VIDEO: Freedom of the City parade is ‘Great Escape’ for RAF Wittering’s 100th anniversary
Swords drawn, bayonets fixed, a Hurricane and Spitfire flying overhead and The Great Escape theme playing in the background.
It was all part of RAF Wittering exercising its right to parade through Peterborough city centre on Sunday afternoon having been granted Freedom of the City in 1983.
The occasion was made even more special with the station celebrating its 100th anniversary, and for some people involved in the proceedings it was very much an afternoon of firsts.
Wing Commander Mike Ainsworth, on his first RAF Wittering parade, said: “It was good to get back in the community and with the people who in effect pay our wages and who we are there to protect.
“People need to see what we are doing and we need to speak to people.”
Wing Commander Ainsworth recently finished his third tour of Kabul where he had been mentoring the Afghan National Army, and he was impressed by the sites of Peterborough Cathedral and the Guildhall.
He expressed his pleasure at being joined by the dozens of people who watched and filmed the proceedings which began from behind the Town Hall shortly after 3.50pm.
The parade then processed onto Bourges Boulevard and Bridge Street where the Market Harborough Air Training Corps Band filled the air with the music from The Great Escape, almost certainly to the surprise of the afternoon shoppers.
Over 50 Royal Air Force personnel in full dress uniform were joined by the Peterborough Air Cadets, the Peterborough Schools Combined Cadet Force and a number of veterans’ organisations.
They made their way onto Cathedral Square where they were soon followed by a number of dignitaries including the Mayor of Peterborough, Councillor David Sanders, who joined Group Captain Rich Pratley, Station Commander at RAF Wittering, in an inspection.
A gift was then handed over by Peterborough City Council to RAF Wittering and Cllr Sanders expressed his “great pleasure” at being able to honour the men and women who the city and nation “owe a thanks” to for their years of service.
He added: “Over the years you have gone and continue to go to some of the most dangerous spots across the globe and risk your lives for the sake of your country.
“Your courage does not go unnoticed and I am very pleased to have this opportunity to express everyone’s gratitude.
“It is an immense honour for me to be here today to observe RAF Wittering exercise its right as a Freeman.”
With the inspection complete and the flypast engaging the crowd, there was applause as the parade made its way back to the Town Hall.
The day was also a first for Warrant Officer Tony Hobson who organised the parade, and Flying Officer Juliette Lewis.
Juliette, who was previously a Non-commissioned officer, won the Smart Award for outstanding junior rank and was now in her first parade since commissioning.
To make the day more special she was able to parade in front of two of her children. She said: “My kids positioned themselves right in front of me and gave me smiles and encouragement.”
Juliette had won the Smart Award for bringing in a new work procedure which saved a lot of money and for working for the Friends of Chernobyl’s Children.
Having spent several years as a Non-commissioned officer at Wittering in the past, she added: “To come back as a commissioned officer, to be a flight commander, is a great honour.”
After the parade, a service of commemoration and thanksgiving for the Battle of Britain during the Second World War was held at St John The Baptist church.