Saying farewell to our RAF neighbours

It is a time of great sadness and mixed emotions as we bid farewell to our near neighbours at RAF Kinloss.

The Government’s decision to scrap the RAF’s Nimrod reconnaissance fleet stripped the famous Kinloss airfield of its main operational role and led to the official disbandment of three flying squadrons in a ceremony attended by the Duke of Edinburgh in May.

The airfield ceases operations after July 31.

While the Ministry of Defence has confirmed that the Moray base will remain a defence asset to be used by the British Army from around 2014, the latest development has meant civilian job losses and touched the lives and hearts of so many people, causing a major impact on the area.

The Findhorn Foundation’s main street is known simply and affectionately as The Runway and was part of base operations long before community founders Eileen and Peter Caddy and Dorothy Maclean parked their famous caravan nearby almost half a century ago – on November 17, 1962.

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Good neighbours the Foundation team
during our 2010 tour of RAF Kinloss

And links between the unlikely neighbours have always existed, Peter Caddy himself having held the rank of squadron leader during World War 2, while in recent times there were moves to explore synergies with the current station commander Group Captain JJ Johnson showing keen interest and visiting The Park with his family for lunch and a tour.

As the son of an RAF pilot who might well have taken off from nearby runways during the war years, I was thrilled to be part of a pioneering exercise in good neighbourliness last year between a team from the Foundation and senior officers of RAF Kinloss. It revealed some common ground – and opportunities to explore closer contacts in the future.

Members of the Foundation were treated to an in-depth briefing by then station commander Group Captain Robbie Noel as well as a tour of the base – nicknamed the ‘Home of the Mighty Hunter’ in a reference to the legendary Nimrod search and reconnaissance aircraft that enjoyed more than 40 years of faithful service.

“We are trying to remove some of the myths and rumours about us,” Gp Capt Noel said at the time, emphasising that the continued good reputation of the RAF was essential to maintain staff morale and public support.

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Findhorn Foundation focaliser Ana
Rhodes-Castro with former station
commander Group Captain Robbie Noel

“We have to convince people we add value for the future and our reputation has to be based on doing something meaningful to help improve the security environment, and doing it safely.

“Regrettably we do not live in a peaceful world, but we are not warmongers.” On the contrary, he believed that one of the Foundation’s objectives of world peace was shared by the RAF although the terminology and strategies of the two organisations differed. “Our goal is providing for a safe and secure environment, which is the same, I believe, as striving for world peace. It might seem to some as an unachievable aim, but I’m a firm advocate of shooting for the stars with a realistic prospect of landing on the moon.”

As an island nation depending heavily on trade, the UK had to be ready to protect its interests around the world as well as countering submarine activity, narcotics trafficking and “the very real threat from terrorism,” he said.

Ultimately it was decided by Government that the costs of updating and maintaining the reconnaissance fleet was too great.

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Foundation PR Carin Bolles
at the controls of a Nimrod MR2

The Kinloss station first opened in 1939 and apart from playing a role during World War 2 and the subsequent Cold War, it has supported campaigns in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan, and was increasingly called to work alongside groups from the United Nations, World Health Organisation, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Red Cross and NGOs and humanitarian aid agencies.

It was felt by senior officers that the Foundation might provide useful lessons in how to maximise the effectiveness of interactions with non-military organisations.

Admittedly the noise and pollution of military aircraft landing and taking off from Kinloss was often intrusive and irritating, especially in the middle of the night, but I’m sure I won’t be alone in missing the spectacle of some of these magnificent machines that are the stuff of boyhood dreams and fantasies.

Photographers and enthusiasts could often be seen hunkering down nearby in the hope of memorable sightings of favourite aircraft.

As a tribute to the men and women of RAF Kinloss – and the beauty of flying – perhaps the poem penned by young Battle of Britain pilot John Gillespie Magee Jr, might be appropriate:

High Flight
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air…

Up, up the long delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Story and photos: Geoff Dalglish

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