With the 1st April fast approaching marking the 100th anniversary of the formation of the world’s first independent Air Force, events are gathering pace. As part of the process the Royal Air Force will be running a number of films on social media and other outlets.
It is because of this build up that two Air Cadets from 2160 (Sleaford) Squadron, Air Training Corps, Cadet Sergeants Ella-May Hansford and Allesandra Hinton Shereston found themselves at RAF Cranwell on a bitingly cold afternoon. The Sergeants had been selected at short notice to participate in a film highlighting the many elements of RAF100. Under the headings to Commemorate, to Celebrate and to Inspire they were to be centre stage in the ‘Inspire’ section and supporting cast in the commemoration.
The cadet sergeants will be in some very exalted company with the Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, heading up the Celebration element and a very inspiring gentleman, Mr Harry Parkins, a World War 2 aircrew veteran leading on Commemoration.
Whilst CAS will be filmed at a later date the cadets had the opportunity to need and talk with Mr Parkins. As an Air Engineer in Bomber Command the young Warrant Officer Parkins, known as “Ackney Harry” to his fellow crew members because of his Hackney London origins, talked to the Sergeants about his war time memories of operations in Bomber Command.
Harry completed 39 operational sorties and took part in the longest mission completed by a Lancaster bomber aircraft during the war. Ella May and Allesandra were able to see his extensive collection of photographs from that time and were completely wrapped up in his story. This part of the filming took place in the warmth of the aircrew survival training centre and as Harry’s contribution came to an end he was invited to sign the wonderful memorial wall that adorns the end of the classroom. Surmounting the step ladder to reach the upper levels of the wall proved no obstacle to the sprightly 93 year old.
For the next stage of the filming the were to be front and centre which meant braving the biting cold at the entrance to one of the hangers. Having only been handed the very briefest of script ques shortly before the filming both cadets displayed remarkable confidence in front of the camera. Stood in front of a Grob Tutor training aircraft they had questions fired at them which required them to display a high level of mental agility, a test they passed with the minimum of retakes being required.
Cadet Sergeant Hansford said of the event; “I must admit I was apprehensive when we were asked if we would like to take part in the filming, it did seem quite a challenge. It was a great honour to meet Mr Parkins and listen to his story and to be able to ask him questions about his experiences; I think my conversation with him helped me order my own thoughts of what I would say when I came to be filmed.”
Cadet Sergeant Hinton-Sheriston commented; “ Mr Parkins is such an amazing man with such an inspiring story to tell; I’ve read history from the time and seen documentaries on tele but it has never felt so real as when you talk to someone like Harry who was there. When it came to my turn in front of the camera I took inspiration from what he said and was proud to stand there in the blue uniform of the RAF and say what this year of commemoration means to me.”