Former Squadron boss, and now RAF Benevolent Fund Director of Strategy and Fundraising, Group Captain Mike Neville looks back on 100 years of service for 47 Squadron.
Almost from the very beginnings of the Squadron’s proud service it has operated in far flung corners of the world, often unsupported, and frequently as the sole representatives of the Royal Air Force and our Nation.
Formed in Yorkshire on 1 March 1916 as a Home Defence Squadron it was equipped with BE2s, BE12s and FK3s. But after just six short months the Squadron was transferred to Greece to work with Allied Forces fighting the Bulgarians in Northern Greece.
The Squadron has received seven battle honours with the right to emblazon and a wealth of individual operational awards over the years. But what is sometimes forgotten is their humanitarian work, which amount to several different missions. During the Berlin airlift, the Squadron flew more than 3,000 sorties in the seven months it was assigned to the operation, mainly transporting coal to the beleaguered city and more recently they were involved with the aid drops to help thousands of people fleeing Islamist militants in Iraq.
47 Squadron of today very much prides itself on its ability to get the job done ‘Sans Peur’ or ‘Without fear' enabling the wider collective effort to achieve its often strategically important objectives. Through innovation and adaptation it overcomes environmental and operational factors and I was struck with the similarity between the circumstances of today and those of yesteryear when 47 Squadron pilots, whilst attacking enemy aircraft over Hudova during the First World War, urged their aircraft (restricted to 100 knots) to a previously untried and untested speed of 120 knots. The Squadron armourers and engineers had also ‘jury rigged’ a second Lewis gun to fire obliquely from the front of the aircraft!
This spirit of innovation and indeed courage, pressing boundaries, doing all within their gift, and sometimes recognising but challenging rules and regulations is as present today as it was in the beginning.
But we are not so proud as to turn down help when we need it and it is here that I have to salute the RAF Benevolent Fund for their compassion and support during what were some of the bleakest days on the Squadron in recent years.
On 30 January 2005 I received notification that one of my aircraft, flying alone in Iraq, had been shot down and all 10 crew on board were killed. Many things went through my mind as the then Squadron Commander but first and foremost was the loss the families of my fallen crew would have to endure for –the rest of their lives.
I knew I would be around for only six months or so as the Squadron boss but thankfully I knew that the RAF Benevolent Fund would be around for as long as they were needed. And they have been! When we go on operations it is a real comfort to know that we have the Fund at our backs, ready to step in as they did on that fateful day in 2005, and that they will stand by us no matter the cost or time involved.
When people ask me why I left the RAF when I did or why I joined the RAF Benevolent Fund I answer with a question of my own – why wouldn’t I?