04.06.18 Tony Edwards and Martin Payne

A tribute to the Royal Air Force for 100 years of service to the nation

By 1st April 2018, the first independent air force in the world, the Royal Air Force, had given the United Kingdom and the free world 100 years of service. To mark this anniversary, the Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers, The Honourable Company of Air Pilots and the Worshipful Company of Engineers held, in concert with the Lord Mayor, a series of commemorative events.

On 19th April, the Lord Mayor held a City Reception at Guildhall for 700 RAF personnel and on 20th April, the Coachmakers, Air Pilots and Engineers held a formal Banquet. Assembled in the Guildhall courtyard was a display of aircraft and engines representing British aviation engineering achievements of the past 100 years. During Friday morning and the weekend these facilities were available to schools and cadets for STEM study purposes (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The three City Livery Companies are active Liveries investing in young people and the charitable aim of the City Livery Banquet was to donate funds to support the education and training of RAF Air Cadets. The event took nearly two years to plan and execute. The feedback was very encouraging.

The Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers, led by the Master Tony Edwards, the Worshipful Company of Engineers led by Master Eur Ing Richard Groome and the Honourable Company of Air Pilots led by Master Captain Colin Cox were pleased to welcome all guests to the City Livery Banquet, commemorating 100 years of service to the nation by the Royal Air Force.

On 20th April 2018, the City of London was treated to a magnificent display of aircraft that had helped shape the development of the Royal Air Force. Our grateful thanks go to all involved in this enormous logistical adventure as a dramatic precursor to the Banquet.

On 1st April, 100 years earlier, the Royal Air Force was formed as a separate service, independent of the British Army and Royal Navy. Its creation under the command of Maj Gen Sir Hugh Trenchard was a major step forward. In 1918, over the Western Front, it fought in the air and effectively supported our ground forces. It was General Smuts who remarked on the limitless opportunities to be afforded by such an independent force. This was the start of what has become 100 years of aeronautical innovation, engineering and development.

On display in the Guildhall Yard was an SE5A and a Sopwith Camel (both on loan from The Brooklands Museum). The SE5As were built under licence elsewhere – including 1,650 produced by Vickers Aviation at Brooklands. Early models were fitted with Hispano-Suiza engines but the Wolseley Viper became the standard power plant in 1918. When WWI ended, the SE5a was in service with 20 British squadrons.

The Sopwith Camel was a single seat bi-plane introduced in 1917 powered by a single rotary engine. Though proving difficult to handle, it provided for a high level of manoeuvrability to an experienced pilot, an attribute which was highly valued in the type’s principal use as a fighter aircraft. Towards the end of the Great War, the type had also seen use as a ground-attack aircraft.

The Supermarine Spitfire designed by RJ Mitchell and powered by the famous Rolls-Royce Merlin engine hardly needs any description; displayed alongside the Hawker Hurricane (both on loan from the RAF Muesum, Hendon). These aircraft were the mainstays and saviours of the nation in the Battle of Britain. Innovation in engineering had gone from the biplane to monoplane, from 120mph to over 350mph in just 20 years.

Development at this pace was clearly demonstrated by the advanced Eurofighter Typhoon which dominated the static display in the yard. Engines on display comprising the Rolls-Royce Merlin (which powered many fine aircraft including the Spitfire, Hurricane, Lancaster and York), the Bristol Jupiter used in the HP 42 Hannibal and the EJ200. The Eurojet EJ200 is a military 90 kN low bypass turbofan jet engine, used as the power plant of the Eurofighter Typhoon. The engine is largely based on the Rolls-Royce XG-40 technology demonstrator, which was developed in the 1980s. Supporting the static display were representatives of the London wing of the Air Cadets. We are grateful for their attention and enthusiasm.

Calling nearly 530 guests to dinner was a logistical event all of its own. Master Coachmaker Tony Edwards, called for the marching in of the RAF Ensign and then after his welcome, called on the Venerable Ray Pentland (chaplain to both the Coachmakers and Air Pilots) to say grace after reciting “High Flight” to a musical accompaniment.

Dining on honey roasted monkfish, fillet of Lancashire grass-fed beef and a ‘sweet 100’ depicting 100 years of the Royal Air Force was absolutely inspired. The Reverend Peter Hartley said the second grace. Throughout the Banquet we were entertained by the Band of the Royal Air Force Regiment enjoying strains of 633 Squadron, the Dam Busters and of course The March of the Royal Air Force.

To complete the Banquet, inspiring speeches were delivered by the Master Coachmaker, the Rt Hon Lord Mayor Alderman Charles Bowman and Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier Chief of the Air Staff. Sir Stephen concluded by promising that ‘the first 100 years’ of the Royal Air Force have provided a unique opportunity to commemorate, celebrate and inspire 100 years of phenomenal success, courage and sacrifice. The ensuing 100 years beyond 2018 will build on the established legacy by encouraging the education and development of young people providing an opportunity to every part of our society. These ideals are at the very heart of the Royal Air Force’s ethos since its inception in 1918; Sir Stephen thanked the City of London for its continued support, but reserved special thanks to the Coachmakers, Engineers and Air Pilots for making this 100 years’ Banquet possible.

The last word – many cadets and young students were invited to visit the courtyard and interact with the aircraft and aero-engine engineers who explained the technologies and relevance to STEM students. One 11-year-old girl, who had been abused and run away from home, came with one of the invited groups. She was overheard in deep conversation with an aero-engine engineer. Obviously not satisfied with the answers she was receiving she said: “That’s an answer for children. I want the real answer.” The engineer obliged and then added: “But why do you need the real answer?” She replied: “Because I’m going to be an engineer!”

To listen to The Master’s speech, press play here:


Click here for a video of highlights from the event: