Before I begin what I intend to make a very positive and constructive contribution to this debate, I must put on record my concern and that of other hon. Members about the disgracefully short notice for this debate. It is not as though we have not known for some time that 2018 was the centenary of the RAF—100 years in fact—but to give only one parliamentary day’s notice was very discourteous to Members. I hope that the Government will do better in future.
It is a real pleasure to open this debate for the Opposition and to celebrate 100 years of our Royal Air Force. I will try not to repeat too many of the Secretary of State’s remarks, but we in the Opposition are in a lot of agreement with him on this topic. In those 100 years, the brave, dedicated men and women of our Royal Air Force have worked tirelessly and made sacrifices—in some cases, the ultimate sacrifice—to keep us safe and to protect our freedom.
Although we are marking 100 years since the creation of the Royal Air Force, it did not come from nowhere. I would like to take a few minutes to look at what was happening before 1918. During the past four years, as we have reflected on the events of the first world war, the dominant image for most people has been that of the trenches on the western front—not least because so many families in all our communities have been able to trace family members who served in the Army on the western front. There has been some mention of the war at sea. In the Parc Howard Museum in Llanelli, we have an exhibition on the war at sea. We have talked about the blockade of Germany and the relentless attacks on ships bringing supplies to Britain. Indeed, we had a parliamentary debate on the battle of Jutland.
Many people are much less aware of the use of air power during the first world war. They tend to associate it much more with the second world war and, of course, with the outstanding performance of the Royal Air Force in the battle of Britain. However, the use of air power in combat goes back longer than one might think. Indeed, the use of a tethered air balloon for reconnaissance—to get a better view of what was happening on the ground—dates right back to the American civil war in the 1860s. Already during world war one, aircraft were used in many ways that we would recognise today—for reconnaissance, air combat, home defence, anti-submarine warfare and bombing—and they even took off from an aircraft carrier, with HMS Furious being the first aircraft carrier. The war also saw the further development of the use of wireless communication, aerial photography, tactics and organisation.
As Dr Murrison has mentioned, aircraft were flown by the intrepid members of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. They dealt with all the hazards of a relatively new and untried technology and the vagaries of weather, even before encountering the dangers of a mission. By the end of the war, that resulted in a combined total of some 9,300 killed or missing and some 7,000 wounded from the RFC, the RNAS and, subsequently, the RAF. We acknowledge their bravery and sacrifice.
This year, as has been mentioned, we have indeed enjoyed some spectacular events as part of the RAF100 celebrations, which have really commemorated, celebrated and inspired. I would like to put on record my sincere thanks to all those who have been involved in their preparation and execution. Up and down the country, the public have really appreciated the events, and a huge effort has been made to ensure that they have been truly open to the public. In one event in Cardiff, we had the flypast of a Lancaster bomber. We also had a fabulous display, in which the public could participate, with the opportunity to speak and ask questions about what they saw. Here in Parliament, we all enjoyed the RAF100 flypast, with the amazing participation of 100 aircraft.
The national Armed Forces Day event was held this year in Llandudno, where, being in Wales, we were of course blessed with perfect weather. The RAF pilots put on a spectacular air display, including by drawing a heart shape and of course the number 100 with their smoke trails.