Town and Station united on Saturday when the personnel of RAF Wittering marked the granting of the freedom of Stamford to the famous base.
As the Band of the Royal Air Force College struck up with a selection of rousing tunes, the immaculately groomed parade marched off in perfect unison along Broad Street to the war memorial outside historic Browne’s Hospital. Scores of Stamford’s citizens lined the route to watch the parade and cheer.
The parade began on Star Lane, but it was on Broad Street where RAF Wittering Station Commander, Group Captain Tony Keeling and Mayor of Stamford, Councillor Tony Story, inspected the parade.
Permission to enter a town is a mark of trust and confidence from the people, and to be granted the freedom of a town is the greatest honour that can be bestowed on a military unit.
It was the first freedom parade for Flight Lieutenants Becky Orr and Mohammad Jamil. Flt Lt Jamil is an engineer at RAF Wittering and commanded one of the columns on Saturday. He said: “You feel extremely proud to be part of the team; trusting the guys to keep me right as I can’t actually see the flight behind me, and the guys trusting me.”
The freedom of Stamford was first granted to RAF Wittering in July 1961. The Station’s links with the town actually date back to 1916 when the aerodrome was established on Wittering heath. RAF Wittering signed an Armed Forces Community Covenant with Stamford in 2013, demonstrating the bond between the base and the community.
Group Captain Keeling said; “Today the people of Stamford see Grob Tutors in the sky, but previous generations will have seen Harriers, V-Bombers, Spitfires and biplanes overhead. This is essence of our shared experience and the foundation of the relationship we’re celebrating with Stamford.”
For the Mayor of Stamford, it was an especially poignant moment. Cllr Tony Story was stationed at RAF Wittering as a photographer before he retired and the parade was one of his last official engagements as Mayor.
Cllr Storey said: “If you had asked me 40 years ago, when I was an RAF Photographer, that I’d be inspecting this parade as the Mayor of Stamford, I’m sure I wouldn’t have believed you. We have a wonderful history with the Station and it’s brilliant that so many people have turned out to support the parade. I cannot think of a better way to end my term as Mayor, so thank you Stamford and RAF Wittering.”
Group Captain Keeling concluded: “Parades take a lot of organising and the people of Stamford have done us proud in showing their appreciation. All of us get an acute sense of the bond between the town and RAF Wittering when we see so many spectators lining the route. It’s a good feeling and immensely rewarding for our people.”