This section of the website is designed as a blog or journal, aimed at keeping you informed of the activities of the Branch on a rolling monthly basis.
(Views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Branch or RAFA generally - R. Hudson)
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As the summer of 2015 progresses, it doesn't get any better in Scotland in general, and in particular this part of the country. It has so far proved to be one of the most mediocre, if not worst, summers in recent memory. This has had its affect on a number of local outdoor events, one of which, we at RAFA were due to attend. Our schedule for July was; our regular monthly meeting, attendance at the Point Show and the branch trip to Edinburgh.
Our branch meeting took place on 1st July, and was held in our new meeting venue of the Stornoway Masonic Lodge on Kenneth Street. The venue proved ideal, and the welcome we received was warm. Hopefully this location will prove to be our permanent home for the foreseeable future. Joining us again, after a gap of a couple of months, were personnel from the RAF detachment at Benbecula, North Uist, they also brought with them the specially commissioned Benbecula T-shirts previously ordered by some members. Also joining us were two volunteers who helped with our public collection at the Red Arrows display last month. We hope we can persuade them to join RAFA in due course. Items discussed at the meeting were; the branch trip to Edinburgh at the end of July, the Point Show in mid-July, the possibility of a branch BBQ and a tour of Lews Castle, with the fund raising supermarket bag-pack and visit by the RAFA Area promotional van in August, and RAFA 'Wings' week national appeal in September also looked forward to. The meeting ended with the now traditional raffle, with most members present leaving with a prize.
The next item on the branch's agenda was to have been our hosting of a stall at the local Point Agricultural Show on Saturday 11th July. This event has been a chance for RAFA to highlight our presence locally for the last couple of years. We were already aware that this year's event would be somewhat curtailed due to storm damage to the site suffered at the beginning of the year. However, just before the date of the event, we were informed the show had been cancelled due to excessive rain prior to the event and bad weather forecast for the day itself, which made the grounds unusable. This has been one of several local outdoor events affected by the on-going bad weather this year.
To end the month, at least for those members taking part, we had the branch trip away to the Edinburgh area, the main purpose of which was to attend the Scottish National Air Show at East Fortune, just outside Edinburgh. Organised by our Chairman John MacDonald, the trip was a great success, and went very smoothly throughout. The six members taking advantage of the opportunity, departed Stornoway on Friday 24th July, travelling by ferry and coach, via Inverness, to Edinburgh. Our accommodation in Edinburgh was in what is normally student accommodation, close to Haymarket Station in the city centre. Outside term time this accommodation is let out, and our six members were accommodated in two 3-bedroom flats, with en-suite bedrooms and a kitchen and lounge area, very nice. After booking in and freshening up, everyone joined up for a drink and something to eat in the student bar associated with the accommodation which, for a Friday night, was fairly quiet. All opted for an early night after having been travelling for most of the day. Saturday 25th was the day of the air show, and we were picked up outside the accommodation by a pre-booked mini-bus, for transportation to East Fortune. The bus driver, Alan Boyd, had also transported the RAFA Stornoway party who had visited East Fortune in 2010, and remembered us from then. He is also ex-RAF, which made for a close affinity. Arriving in good time for the start of the flying display gave us a chance of meeting-up with other RAFA groups there. With no active runways at East fortune, the flying display comprised fly-by displays by a very good assortment of various aircraft types and display teams, including the RAF's Red Arrows. The 'Arrows' display was performed against a perfect blue sky backdrop (unlike the murky weather prevailing at Stornoway for their visit at the end of June), and so included the full spectrum of this world renown team's abilities. The air show also included the RAF's Battle of Britain Flight Spitfire and Hurricane pair, a Seafire (navalised version of the Spitfire), P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft, Royal Navy Swordfish bi-plane, Bristol Blenheim, Wildcat helicopter display team, Royal Navy Seaking, Royal Jordanian Air Force display team, and several other varied types of aircraft. One item scheduled was a display by a Folland Gnat, from the same operators who tragically lost one of their Gnats just a week later, the aircraft scheduled to appear at East Fortune went unserviceable on the day and was unable to take part. The busy and interesting display came to a very noisy conclusion with a display by an RAF Typhoon fighter. With the weather staying fine throughout, everyone enjoyed the day out. After a relaxing drive back to the accommodation, it was time to freshen up before venturing out for an evening meal and drink, with plenty of craic. The following day, Sunday 26th, was a 'free' day, with nothing planned and spent on a shopping trip around Edinburgh city centre. The trip back to Stornoway on the Monday went smoothly again, and all the members who went enjoyed the experience greatly. Thanks must go to our Chairman John MacDonald for his organisation, and the partial funding received from the local Stornoway council represenatative, which helped off-set the cost of the accommodation.
The 'lads' outside one of the Edinburgh watering holes!
August proved to be a busy month for RAFA Stornoway. We had our regular monthly meeting, a fund-raising bag-pack at the local Co-Op supermarket, a promotional/fund-raising visit by the RAFA Area Branch Support van and the branch Summer BBQ. Thankfully, fate shone on us, as well as the sun, with fair weather for the outdoor events. As we look forward to next month's RAFA nationwide fund-raising 'Wings' Appeal week, we already have a very healthy advance 'Wings' total, thanks to the Red Arrows public collection at the end of June, and our bag-pack collection this month. This will be boosted by what we collect during the 'Wings' week street collection.
Kicking-off the month was our monthly meeting on 5th August. With a busy month in prospect, there was much to discuss, and also the opportunity to re-cap on how the branch trip, to Edinburgh at the end of July, had gone. With a change of personnel at the RAF detachment at Benbecula (our nearest regular RAF unit), the Branch Secretary confirmed that new contacts had been established to maintain liaison between our two organisations. Members were given details of the arrangements for the branch bag-pack event at the Co-Op supermarket, and a roster of those willing to man the tills and merchandise table was drawn-up. The following weekend would see the visit by the RAFA Area Branch Support Vehicle, with Branch Support Officer (BSO) Dave Mowatt. This was aimed at promoting RAFA, with fund-raising as a secondary aim. Chairman John MacDonald had been in contact with the local council to secure a suitable pitch for the RAFA 'Roadshow', as it had been nicknamed. This he had secured in Perceval Square, in the centre of Stornoway. It was decided to hold the branch's annual Summer BBQ on the evening of the RAFA 'Roadshow', with member Donnie MacIver volunteering, not only the use of his BBQ, but also the use of his garden as a venue. Finally, John MacDonald related how the branch trip to the airshow at East Fortune, Edinburgh had gone.
The fund-raising bag-pack at the local Co-Op supermarket took place on Saturday 15th August. All credit for obtaining such a valued opportunity goes to Branch Secretary/Wings Organiser Peter Avis (who works there!). With the members, who had volunteered to help at the event, already rostered to cover the day's activity, the event commenced at 10am. As is usual, the day alternated between hectically busy periods, interspersed by quiet times. The people of Lewis and Harris, passing through the tills, showed their usual endless generosity, and when the day came to an end, Branch Treasurer Ian Denny did an excellent job of swiftly adding up the day's takings and passing around the word that the grand total had come to 888 pounds, a fantastic result by all concerned. This will go towards this year's RAFA 'Wings' nationwide appeal.
The weekend of 22/23rd August saw the visit by Dave Mowatt and his travelling 'Roadshow'. The visit gave branch members an opportunity to relax and socialise with Dave on the Friday evening, and to discuss with him the various aspects of RAFA fund-raising. Saturday morning dawned bright, if somewhat blustery, allowing Dave to set up his display unit in the Civic Centre (Perceval Square). His unit contained a wide array of RAFA merchandise, ranging from RAFA bears (which he sold out of), model aircraft, note books, calendars, lapel pin badges, and everything aviation in between, all for sale to the public. Dave has promised that a percentage of the proceeds garnered from the sales will be credited to our 'Wings' Appeal total, which will obviously enhance our contribution to the appeal this year. Altogether a worthwhile exercise and one that has strengthened our contact with Area HQ.
RAFA Stornoway members with BSO Dave Mowatt in front of the RAFA 'Roadshow'
The annual branch Summer BBQ event was held this year, on the evening of Saturday 22nd August (following the RAFA 'Roadshow' in town), at Ivorhill in the well tended garden of our past Chairman, Donnie MacIver. The setting was perfect for a fun evening, and so it turned out. The members, together with wives, arrived to a delightful aroma of barbie food, expertly cooked by Donnie (Ron, eat your heart out!). Having enjoyed a magnificent repast, quaffed down by various forms of beverage, the talk, as it does, went round to a plethora of service reminiscences. This ranged from tales of various scrapes with the 'Snowdrops', 252's and 292's anecdotes, illegal forays inro 'out of bounds' areas in Cyprus, bewailing the demise of the NAAFI chuck wagon, and a myriad other tales of derring-do, doubtless somewhat embellished with the passage of time. It was a shame we had no means of recording these tales of service life in years gone by in the various theatres in which the branch members had served. Plenty of material there for Robin's 'Pull-up a Sandbag' feature! Altogether a most enjoyable and memorable evening, spent in the company of kindred spirits, and the members and their wives are indebted to Donnie and Jeanette, our hosts for the evening.
RAFA Summer BBQ, a good time was had by all
As already mentioned, next month September will see our build-up to this year's RAFA 'Wings' Appeal, and mean plenty of work for the branch committee and other members, particularly Wings Organiser Peter Avis. Next month's 'blog' will carry details of how this year's appeal went locally. In the meantime, I would like to thank John MacDonald and Donnie MacIver for their input to this month's 'blog', covering events I was unable to attend personally.
September is the highpoint of RAFA’s nationwide fund raising effort, with our ‘Wings’ Appeal week, including the commemoration of the Battle of Britain, which this year saw its 75th anniversary. This year ‘Wings’ week fell during the week of 14th to 20th September, and RAFA Stornoway Branch were, as always, active in our local area collecting public donations on our flag-day of Saturday 19th , and holding a commemorative Battle of Britain parade and church service on Sunday 20th. In addition to the work put into the build-up to ‘Wings’ week, this month also saw our usual monthly meeting on 2nd, and a tour of the recently refurbished Lews (yes, that is the correct spelling) Castle, which is a well known landmark in Stornoway, and overlooks the town. As this is the first year I have been away from the island during ‘Wings’ week, and not been able to report on the events personally, this would have thus been a rather short ‘blog’ this month, but I’m indebted to other branch members, Roddy Moffat and John MacDonald, for providing me with copy and photos on the events I missed.
Starting the month’s events was our monthly meeting on 2nd September. With the build-up to ‘Wings’ week looming, arrangements for this occupied much discussion. We were fortunate to have present two personnel from RAF Benbecula, and were thus able to co-ordinate with them the presence of members of that unit to be present in Stornoway for the main events of ‘Wings’ week, namely the flag-day on Saturday 19th and Battle of Britain parade/church service on Sunday 20th Sept. Other items on the agenda included reviews of last month’s bag-pack fund raiser in the local Co-Op supermarket, the Branch Summer BBQ and the visit by the RAFA Area Support van. Also discussed were what the branch might do to encourage local youth to join rafaYOUTH (the new initiative from RAFA designed to attract younger members), and the choice of venue for this year’s Branch Christmas Dinner. All in all, a very busy meeting.
With the middle of the month came the start of the RAFA ‘Wings’ Appeal week, although it wasn’t until the end of the week that the main activities associated with the event took place. Saturday 19th Sept. saw the street collection flag-day in and around the town centre. In this we were ably assisted by both personnel from RAF Benbecula and cadets of the local 1731 Squadron Air Cadets, all of whom were in uniform, which makes a real impression on the public reaction to giving donations. Along with members of RAFA Stornoway, the day-long street collection netted just over £1340, a magnificent sum for such a small branch. Without the support of both the RAF personnel and Air Cadets, this would not have been achievable, so many thanks to both groups. Along with the £470 raised at the Red Arrows display, and the £888 from the recent bag-pack, plus proceeds from many collecting cans in various establishments throughout the year, our contribution to this year’s national appeal will be another record breaking one. Our highest thanks must go to the public of these isles who, time after time, respond to our appeals for support, even during these times of financial hardship.
RAF personnel helping with the 'Wings' street collection
Our friends from 1731 Squadron Air Cadets who helped us
Following close on the heels of our street collection came our Battle of Britain Parade and Service on Sunday 20th Sept. Our traditional venue for the Battle of Britain Commemorative Service had, for many years, been Martin’s Memorial Church in Stornoway, this year however, the minister there, Tommy MacNeil, was officiating at another church, and thus unable to host our commemorative service. At our prior monthly meeting, it had been suggested that we might approach the Stornoway Salvation Army, whose Citadel is situated close to the centre of Stornoway town centre. Their newly appointed chief officer, Lt. Calum Newton, readily agreed and was delighted we had asked. Therefore, on Sunday 20th Sept., RAFA member, with our guest of honour Deputy Lord Lieutenant Donald Martin, RAF personnel from Benbecula, cadets and staff of 1731 Sqn. Air Cadets and members of the public entered the church hall on Bayhead to attend the commemorative service. Greeting all were music and scenes from the film ‘Battle of Britain’. In his address, Lt. Newton welcomed all, and reflected on the significance of the ‘Battle’, and sacrifice of the ‘Few’. Amongst the hymns sung was one to the tune of ‘The Dambusters’ and the ‘Airman’s Hymn’. At the conclusion of the service, the standards of the various organisations concerned, including that of the Salvation Army, led the congregation out of the hall, where the uniformed contingent and RAFA members formed-up to be inspected by the Deputy Lord Lt. Then all returned to the hall for tea and cakes. The occasion was a great success, and our thanks go to Lt. Newton, his staff and congregation for hosting our commemorative service and very warm welcome.
The Deputy Lord Lieutenant inspects the 'Battle of Britain' parade
The final event of September took place on 23rd, when a party of RAFA members, family and friends attended a conducted tour of the refurbished Lews Castle. The castle, originally the island home of Lord Leverhulme, had been gifted to the community, and over the years seen several uses, most lately as a vocational college, before its closure due to deterioration of the building. The recent, long-planned refurbishment has seen the reinstatement of part of the building to its former glory. The tour had been organised by member Ian Denny, and was conducted by Mr. Angus Murray. As an aside, but worthy of mention, is the fact that Mr. Murray was part of a group of hardy swimmers who recently swam from the island of St. Kilda to Harris, a not inconsiderable feat! Mr. Murray conducted our group from room to room, in the areas so far renovated, other areas are still in the hands of the contractors undergoing repair. As part of the rebuilding work is the construction of a new Stornoway Museum, which will share the castle site. This also is presently still under construction, and so unavailable for viewing. It is hoped we can revisit at a later date to see the completed work. All in the group enjoyed the visit, and our thanks go to Ian, and especially Mr. Murray for this opportunity to see the castle in its former glory.