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Brew for the Few

Gary Parsons reports from RAF Coningsby as the Royal Air Forces Association (RAFA) launches its 2008 Wings Appeal. Pictures by the author and Robin Powney

Guests from across the country were invited to Coningsby on 2 September to a 'Brew for the Few', held in and around the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's hangar. Those present were given a nostalgic view of the past, not only with the aerial action, but also with the aircraft on display and with music played by the RAF 'Shades of Blue' from the RAF Music Services.

Brewing up

The 'Brew for the Few' is a very simple idea, first staged in 2007, that encourages people to invite friends, family or work colleagues to 'pop round for a cuppa' in return for a small donation to the RAFA Wings Appeal to commemorate 'The Few' - those members of the Royal Air Force who took part in The Battle of Britain. Anyone can hold a 'Brew for the Few', anywhere, with profits donated to RAFA - across the country, coffee mornings, tea parties, tea dances are being organised to coincide with the anniversary of the climax of the Battle on 15 September. Of those 2,927 young men from this country and overseas, 1,441 of 'The Few' of RAF Fighter Command were killed or wounded, but preventing the invasion of Britain.

Each September the RAF Association hold its national 'Wings Appeal' to commemorate the Battle of Britain and the heroic sacrifices made by the young men of Fighter Command who withstood the German onslaught in what was one of the most important moments in Britain's twentieth century history and perhaps the decisive turning point of the Second World War.

Flt Lt John Down, 91, flew Spitfires in the Battle of Britain with 64, 616 and 91 Squadrons, flying from the Kent coast. John was born in 1917 and joined the Voluntary Reserve Air Force in 1938 where he first leant to fly. When he was called up into active service in October 1939 he began to fly the Spitfire. "We could see the enemy coast, just twenty miles away from our base at Hawkinge. At any moment you thought you could be attacked by machine gun bullets from 109s."

How did they feel sixty-eight years ago? "Just like 'going over the top'", says John, referring to the trenches of the Great War. "You had to be optimistic - not think about it, really" he adds. "The most tension was when you were on duty, when you knew you would probably be flying in the ten minutes or so. You wondered if it would be your last flight, but you just got on with it."
He flew Spitfires throughout the Second World War, stationed at various places across England. Towards the end of the war he was posted to India and completed his career in the Indian Air Force in 1945.

The annual 'Wings Appeal' allows the Association to continue providing support, welfare and care for the whole RAF family, when and where it is needed - the RAF Association is there to support all those who are serving, or have served, in the Royal Air Force, plus their dependants. Receiving no direct Government funding, the 'Wings Appeal' is essential in ensuring that RAFA continues to provide advice, support and welfare for any serving and former members of the RAF and their dependants who are in need. To continue to provide the level of welfare and care that its members require, RAFA needs to raise over £8 million each year. This support does not just go to veterans of the Second World War, but veterans of more recent conflicts such as the Falklands, Bosnia and the Gulf. The nature of war has changed, but not the nature of need.

Hosting the 2008 event, the Officer Commanding the Battle of Britain Flight, Sqn Ldr Al Pinner, said "It's what it's all about - that's our motto, 'Lest we forget'. RAFA does a fantastic job in supporting the ex-RAF members, veterans - it's absolutely brilliant." Coningsby's Station Commander, Group Captain Stuart Atha, is also a active member of the Flight and flies both the Spitfire and Hurricane at airshows across the country. "Interest in the Flight is stronger than ever", he says - "It seems as time passes, more people want to see us - I was amazed at the numbers at Shoreham and Bournemouth last weekend."

The day concluded with a display by Al Pinner in Spitfire XIX PM631 and Flt Lt Rich Walton in Typhoon F2 ZJ911/BZ, performing formation and opposition passes, much to the delight of the veterans assembled, an audible 'gasp' being heard as the two fighters, separated by sixty years development, shared the same piece of sky.


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