History of the Aircrew Association
The Association was formed on 8th September 1977 as result of an initiative by the Dorset Branch of the Air Gunners Association who held a meeting of 28 interested parties made up of various aircrew categories at the Royal British Legion Branch in Wool, Dorset. Chairman of the meeting was John Williams, who became the first Chairman of the Aircrew Association (ACA).
The ACA motto SUCCESSUS PER IMPETUS can be translated as Success through Attack, revealing its early Bomber Command Association credentials. But our real working motto is Comradeship, which is the cornerstone of our Association.
Membership slowly increased, but by the summer of 1977 the Wool Founder Branch had been joined by the Newbury and District and Bournemouth Branches.
On 13 May 1978 at the Bomber Command Reunion MRAF Sir Arthur Harris agreed to become the first President of the ACA with AVM Don Bennett as Vice President.
Over the next few years, the ACA became one of the fastest-growing ex-service associations in the Country as branches were formed by local veterans in the UK and overseas. In particular, Branches were formed in Canada and Australia and these became a significant part of the overall membership. Indeed some Canadian Branches were the largest in the Association
On 4 September 1982 a tribute was paid to Sir Arthur Harris on his 90th birthday with a banquet at the Guildhall. To generous applause, Sir Douglas Bader gave an outstanding tribute, but sadly he died on his way home.
There were serious concerns over finance in 1982 and Peter Crouch was invited to be Chairman and turn the finances around.
In April 1984, Sir Arthur Harris died and a thanksgiving service was held in Westminster Abbey on 24th May. He was replaced as President by Don Bennett of Pathfinder Fame. When he died in 1986 he was replaced by AM Sir John Curtiss.
It might be worth noting our Honorary Life Vice Presidents who held the VC, Hughie Edwards, Freddie West, Lord Cheshire, Norman Jackson, Roderick Learoyd, Bill Reid and of course the sole surviving VC, John Cruickshank, together with many other distinguished military airmen.
In 1986, the ACA Charitable Fund was formed with its own Trustees. Its main aim was to relieve need, particularly amongst those eligible for membership of the Association and their dependents and relatives.
In 1989, the President unveiled the RAF Commonwealth and Allied Air Forces Memorial on Plymouth Hoe. The statue of an airman includes casualty figures of 107,000 RAF, 84,000 USAF & 42,000 Russian airmen (including ground staff)
In 1991 Chairmanship was handed over to Jack Broughton and in 1992 ACM Sir Michael Knight succeeded AM Sir John Curtiss as President.
In the same year a memorial statue to Sir Arthur Harris was unveiled outside the RAF Church of St Clement Danes by HM The Queen Mother.
There were now 86 branches in UK, 9 in Australia, 5 in Canada and one each in Eire, France, Spain and Cyprus.
Regional Secretaries had also been established in New Zealand and the USA and then in Australia and Canada.
At this stage the active membership was close to its peak of about 12,500, after which it gently but steadily declined.
In 1993, the National Standard was paraded at the RAF Royal Review at RAF Marham.
Other events included the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic and a reunion at the Aircrew Reception Centre (ACRC) at Lords Cricket Ground.
Further events followed in 1994 at which the ACA was represented and included the 50th Anniversary of D Day in Normandy and around the country and the 50th Anniversary of the Great Escape from Stalag Luft III.
As 1995 marked the 50th Anniversary of the end of World War II there were many national events at which the ACA was represented. For instance about 250 members attended the Royal Tournament when seven members representing each category of aircrew marched in V shape into the arena following the ACA standard. This received a tremendous ovation as they marched with the massed bands from the arena.
The Chairman also unveiled a plaque on Heaton Hall, Heaton Park to commemorate the 133,516 aircrew cadets who were stationed there en route to overseas for flying training. At the same time, consideration was given to commemorating the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and this was to come into fruition in 2007.
In 1995 also, the Presidential Commendation was introduced to be awarded annually to those who had made "an outstanding contribution in promoting comradeship and the development of the Association".
In 1996, the ACA was allocated four places at the Queen's Annual Garden parties for the next ten years.
The well-known Aircrew Shuffle was introduced in marching past at AGMs and the President officiated at the Roll out of the Halifax at YAM.
In 1997, ACM Sir Andrew Wilson took over as President and the first ACA Christmas Card was published.
Manchester Branch reported success with the publication of its book Winged Chariots recording experiences of its members and other branches including the East Devon Branch followed suit.
1998 saw several initiatives. Graham Pitchfork agreed to become ACA Archivist, and the Chiltern Branch arranged for the St Albans Talking Newspapers to produce tapes covering articles from Intercom news for those with sight problems.
Following an aircrew website set up by the Saltire Branch, those involved designed a basic website for the Association. This to lead to the ACA having a more capable website of its own developed by Dave Jones.
At the year end the active membership was 11,075.
In 1999, the development of the ACA Archive began to gain pace as a result of a donation by Dowty Aerospace which permitted pocket tape recorders to be distributed to those branches who had volunteered to conduct interviews with members. However, a membership study revealed that 90% of members were over 75 years of age and only 5% were under 65.
Accordingly, a comprehensive consultative paper was produced on the future of the ACA. The main conclusion of this was that "in general, members supported the view that the ACA should continue to function as a national institution under an Executive Council, supported by local branches, as long as possible".
Membership continued its long-term decline.
In 2000, the Duke of York attended the Annual ACA Church Service at St Clement Danes and gave an address at the Reception afterwards, reading a message from HM The Queen.
The ACA Archive was set up at the Yorkshire Air Museum under what, the following year, became the ACA Archive Trust, starting with £10,000 from Association reserves. A Memorandum of Understanding between the ACA Archive Trust and the Yorkshire Air Museum was signed in July 2001.
The ACA website went live.
In 2001, the ACA recognised that, in the main, current serviceman were so busy in their careers that a veterans' association had little to interest them. They had as much comradeship as they needed from within their units. This apart, it was apparent that younger post war veterans tended to follow different lifestyles outside the service environment.
The same year an actuarial study was carried out indicating that, with life expectancy, the Association would probably last as long as 2005. This did not seem to allow for the fact that aircrew were very carefully selected and, in consequence, enjoyed lifespans far longer than the norm.
Also in 2001, The ACA was presented with a pennant by Canada to mark the 60th Anniversary of the BCATP. This is on permanent display at the Yorkshire Air Museum, which retains strong links with RCAF veterans and with the Canadian Forces.
This was a difficult period for the ACA in that three stalwarts died within a short time of each other: Hon Registrar Fred McMillan, Hon Secretary Danny Boon and Hon Treasurer Tony Gent.
In 2002, a "Friends of the Association" scheme was introduced whereby non-members could subscribe to receiving Intercom. These were largely widows and the scheme was later absorbed into the National Associate Scheme introduced in 2008.
A Hunter F5 was gifted to the Tangmere Air Museum by Ray Hansed in memory of his late wife and dedicated to the Aircrew Association. As before the membership of the ACA continued to decline.
In 2003, Mr Glafcos Clerides, President of the Republic of Cyprus and President of the ACA Cyprus Branch was elected an Honorary Vice President. AM Sir Christopher Coville became President of the ACA.
In 2004, with funding from the National Lottery, the Heroes Return Scheme was introduced and many ACA members took advantage of it to travel to places they had served in during World War II. The Veterans Badge was also introduced.
The Archive Trust published A Pilot in the Pulpit, a selection of the sermons and addresses given by Reverend Victor Cooper in his capacity as the first Honorary Chaplain of the Aircrew Association.
The Scarborough Branch became the first to lay up their Branch Standard in the Memorial Chapel at the Yorkshire Air Museum and other Branches have since followed suit.
In 2005, the ACA Standard, together with some branch standards paraded on Horse Guards Parade and down the Mall to Buckingham Palace on 10th July in recognition of 60 years since the end of World War II. By this time, with the continued reduction in numbers, the future of the ACA was more clearly in focus and thought was being given to possible dissolution and the future thereafter. A study favoured a concept whereby efforts would be made to reverse the gradual decline of the membership, and if not, corporate activities would cease and the ACA Archive Trust would represent the future interests of the Association after, say, 2010.
As membership continued to decrease, the ACA Annual Service at St Clement Danes was no longer considered viable. The Delegates' Meeting had also been abolished as being little more than a talking shop for a few members from Branches near to London and therefore was unrepresentative of the Association overall.
The ACA AGM and Reunion Weekend continued until 2010. That said, the ACA Archive Trust and the ACA Charitable Fund continued in their work and many enjoyed the activities of the ACA Golf Club.
In 2007, AM Peter Walker became President and Des Richard took over Chairmanship from Jack Broughton after the latter had completed some 16 years in post. He was appointed OBE for his services to the Association. At that stage membership was about 6,500 but this continued to decline with several branches folding.
The introduction of the National Associate Scheme, which absorbed Friends of The Association, also recognised the hard work of some non-brevet members on which branches were increasingly dependent.
Funds from the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan were used to create a memorial at the Yorkshire Air Museum. A suitably inscribed tablet was placed in the Memorial Gardens and unveiled by Sir Peter Marshall. an Honorary Vice President of the ACA, and dedicated by the Reverend 'Bill' Pegg. the Association's Honorary Chaplain,
Although the Reunion/AGMs continued to enable members to meet, some events were no longer supported because of lack of numbers, such as the Service at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday and the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey. However the ACA Family Service at Runnymede continued until 2009.
There was however good support in 2010 for the Service to commemorate the memorial stone set in front of the bush formed "Arboreal Propeller" that had already been planted in the early days of the National Arboretum.
Nevertheless, during the last decade, it had become increasingly certain the Association would have to dissolve; the remaining question being when? The Council, noting the decline in numbers and the resultant reduction in income, recommended to the members that dissolution at the end of 2011 would enable the ACA to pass with dignity. A dissolution paper was produced with this in mind and the support of the membership was unanimous. Final amendments were made to the ACA Constitution.
Accordingly, the 2010 AGM in York, and EGM that followed, gave authority to the Council to dissolve the ACA on 31st December 2011 and to hand over any remaining financial assets after dissolution in the proportion 70% to the Archive Trust and 30% to the Charitable Fund. Branches would continue to meet independently as long as they were able.
Steps were also taken to pass over the ACA Website to be run by the Archive Trust, thus giving a conduit to members and branches.
The Charitable Fund would continue in association with SSAFA.
On 5 May 2011 the National Standard would be laid up at the RAF Church of St Clement Danes with a Service to mark the end of the National/international ACA. Afterwards a Reception was held at Australia House. This was the final centrally-organised ACA function.
So, reluctantly, we accept the passing of a fine ex-servicemen's Association. Some 22,000 airmen and women joined the Aircrew Association in its 35 years of operation; all were joined together in a very special kind of comradeship, known only to those who flew as military aircrew!
The notes above were produced by the ACA Chairman with help from Peter Crouch, Jack Broughton, Graham Pitchfork, Bram Bramley of the AGA, Mike Davis of Wool (Founder) Branch and, in particular, notes by the late John McCormack of Merseyside Branch.
Final note from the ACA Chairman, Air Commodore Des Richard:
21 May 2012
Having recently signed off the final audited accounts for the ACA, I am pleased to say that in accordance with the 2010 EGM resolution, we were able to share £97,470 between the ACA Archive Trust and the ACA Charitable Fund in the ratio of 70/30, i.e. Archive Trust £68,230 and Charitable Fund £29,240.
One of our final payments was to renew the large entrance mat at St Clement Danes with the bold ACA logo on it. Additionally, the Association Standard is in a good position inside for all to see. The money for the ACA Archive Trust will be spent to house our artefacts and will reflect, in perpetuity, the comradeship epitomized by the ACA. The Charitable Fund is now administered for us by SSAFA and is there to benefit those of us in need.
1986-1992: Air Marshal Sir John Curtiss, KCB, KBE, FRAeS, CBIM
1992-1997: Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Knight KCB, AFC, FRAeS
1997-2003: Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Wilson KCB, AFC, FRAeS
2003-2008: Air Marshal Sir Christopher Coville KCB, BA, FCIPD. FRAeS
2008-2011: Air Marshal Peter Walker CB, CBE, BA
HONORARY LIFE VICE-PRESIDENTS:
Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Michael Beetham GCB, CBE, DFC, AFC
J A Cruickshank VC
Air Vice Marshal Norman E Hoad CVO, CBE, AFC*
Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Keith Williamson GCB, AFC
Major General W N J Withall CB, Army Air Corps
Vice Admiral Sir Edward R Anson KCB, FRAeS
Sqn Ldr Peter Crouch AFM
Air Chief Marshal Sir Roger Palin KCB, OBE, MA, FRAeS, FIPM
Air Chief Marshal Sir Patrick Hine GCB, GBE, FRAeS, CIMgt
His Excellency Glafcos Clerides
Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Squire GCB, DFC, AFC, DSc
Sir Peter Marshall KCMG
Ron Gadd Esq, MBE, RD, LLM, MA
Air Commodore Jack Broughton OBE, DL