Princess Royal walks in grandparents’ footsteps

Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal has repeated the visit made by King George VI and Elizabeth The Queen Mother to Royal Air Force High Wycombe in 1944, including a tour of the office of ‘Bomber’ Harris which remains in original and mint condition.

Princess Anne, commemorating the visit more than 70 years earlier, also took the opportunity to meet members of the local community and charity workers, as well as servicemen and civilians who work at the Air Force Station.

RAF heritage was on display outside the main gate with a historical presentation of the Hurricane and Spitfire ‘gate guardians’. The Princess Royal completed the visit by formally opening the Station’s brand new sports and fitness facility to be known as ‘Southdown Gymnasium’ in reference to the Station’s original coded title during WWII.

Station Commander Group Captain Philip Lester said “I am extremely proud to have provided Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal with an insight into my Station and to commemorate the visit of her grandparents more than 70 years ago. My whole force staff of contractors, Civil Servants and serving personnel, working with the local community, have shown the excellent support we provide to the headquarters of Air Command including welfare and fitness facilities, as well as  our continued work to preserve the traditions and heritage of Royal Air Force High Wycombe.”

During the Second World War King George VI, accompanied by his wife Elizabeth The Queen Mother, visited what was the headquarters of Bomber Command, hosted by Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris. At the time there was a high rate of bombing raids, and the reigning Monarch would have witnessed an extremely busy but highly organised Operations Room.

After the tour of Sir Arthur Harris’ office Mr David Brown said “It was an absolute privilege and pleasure to brief The Princess Royal on the history and heritage of the Station. I was pleasantly surprised by her high level of knowledge regarding the Station, Bomber Command and Sir Arthur Harris, and can safely say it has been the highlight of my 47 years working for the RAF.”

When naming the new sports facility it was important to recognise the Station’s heritage. Prior to the start of the Second World War senior staff at the Air Ministry agreed that due to the threat from Germany Bomber Command should move away from Uxbridge in London. An area in the Chiltern Hills was selected and the building of Southdown began in November 1938. Named in the interests of secrecy, Southdown was built in just 16 months, and to this day original buildings are used by the officers, airwomen and airmen of the Royal Air Force.

Sergeant Stu McLean is in charge of the new gym and said “Her Royal Highness showed a great interest in the positive effects the new facility could have, and diverted the visit to ensure she was able to speak with some of gym users taking part in circuits. It is testament to 18 months of effort that this excellent facility is formally opened by such a prestigious visitor.”

The Princess Royal was also met by schoolchildren from Naphill and Walter’s Ash School. Evie Hutton, aged 10, said “it is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am the first person in my family to meet Royalty.” Manik Gurung, aged 11, said “I will be presenting flowers to herand I am very excited!” and Fizzah Hussain, almost 11, said “I feel very proud to meet The Princess Royal.”