THE Royal Air Force has been decisive in saving Britain’s independence, democracy, and freedom, the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Tuesday.
Archbishop Welby preached at a service in Westminster Abbey to celebrate the centenary of the RAF, which was attended by 2000, including the Queen and other members of the royal family.
It was “proper and right”, the Archbishop said, to celebrate and give thanks to God “for the providence which has brought us the Royal Air Force, its pilots and crews and ground crews”.
An RAF ensign was draped over the high altar behind him, as he said that people should remember with “sorrow and profound thanksgiving” those who gave their lives, and give thanks for all those who served with the RAF in war and peace.
He recalled his grandmother’s brother, Jock, who was killed in a Wellington bomber in 1943; his grandfather’s brother, Charles Portal, who commanded the Royal Air Force during the Second World War; and his father, who flew low-level sorties over Burma.
“Scripture reminds us that remembering our history is crucial; remembering its heroes, with flaws and mistakes, but also remembering those who are too often forgotten: the countless others who contributed, as well as civilians tragically affected by war.”
He said that the RAF’s purpose and success depended on recognising a decisive accountability to eternal justice and righteousness: “that justice and righteousness which we see, above all, in Jesus Christ. “Where that is forgotten, then the RAF becomes a mere tool of force — perhaps heroic, even immensely skilled, possibly perfectly equipped, and yet no more than force”.
Where there is accountability to God, however, “the tools of force can open the way to the hope of peace, and the means of victory can become the foundations for hope for a better world than that of 1918 or 1940: the world in which, thanks in great part to the Royal Air Force, we find ourselves today.”
After the service, the RAF’s Deputy Chaplain-in-Chief, the Revd Dr Giles Legood, said: “Coming together to commemorate the anniversary, we have looked back, we have dwelled on our current operations, and we have looked to the future. To do that in Westminster Abbey, at the heart of the country, has been a great thing.
“We have also had the consecration of the RAF’s new colours in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace, in front of 1000 serving airmen and women. The flypast was amazing, with over 100 aircraft in the skies: not just historic aircraft, but the aircraft of the future. It was like a baton relay, handing on from the previous generation to the next.”