Newcastle RAF Association service marks the days when Newcastle Airport was home to Spitfires

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RAF veterans joined serving personnel and cadets to mark a double celebration as they gathered for an annual service.

In addition to commemorating the Battle of Britain in 1940, the Newcastle branch of the RAF Association also marked the 75th anniversary of RAF Woolsington, Newcastle’s only operational wartime airfield, during service to the St Andrew’s Church in town.

RAF Woolsington, now known as Newcastle Airport, was the headquarters of a squadron of Spitfires that protected the North East during World War II.

Sydney Graham, branch president, said the event was an opportunity to look back and honor pilots and ground staff.

He said: “In the summer of 1940 the Battle of Britain was at its peak.

“RAF Woolsington already housed 72 Squadron which was equipped with Spitfires and was tasked with defending Tyneside.

“Tyneside shipyards and factories were a prime target.

“I have known guys who served in the Battle of Britain, but they are long dead.”

Sydney, 72, is himself a veteran who served in the RAF in the 1960s during the Cold War.

He said: “RAF Woolsington still exists, but with planes of a different type.

“Where the Spitfires were held you will now find Ryanair and the other passenger planes, as the site is now Newcastle Airport.”

The commemoration was attended by civic leaders including the Mayor of Newcastle, Councilor George Pattison, who represents the district of Woolsington on Newcastle Council.

A contingent of serving soldiers from RAF Boulmer was present as well as members of the Northumbria University Air Squadron, the Air Training Corps and RAF veterans.

St Andrew’s is a new venue for the service, which usually takes place at the Newcastle Civic Center, but George said everyone had a blast.

He said: “There was no flypast or parade this year, but we had the oldest parish church in town for our anniversary.”

The Battle of Britain took place from June to October 1940 and saw a force of 650 RAF fighters defeat the much larger German Luftwaffe and prevent the invasion of Britain.

RAF Woolsington had opened as a civilian airport in July 1935 but was taken over by the Royal Air Force in 1939 at the start of World War II.

A contingent of the Women’s Royal Air Force was present at the ceremony, including Babs Forster, 94, of Cramlington, who was one of the oldest.

Babs was responsible for welfare and discipline at RAF Wymeswold in Lincolnshire from 1942 to 1946.

She said: “A service like this is very valuable because there are only three of us here.

“I was in an operational training unit and used to put together a crew and send it to the bombers, always hoping they would come back.”

She was with Betty Punchon, 89, of Whitley Bay, a former flight engineer, and Edith Hunter, 93, of Amble, Northumberland, who was a telephone operator.

The service was led by the Reverend (Wing Commander) Paul Rennie, Chaplain of RAF Boulmer, who spoke about the comradeship and its role in winning the Battle of Britain.


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