That was a good ride! It had everything you could hope for: twists, turns, ups and downs, and like all great rides, no sooner has it begun than the brakes are slammed on and it’s all over.  But all good things come to and end, and one month short of 2 years, it’s my turn to step out and let the next lucky incumbent strap himself in and hold on tight.

Winter 2012 was memorable: barely a week went by when an underground water pipe at Brampton wouldn’t burst a leak, and a new geyser would spout up at some random spot on the site. It was anyone’s guess which buildings would be affected by the next water or heating outage: certainly, nobody predicted the new ‘water feature’ in SHQ, when we awoke to find a new log flume ride had appeared on the central staircase, fed by burst piping in the roof space. JARIC and Warrant Officer Tim Dutton competed for the greatest number of leaving events, and I recall with fondness the live music concert that lasted late into the night, played at a volume that made Spinal Tap sound like a folk group – I should probably have anticipated the early morning call from the local police on behalf of several grumpy local residents. The sensitive drawdown of Brampton Park Officers’ Mess was in stark contrast to the Members’ ultimately futile attempts to drink the bar dry. Brampton formalities were capped off with a sobering lowering ceremony of the RAF Ensign, accompanied by a precision flypast by 57(R) Sqn, which also marked the transfer of command to Joint Forces Command, thus drawing a veil over more than 70 years of RAF heritage.

The managed (yes, managed!) move of people from Brampton to Wyton was an exceptional achievement, thanks to the mutual collaboration of the many people and organisations involved. The timings of the moves were heavily influenced by worldwide events and the operations that our staffs were supporting, so everybody involved had to be prepared to react to changing circumstances. The phasing in and out of support contracts between the sites required deft timing and careful negotiation by our Contract Monitoring Team, as well as a good deal of agility and flexibility from the contractors themselves. I quickly developed high regard for the PRIDE Team: I have rarely experienced a more cohesive, talented and professional group of people working to a common purpose. The success of the people move, coupled with the Station’s readiness to receive them, was a real demonstration of the whole force of Service, Civil Service and Contractors working effectively towards a common purpose, and ranks among the highlights of my tenure at Wyton.

With attention turning to Wyton, it was visibly evident that the Station needed a make-over. In the wake of the mass DE&S exodus and the ongoing demolition and building works, it was looking decidedly out of shape.  Our sorry looking Canberra Gate Guardian served as a metaphor for the Station at large, and work was needed to revive the site to its former glory, now that its future was assured under its new Joint Forces Command banner. Artefacts depicting the Station’s rich and varied history past were on display in several buildings, not least in Station Headquarters which provided a nostalgic trip down Memory Lane, but hardly reflected a forward-facing unit, primed to re-launch in support of our new missions. Changes were needed, and the way they came about would reveal the amazing ability of people to pull together to achieve breathtaking results.

Through 2012, we searched avidly for a solution to our Canberra ‘problem’. The aircraft couldn’t be left to deteriorate further, and was already presenting a poor impression of the Station to visitors and the public at large. Every avenue we explored came to a juddering halt in the face of hefty costs or insurmountable logistic challenges until, towards the end of 2012, fate would deal the Station a favourable hand. 57 Squadron’s fleet of Grob Tutor aircraft was declared grounded, pending a full investigation into the annoying tendency for propeller blades to abandon the airframe in mid flight. Out of the blue, we had a Squadron of instructors and students gazing hopelessly at gin-clear skies from their crew room, and an inviting ‘force development’ opportunity sitting forlornly at the Main Gate. With an inject of Station cash, and under the expert eye of ex-Canberra pilot, Sqn Ldr Dave Piper, the Squadron set about restoring the aircraft with gusto. The result was outstanding, attracting widespread plaudits and reinstating our iconic Gate Guardian to its former glory.

In mid-2012, a member of the PRIDE Team dropped by to discuss a set of double doors that were about to be installed into a building at the far end of the Station, to provide access for the JARIC Imagery Collection. Knowing that the Station already had an established Pathfinder Collection, and having seen the anthology of historic artefacts displayed around the site, I wasn’t keen on standing up yet another independent exhibit, and set about looking for a suitably sized venue where all of the Station’s heritage could be brought together in a single place. N Block seemed ideal: downstairs was a former documents and records library, featuring a corridor of separate walk-in alcoves that had great potential for creating an historic timewalk; while upstairs were 3 large conference suites, 2 of which would be perfect for housing the Pathfinder and Imagery Collections in adjacent rooms. The Station Heritage Board saw the huge opportunities on offer, and volunteers threw themselves into the project, sacrificing many hours of their personal time to complete the transformation. I’d like to think that anyone who visits our Station Heritage and Conference Centre today would agree that the result of their endeavours is truly outstanding. As well as preserving our heritage and providing an excellent Force Development opportunity, it is also really encouraging to see the levels of interest that our Heritage Centre has generated in our local community. If there were a project to best showcase the combined efforts of our Station staff, this was surely it: the Board Members, Stn Workshops, Media & Graphics, Force Development Section, Supply, along with numerous serving and retired volunteers all pulled together to create a stunning transformation, and all in the space of just 8 months.

Our Memorial Garden exceeded all expectations. The genesis of the idea came from Commander JFIG, who wanted to create a focal point that the Group could identify with. There are few better than the military for respecting and preserving the memories of our lost colleagues, and the idea of a memorial garden seemed a perfect choice. In early 2013, our Station Padre took on the project lead, with what little remained of our station budget at his disposal. What followed was a tremendous act of compassion, generosity and support from our industry partners, who embraced the idea, committing resources and additional funding to the project. We relocated the Pathfinder Memorial Stone from the roundabout to sit alongside our new JFIG Memorial Stone. Both RAFA and the Medmenham Collection donated engraved benches to complete a tranquil arrangement in a quiet, leafy setting. On 11 November, the Padre led the first of what I hope will be many services of remembrance, assembled around this attractive, sensitive memorial.

Change continued thick and fast, as more people grasped opportunities to enhance community, support and wellbeing amenities across the Station: the Old Gymnasium was transformed into a Primary Care and Rehabilitation Facility; empty properties gave way to new community and welfare premises at Brampton and Wyton; Modern Housing redecorated and furnished our Welfare House; the RAF Benevolent Fund delivered a Multi Use Games Area and new play parks to Wyton’s housing estate; Hangar 4 gym boasted newer and better facilities (have you visited the Asylum yet? I recommend a visit – the defibrillator is provided…); The Community Covenant gave us an additional play park and a community minibus; the junior ranks leaned in to help deliver and manage the fantastic Sin Bin all ranks bar; 14 Sqn arrived and immediately made their mark in the CO’s Cup; dormant clubs were reinvigorated; our MAC contractor pitched in with a generous contribution to the Station Community Fund and sponsored a successful JFIG Art Competition; and the list goes on.

And it’s not just our permanent staff that characterise this Station. Each year, RAF Wyton plays host to the WWII veterans from the Pathfinder Force, who converge on the Station to rekindle friendships, share memories and remember lost comrades. Sadly, their numbers lessen with each passing year, but their exploits were truly inspirational, and the fleeting opportunity to get to know these real-life heroes is an experience that I personally cherish. We also benefit from a rich vein of voluntary support from ex-Service personnel and friends in our local community. The magnificent Wyton Area Voluntary Band ranks among the most prized assets that this Station has the benefit of parenting: I have hugely valued their unstinting support to our Mess, ceremonial and community events, and for promoting the military at events across our engagement area. The Freedom of Huntingdonshire Parade, expertly choreographed on a glorious summer’s day, exemplified the professionalism and sheer quality of the Band.

But underscoring all of the above is one common factor: people. Undoubtedly, my time as Stn Cdr would have amounted to very little without the extraordinary support and achievements of the enthusiastic, dedicated and inspiring people associated with RAF Wyton. Together, our people have delivered so much change in such a relatively short space of time, and it’s quite astonishing that it should all have occurred in parallel with a tremendously busy period in workplaces across the Station, and against the backdrop of uncertainty brought about by Defence Transformation. I have been honoured and privileged to serve at RAF Wyton: it is a Station with an iconic past and an exciting future, and if my experience of the past 2 years is any indicator, then
it holds all the promise of a magnificent place to work and live. My sincere thanks and best wishes go out to everybody connected with
the Station.