The Countess of Wessex took to the skies as she visited Royal Air Force Wittering on Monday, September 21.
The visit is her first since the station received all its flying Squadrons and, in recognition, Her Royal Highness flew in one of the Station’s Grob Tutor aircraft. The aircraft was piloted by Squadron Leader Andy Paul, the Commanding Officer of 115 (R) Squadron.
The routine sortie took in Rutland Water, Oakham, Kendrew Barracks and Peterborough before landing safely at RAF Wittering some 40 minutes later.
The Squadron has completed a garden of remembrance to honour the sacrifices made by personnel whilst on operations and Her Royal Highness, in her capacity as the Cambridgeshire Station’s Honorary Air Commodore, met with the families of SAC Chris Dunsmore, SAC Graham Livingstone and SAC Gary Thompson, who were killed whilst serving in Afghanistan.
Jacqui Thompson is the widow of SAC Gary Thompson. She said; “Having the garden fills me with pride, it is so important to have a memorial garden, a place where people can remember Gary and Chris and Graham.”
After meeting with personnel from 504 Squadron and 85 Expeditionary Logistics Wing Her Royal Highness travelled to the historic RAF Wittering Officers’ Mess for an honours and awards ceremony at which Service and Civilian personnel were recognised for exceptional and meritorious work.
Deputy Business Manager Darren Exton received a special commendation for his outstanding contributions to Royal Air Force Wittering over the last year.
Darren, from West Pinchbeck, was crucial in preparing the Station for the filming of Mission: Impossible 5 in November 2014.
Darren said; “The last 12 months have been very busy, but it’s also been a very productive year. It’s always nice to have your work recognised, but today’s visit and having The Countess present my commendation made it so much more memorable.”
Other recipients included Warrant Officer David Dundas of 504 Squadron, who was presented with a Royal Warrant, and Warrant Officer Neil Paylor of the Station’s Personnel Management Squadron received his Meritorious Service Medal after 31 years of service.
In 2013 Her Royal Highness officially opened the refurbished RAF Wittering Community Centre. The centre has continued to thrive as The Countess discovered when she met the Mums and Tots group.
For Group Captain Rich Pratley, Station Commander at RAF Wittering, the visit successfully showcased the Station’s recent return to full time flying operations and a number of other key capabilities.
He said; “A visit from our Honorary Air Commodore is always a cause for celebration. Today Her Royal Highness has seen almost every aspect of this Station’s contributions to Defence, from elementary flying training to deployed logistics and catering.”
Group Captain Pratley continued; “Most importantly, The Countess has seen how Royal Air Force Wittering takes care of its people.
“504 Squadron’s tasteful garden of remembrance, the honours and awards ceremony and our thriving Mums and Tots group are all tangible examples of how importantly this Station values Service and Civilian personnel and families.”