They protect us from the skies and have taken to the air to ensure our safety for decades.
The Royal Air Force, the world’s oldest independent service of its kind, enjoyed special today as its centenary celebrations got underway and it was some of its service men and women, past and present, who took centre stage.
This is an anniversary for every generation to revel in, including the eldest who joined younger colleagues at Biggin Hill Airport in Kent for a fitting commemoration.
The attention fell on former Spitfire pilot and Squadron Leader Allan Scott, aged 96, who took to the air as a passenger in a Spitfire.
Watching on was Mary Ellis, aged 101, the oldest surviving member of the Air Transport Auxiliary wing who flew over 400 Spitfires during the Second World War.
The remarkable role the RAF has played, both before the Spitfire was piloted to help win the Battle of Britain in 1940 and in every decade since, was marked by the Ministry of Defence. From its archives, it released a series of photographs that chart the RAF’s development through the years.
In London, a breakfast reception was held at a building on the Strand, which in its former guise as Hotel Cecil acted as the first RAF headquarters and there a printed message from the Queen was read out by Aircraftsman Adam Wood.
The 16-year-old from Aylesbury, who is one of the youngest members of the RAF, told a room full of dignitaries including the Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier and Chief of the Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, that the Queen sent her “heartfelt congratulations” as he read her message.
“The anniversary of the world’s first independent Air Force is of great significance, and it is fitting to pay tribute to the tenacity, skill and sacrifice of the men and women who have served within its ranks over the last century, and who have defended our freedom gallantly,” the Queen said.
“Through its enduring focus on professionalism, excellence and innovation, the Royal Air Force stands as a shining example of inspiration around the world today and for the next generation.
“May the glory and honour that all ranks have bestowed on the Royal Air Force light its pathway to the future guarding our skies and reaching for the stars.”
The Queen finished the message with the Latin motto of the RAF, Per Ardua ad Astra, which translates to English as “through adversity to the stars”.
Speaking afterwards, ACM Hillier said the RAF’s anniversary is a “chance to reflect back on a first century of achievement, success, courage and sacrifice”.
He said the message from the Queen was “tremendously important” and that it mirrored neatly how King George V also sent the RAF a message when the service was first formed.
“I am tremendously proud to be in command of the Royal Air Force,” he said.
“And on our 100th birthday as well - (it) just makes it even more special. But I do that on behalf of everybody in the Royal Air Force and the Royal Air Force family.”