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Reserve Forces & Cadets Association
Northern Ireland



10 May 2018

A service of commemoration was held at St Anne’s Cathedral recently to mark 100 years since the formation of the Royal Air Force.  In attendance were Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hiller, Chief of the Air Staff; Brigadier General Sean Clancy, head of the Irish Air Corps; and Northern Ireland Under Secretary of State Shailesh Vara as well as serving members of the RAF, veterans and RAF air cadets from across Northern Ireland.

Speaking at a reception before the service, Brigadier General Clancy told an audience of serving and veteran RAF men and women: “In a very complex and volatile world the strength of our unity is even more important than ever.

Offering congratulations on the “momentous occasion” General Clancy, whose uncle served with the RAF during the Second World War, added: “My presence here today symbolises those links and illustrates clearly that they continue.

“The Irish Air Corps was established in 1922 and the original 12 pilots for this fledgling air service came directly from the Great War and the Royal Flying Corps and subsequently the Royal Air Force.

“These pilots were the true beginning of this story of connection and unique links between our two services.”

Northern Ireland became a vital base during the Second World War with more than 28 airfields stretching from the Ards Peninsual to Lough Erne primarily focused on winning the Battle of the Atlantic. Aircraft based in Northern Ireland successfully sank many U-boats and assisted in the sinking of the Bismark.

The war efforts were assisted by a secret agreement with the Republic which permitted overflying of a corridor to the Atlantic in Donegal providing faster access to the sea for the Sunderlands and Catalinas operating off Lough Erne.

Almost 12,000 men and women from Northern Ireland volunteered to serve in the RAF during the Second World War with 1,352 losing their lives.

The RAF is present in Northern Ireland through 502 (Ulster) Squadron — the oldest of the reserve units – which has around 140 members and the newly formed Northern Ireland Universities Air Squadron.

Sir Stephen said the RAF 100 drive aimed to inspire two million young people throughout the world. He said: “We want to inspire them to aim high, to achieve whatever they wish to do in the future to realise their ambitions and develop their potential.

“We in the air force feel that the very essence of the organisation is giving people those sorts of opportunities. Being here in Belfast is a vital part of that – it is part of the commemoration, part of the celebration but it is also part of the inspiration.”

A particularly poignant part of the service at St Anne’s was the reading of the W.B Yeats poem “An Irish Airman Foresees his Death”, which was read by Robin Murray Brown, the Great-Grandson of Galway-born fighter ace Major William Robert Gregory, about whom the poem was written.

Robin, who lives in Sussex, said: “I have been astonished by the number of comments I have heard from pilots in the air forces of almost every English speaking country when they talk about An Irish Airman Foresees His Death. That’s the poem they have sellotaped on the inside of their cockpits and have done for much of the last 100 years.”

Major Gregory joined the war effort in 1916 and was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry. He was also awarded the Legion d’Honneur — France’s highest honour. He died aged 36 when his aircraft came down over Italy in January 1918.

Pictured above ahead of the event are Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hiller, the Very Rev Stephen Forde, Irish Air Corps Brigadier General Sean Clancy and Northern Ireland Under Secretary of State Shailesh Vara. 

In the short video below, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hiller explains what the RAF hope to achieve from the RAF100 commemorations that are taking place throughout the UK:


I know that I shall meet my fate   
Somewhere among the clouds above;   
Those that I fight I do not hate   
Those that I guard I do not love;   
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,   
No likely end could bring them loss   
Or leave them happier than before.   
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,   
Nor public man, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight   
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;   
I balanced all, brought all to mind,   
The years to come seemed waste of breath,   
A waste of breath the years behind

In balance with this life, this death.