force recruits. This was an important visit for The Duchess as she attended on behalf of Her Majesty, presenting the station with its new Queen’s Colour and joined a paper aeroplane throwing contest with the youngsters, which she participated in with gusto.

RAF Halton is the only RAF station to hold the Queen’s Colour and then-Flight Lieutenant Scott Ripley-Jones, at the time, said: “Today is a day I will remember for the rest of my life with pride. To be chosen to bear the new Queen's Colour is a personal honour for me."

“It’s been a moment I cherished. It was an especially poignant moment as the Manchester Arena terrorist attack had just occurred and we were touched when she acknowledged the legacy of the Royal Air Force and the vital part we continue to play in protecting our nation. It was surely a memorable occasion for all and I have carried her words with me as we continue to protect our country.”

Squadron Leader Ripley-Jones

RAF Halton was once again treated to a visit by Queen Consort Camilla in 2019 as the station celebrated its centenary year. The fun-filled day in July saw Camilla take a trip back in time walking through some renovated trenches, met recruits who demonstrated their new skills and regaled her with stories of some of their experiences so far, as well as unveiled a plaque to mark the opening of a new youth activities centre for local community and armed forces families.

Group Captain Garwood, who assumed command of RAF Halton in August 2022, spoke of The Queen Consort’s past visits saying: “We are extremely honoured, as a Station, that The Queen Consort has visited RAF Halton on numerous occasions. She is a familiar face on base and in our home town of Aylesbury, involving herself in school visits and local community activity.”

As stations get ready to make their own arrangements to mark the King’s coronation Group Captain Gareth Prendergast, who took command of RAF Leeming in November 2021, speaks on behalf of the station saying: “We wish our Honorary Air Commodore Camilla and her husband King Charles ||| a memorable day celebrating this momentous occasion.”

Group Captain Garwood also wanted to send his well wishes to The Queen Consort saying: “On behalf of RAF Halton we wish His Majesty the King and The Queen Consort Camilla a very special day and we look forward to welcoming them back to our Station soon.”