THE FREEDOM OF HUNTINGDON

On Saturday, 17th August hundreds of people turned out to watch RAF Wyton personnel march through the streets of Huntingdon.

With bayonets fixed, colours flying, drums beating and the band playing, RAF Wyton personnel marched on to Market Hill, where, together with WWII Pathfinder veterans, they paraded in front of the Deputy Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, Chairman of Huntingdonshire District Council and Comd JFIG, and were presented with scrolls conferring their Freedom of Huntingdonshire.

Following the ceremony, RAF Wyton personnel and Pathfinder veterans, led by their Scroll Bearers and the Wyton Area Voluntary Band, marched along the High Street to the acclaim of onlookers.  Arriving at Pathfinder House, home to Huntingdonshire District Council, Brig Nick Davies, Comd JFIG took the General Salute.

Speaking on behalf of RAF Wyton and the WWII Pathfinder veterans, Brig Davies said: “We are both honoured and delighted to receive the Freedom of the District of Huntingdonshire, signifying as it does the long and close relationship between the Station and our local community. This relationship will only deepen as the role of Joint Forces at Wyton continues to develop in the future.”

The decision to confer the Freedom of Huntingdonshire on RAF Wyton and the WWII Pathfinder veterans was taken by Huntingdonshire District Council earlier in the year.  The award is in recognition of the ‘Meritorious Service’ that those stationed at RAF Wyton performed during WWII and the contribution it continues to make to the local community.  It is the highest honour that any town or district can bestow on a Station and the award follows the Freedom of Huntingdon conferred on the Station in 1955.

Councillor Jason Ablewhite, Executive Leader of Huntingdonshire District Council said: “We are conferring the Freedom of the District to RAF Wyton for a number of reasons: to recognise the contribution to local community and economy that the base has made over the last 71 years, to reaffirm our support for our Armed Forces and the contribution they make to our freedom and sovereignty, to affirm our connection with the base as the site of the original Pathfinders’ headquarters and to press home the longevity as an active base in our area as the new headquarters for the Joint Forces Intelligence Group, giving Wyton a significant army presence for the first time.”

Wg Cdr Mike Brown, CO RAF Wyton HQ said: “We are extremely proud to receive this prestigious honour, and we will strive to maintain and build upon the excellent relationship that our Servicemen and women currently have with the District of Huntingdonshire.”

As with so many of the Pathfinder veterans, when the young Flt Lt Colin Bell arrived at RAF Wyton to join the Pathfinder Force in 1944, he couldn’t have anticipated the level of interest and recognition that he and his colleagues would receive in carrying out their now renowned acts of bravery.  Speaking of his feelings on having the exploits of the WWII Pathfinder Veterans recognised 70 years on, Flt Lt (Ret’d) Colin Bell DFC said: “In the past, not everyone has understood that the duty and objective of Bomber Command and the Pathfinder Force was to destroy the capability of the Nazi Regime to wage war against our men, women and children.  We see this conferral of the Freedom of the District of Huntingdonshire as a generous mark of appreciation of the efforts and sacrifices made by the Pathfinder Force in carrying out those duties.”

To celebrate RAF Wyton’s past, present and future a special exhibition was held in Huntingdon Town Hall after the parade.  The exhibition included artefacts from the Pathfinder Collection, which can be seen in its entirety in the recently opened RAF Wyton Heritage Centre.  It also included an overview of flying training conducted at RAF Wyton, military clothing and equipment used by today’s Armed Forces on deployment overseas and an insight into the world of Defence Intelligence, presented by Joint Forces Intelligence Group personnel from RAF Wyton.

Brig Davies who, along with his family, looked in on the Past, Present & Future Exhibition, said: “I must say a big thank you to Sqn Ldr Farley-West.  Not only did she do an excellent job as Parade Commander, she devoted a great deal of time and effort into project managing the whole Freedom of Huntingdonshire event, including putting on the exhibition for the local community.  The day was without doubt a great success.”

A spokesman for the Station said: “This has been a very special and historic day for RAF Wyton and the WWII Pathfinder veterans.  We are immensely honoured and proud to have had conferred on us the Freedom of Huntingdonshire and we are extremely grateful for the support and good wishes we have received from the local community.”