Swords drawn, bayonets fixed & drums beating!

The Freedom of High Wycombe Parade 11th June 2014.

With fantastic weather, stunned onlookers, a surprise flypast and the Mayor singing Happy Birthday, this year’s Freedom of High Wycombe Parade had plenty to talk about.

On a gloriously sunny day in June, personnel from RAF High Wycombe prepared to exercise the Station’s right, honour and privilege to march with freedom through the streets of High Wycombe. Twenty-seven Parade personnel, commanded by Flt Lt Huw Griffiths, arrived at All Saints Church in the Town Centre determined to put on a top display for the Mayor Councillor Khalil Ahmed, the Stn Cdr Gp Capt R F J Clifford, honoured guests and members of the public.

As the Parade formed up interest began to grow amongst the shoppers and visitors, who if half-asleep were awoken by the Parade Commander’s first command “PARADE, PARADE SHUN”. Shocked silence was quickly replaced by murmurs of  “he’s very loud for his size isn’t he?”.

The Stn Cdr invited the Mayor to inspect the troops, and during the inspection one of the Mayor’s guests, Mr Charlie Darby, remarked to me how well presented the Parade looked. A former Sgt Rear Gunner with 4 Gp Bomber Command, Charlie also spoke of his delight that such ceremonies still take place.

With the inspection complete the ceremony moved into the church, where the Freedom Charter Scroll took its place on the altar, and the Vicar of All Saints Church, Reverend Hugh Ellis, welcomed everyone before beginning the service. The Stn Cdr gave a reading from Jeremiah 29: 4-7 that Reverend (Sqn Ldr) Ruth Hake thoughtfully reflected on. A very impressive organist encouraged all to join in with the hymns, ending with a rousing rendition of the National Anthem.

What was not known by the audience was that the speakers had been given a tight schedule. It had already been accepted that there would be no flypast of a Lancaster Bomber as it was unserviceable. However the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight were extremely apologetic to the SWO, WO Phill Smith, and offered a consolation of a flypast by a Hurricane! Well if that is the second prize who needs the first?

As the Parade formed up Reverend Ellis, who is also the Team Rector for seven parish churches in High Wycombe, said “These connections are essential for having a common purpose of achieving prosperity for the town and area”. Previously Reverend Ellis was a Nimrod Navigator with 201 Squadron Kinloss, and remembers Freedom Parades for Forres being comfortingly similar to this Parade. He added “having now settled in High Wycombe after years of postings, I feel very much at home in High Wycombe. I hope that RAF personnel, no matter how short their stay here, can feel belonging in the town, and that All Saints Church is their church. You are more than just visitors; you are members of the community”.

The crowd’s attention was caught by the sound of the RAF Central Band, who led the Parade down the high street giving gravitas as always to the proceedings. As the Parade Cdr ordered an ‘eyes left’ to salute the Dias, the aforementioned Hurricane made the first of three flypasts. Honoured guests and members of the public were visibly and vocally impressed, and as the band got further away, the sound of applause took over.

The Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire, Sir Henry Aubrey-Fletcher stated “as ever it is a wonderful occasion made extra special by this beautiful day. An occasion like this reinforces the relationship between High Wycombe and the officers, airmen and airwomen of the RAF”.

The Parade personnel and guests were then invited to join the Mayor and Stn Cdr in the Riverside Ex- Servicemen’s Club. The President, Monty Seymour, has recently celebrated his 100th birthday, and recalls his wartime memories of drill “it took back the years watching the Parade today. I used to lead the Royal British Legion out on Parade every year, but when I watched the replay I was the only one in step!”

Monty joined the Local Defence Volunteers (or as he calls it ‘Dad’s Army’) in 1940, the same year that he married Betty. He was then recruited to the RAF to work on radars, where he served most of his time in India, until early 1945 when trauma led to the loss of his hearing. In 1957 he spent a year as President of the club, and then took the job again in 1967 with which he remains today. He also recalls his time as President of Wycombe Wanderers in the 1960’s when he would recruit players from Strike Command based at RAF High Wycombe.

As the mostly non-alcoholic drinks flowed and the buffet was devoured, the Mayor took the opportunity to thank all those involved for a fantastic day, and to everyone’s surprise informed us that it was the birthday of Cpl Jim Collins. The Mayor led us in a chorus of Happy Birthday which is not something many people can claim!

Afterwards the Mayor said “Today has been a fantastic performance by the RAF and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. My utmost thanks to Gp Capt Clifford and his team, and I hope that the relationship between the High Wycombe Borough and  the RAF continues to prosper for a long time to come”.