Battle of Britain Parade
Westminster Abbey 21st September 2014
September was a busy month for ceremonial events in the RAF as Battle of Britain 74th anniversary commemorations were held across the country.
One of the most prestigious of those events was undoubtedly the Service of Thanksgiving and Rededication that was held in Westminster Abbey on 21st September 2014. Each year the Standard of one of the Battle of Britain Squadrons is presented in the Abbey and this year it was the turn of 54 Squadron, which flew Spitfires in 1940 and is based at RAF Waddington as the ISTAR training and evaluation Sqn. The Service was attended by TRHs the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, the Chief of the Air Staff and many other very senior defence officers both serving and retired. Westminster Abbey is a large building, but for this event it was completely packed with over 1500 people in attendance. To be asked to take part in the Service of Thanksgiving was a once-in-a-career honour, but it was also slightly daunting.
A rather nervous Standard Party left RAF Waddington on Thursday 18th September bound for RAF Northolt in a minibus with the 54 Squadron Standard and ceremonial swords. The Party consisted of Standard Bearer Sqn Ldr Ade Pickup, accompanied by escorts Flt Lt Chris Hives and Fg Off Al Chevis. A reserve, Flt Lt Andrew Mack, also went along in case anything untoward happened to the main players. The journey included a pit stop at RAF High Wycombe to collect a special sword that was gifted to the RAF in 1957 by the widow of Sqn Ldr James Monypenny, who was killed fighting in the Battle of Britain. The ‘Monypenny Sword’ has just one purpose now – for use in the Battle of Britain Service each year at Westminster Abbey. The Standard Party spent most of Friday 19th September conducting drill practice with the Queen’s Colour Squadron (QCS) of the RAF Regiment, including an evening rehearsal in the Abbey which really brought home the magnitude of the upcoming event. A day of drill with the QCS is not something that everyone looks forward to, but it was an extremely valuable exercise for a group of aircrew officers who had not done any drill for a considerable time.
Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny and an early departure from Northolt ensured that the Standard Party arrived at the Abbey in good time. Another full rehearsal ensured that the Party was ready for action. As the Abbey filled up with 1500 UK and international dignitaries, QCS staff invited the Party to ‘just relax and enjoy the event’; the Standard Party took up its post at the West Entrance to the Abbey with a rising sense of trepidation. However, once the first march started playing, professionalism, pride and training took over and the Standard was marched up and down the aisle flawlessly. Attending 54(R) Squadron personnel, including the current Sqn OC Wg Cdr Tim Monk, beamed with pride as the Standard was presented and laid upon the altar. After the Service the Standard Party and OC attended an Air Force Board sponsored reception at Church House, where they were introduced to HRH the Prince of Wales. The Battle of Britain Service was a fantastic event which showed off the very best traditions of the RAF; 54(R) Sqn personnel quite rightly feel very proud of their contribution in 2014.