The third shall be the first?
Cottesmore's 1 and 3 Squadrons celebrate ninety years, 25 May 2002
Squadron's motto - Tertius primus erit - The third shall be the first.
This is a reference to the fact that No 3 Squadron, RFC, was the first
to be equipped with heavier-than-air machines. Its emblem - On
a monolith, a cockatrice - approved by HRH King George VI in September
1937. The cockatrice was chosen because in mythology it was the first
creature to fly.
1(F) Squadron's motto - In omnibus princeps - First in all things. Its emblem - A winged numeral 1 - approved July 1936 by HRH King Edward VII as the authorised version of a badge which had originated during World War I featuring a wreathed roundel from which sprouted a pair of Royal Flying Corps wings and on which the figure '1' was superimposed.
Gary Parsons was at Cottesmore for a ninetieth birthday party - all photography by the author unless credited otherwise
Both units formed on 13 May 1912 - 1 Squadron at Farnborough, Hants from No. 1 (Airship) Company, Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers, and 3 Squadron from No. 2 (Aeroplane) Company at Larkhill, Wiltshire. On the same day II(AC) (2) Squadron was born, also at Farnborough, from a detachment of No. 2 (Aeroplane) Company also. There has been much argument between 2 and 3 Squadrons as to who was the first fixed-wing squadron, as 1 Squadron remained on balloons for another year or so. Both units claim the honour, but it would seem that 3 Squadron has the firmer claim as most of 2 (Aeroplane) Company's aircraft were at Larkhill, only two aircraft being resident at Farnborough under the command of Captain C. J. Burke. It would seem that the claim will fall to the squadron that can prove which unit actually flew an aircraft first on or after 13 May - this will be almost impossible ninety years on! Certainly 3 Squadron has a firmer grasp on heritage, as it can trace its roots back further than 2 Squadron, but this may not be enough to claim the title of the first fixed-wing squadron of the modern air force. Full squadron histories can be found on the RAF website - click on each squadron crest.
To celebrate ninety years of both Cottesmore-based squadrons, a small families day was held with a limited flying display. Joining in the celebrations was a Tornado GR4A from II(AC) Squadron at RAF Marham, who had succeeded in celebrating its ninetieth birthday some six weeks before in early April, maybe to steal the limelight from 3 Squadron! Elsewhere was a Jaguar GR3 and Canberra. The flying display included 20(R) Squadron's official display Harrier GR7 (of course), Delta Jets' Hunter T7 WV318/G-FFOX, flown by Andy Cubin, representing both squadron's Hunter years, and Golden Apple's T-33 21261/G-TBRD flown by AVM Cliff Spink that was deputising for the advertised F-86 Sabre, another type from early post-war days. Flypasts from the BBMF's Lancaster and the Red Arrows were dispersed in the short programme and TFC's Spitfire IX EP120 provided the wartime reflection. Lastly four Harrier GR7s, two from each unit, performed an airfield attack before joining up for a formation flypast.
The Station Commander, Group Captain Mike Harwood is a Harrier pilot of distinction and has taken up command from the Joint Staff College at Shrivenham. Today, 1(F) Squadron is commanded by Wing Commander Chris Norton and 3(F) Squadron by Wing Commander Stuart Atha. Both squadrons, together with co-located IV(AC) Squadron, are kept busy with regular deployments, the most recent being to Norway for Exercise 'Snow Falcon'. The future for each squadron should be secure in the forthcoming Joint Force Harrier wing - it is hard to see the RAF willing to lose any of its founding three squadrons. JFH will see four units of GR7A/9s based at Cottesmore, two RAF and two Royal Navy, with the main OCU at Wittering.