Monday, 20 May 2019

Caversham Heights Society

THERE has been only one meeting of the society since the talk about “The work of Launchpad and the homeless in Reading” at the beginning of last month. This was on Wednesday, October 17 when Gp Capt Paterson, who had only recently retired from the RAF after 26 years of service, talked about “100 years of the RAF”.

Most of the audience were expecting a historical account of the origins of the RAF, the disputes over its uses, its development and the changes and current difficulties facing the service.

We were given an account of how the early pioneers, such as the Wright Brothers and Bleriot, showed the potential of flying.

We were told about how the Balloon Corps and the Royal Flying Corps, both formed in 1912, were used for aerial reconnaissance.

These were followed by the Royal Naval Air Corps in 1916.

Unfortunately, at that time neither the Army nor the Royal Navy were interested in air power, largely because in the years leading up to the beginning of the First World War the Government, only too aware of Britain’s maritime history and responsibilities, had been too busy concentrating on building up the navy in competition with Germany.

It was the far-sightedness of Field Marshal Smuts and Winston Churchill, both of whom saw the potential of air reconnaissance for troops on the ground in identifying where enemy positions were located, that led to the creation of the RAF in 1918 as a fighting force.

Indeed, it was the combination of the RAF, tanks and other mechanised weapons that speeded up the conclusion of the war.

Sadly, there was little progress in developing the RAF during the Twenties and early Thirties until the threat of Hitler’s Luftwaffe made the Government take air power seriously, as we know from the valiant efforts of the Spitfire and Hurricane pilots during the Battle of Britain in 1940.

Even so, it was not until 1944 that the RAF was technologically up to steam.

Sadly, we were not told about the developments thereafter, except that all three services felt the need to have some form of air power which has meant a certain amount of duplication and, in the current financially straightened times, has led to strong

Instead, what we had was an interesting and very personal story of how the speaker joined the RAF in 1992, became a helicopter pilot and gradually rose through the ranks by service in Northern Ireland during the troubles with the IRA, then in Afghanistan and the Gulf Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The emotional problems involved in modern warfare, the speed of making difficult decisions involving life and death situations and the advantages and disadvantages of helicopter warfare were all brought home to the audience who were given an insight into the stresses and strains of being a pilot in the difficult circumstances.

In early 2019 the society will hold lectures on “The digital society”, “The development of public libraries” and “Crime and punishment in the 21st century”.

Meetings are held in the Caversham Heights Methodist Church hall in Highmoor Road every alternate Wednesday at 8pm, following coffee at 7.15pm. New members are always welcome.

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