It is an honour to speak in this debate to commemorate 100 years of the RAF. Like many hon. and right hon. Members, I have some RAF history, in that my dad’s father served during the second world war in RAF Middleton St George and RAF Croft near Durham. In my constituency, I am lucky to have not one or two, but three RAF bases: RAF Barkston Heath, RAF Cranwell and RAF Digby. Lincolnshire has a very proud military history, and Waddington, Coningsby and Syerston are just over the borders of my constituency.
RAF Barkston Heath provides an elementary training facility. We have heard how the RAF started its life here in the House, but my hon. Friend Dr Murrison spoke about how it had been drawn from the Navy and the Army. In fact, Barkston Heath is where the Royal Navy and Army air squadrons learn their basic flying training. The Secretary of State talked about the future of the air force. I was pleased to see that the investment in the new aircraft—the Grob Tutor being replaced by the Prefect—is providing modern technologies to ensure that the pilots of tomorrow have the best possible learning experiences.
RAF Cranwell is—I contend to my hon. Friend Robert Courts—the most famous RAF base in the country. It, too, started its life as a Navy base—as Royal Navy Air Station Daedalus—on
I took part in the armed forces parliamentary scheme, and I would like to thank my hon. Friend James Gray, who champions and organises the scheme, along with Lieutenant Colonel Longbottom, Wing Commander Smith—mentioned as “Vasco” earlier—and Mr Fico. This has been one of the most amazing experiences for me. I came into Parliament with a general public-level knowledge of the RAF, and representing a constituency with such a proud military history and three RAF bases, it was very important for me to learn as much as I could, as quickly as I could, about the RAF. The AFPS has greatly facilitated that.
I have visited the bases around my constituency, but also others around the country, including Valley, Benson, Brize Norton and Shrivenham, where we learnt about how all the forces work together. I have visited Waddington, Coningsby, Marham—to see the new F35—and Honington. We also travelled to the Falklands and Cyprus, and visited the air policing mission in Romania. I will not say more about those visits, because I am aware of time and the fact that others wish to speak.
Another visit that we made was to RAF Scampton, to see the Red Arrows. What a fabulous experience that is! Like other residents of Lincolnshire, I am often lucky enough to see them practising their loops, twirls, and other tricks over our home and from the car as we drive around the county. I urge the Secretary of State to ensure that the Red Arrows remain in Lincolnshire even if Scampton is closed. As part of the RAF100 celebrations, they came to London along with all the other aircraft and made a spectacular display in the sky.
Lincolnshire has had its own way of commemorating the centenary, however, on both a large and a small scale. For instance, the International Bomber Command Centre has opened on Canwick Hill, in my constituency. It overlooks Lincoln Cathedral, which the pilots would have used to help them to fly back home. Its education centre, the Chadwick Centre, is named after Roy Chadwick, the designer of the Lancaster bomber. It has collected more than 1,200 personal experiences, so that in the future people will be able to learn about what happened during the second world war. A memorial spire is encircled by walls carrying the names of the 57,871 who gave their lives as part of Bomber Command, or in support of it. It is a very moving tribute.
There is also the Bomber County Gateway Trust. A project that is currently in progress is the building of a fully sized Lancaster bomber at the side of the A46, so that people who drive into Lincolnshire will be immediately reminded of its RAF heritage. There is a beautiful picture of what it will look like: tilted slightly, with poppies like a carpet falling from it. The trust has raised a considerable amount, but more is needed. If the Secretary of State can spare any money from his budget and would like to contribute, that would be extremely welcome.
Today’s debate has given us an opportunity to commemorate the sacrifices and hard work of the servicemen and women who have gone before, to thank the servicemen and women of today and to think about the future. There have been 100 years of the RAF, but, as many other Members have said, the next 100 will be just as good, if not better.