Armed Forces Day…

…at the National Memorial Arboretum

Armed Forced Day is the nation’s chance to show support for the men and women who make up the Armed Forces community: from currently serving troops, to Service families, veterans and cadets. 

The Historic Army Aircraft Flight teamed up with Navy Wings once again to provide a historic military helicopter presence at the National Memorial Arboretum for the Armed Forces weekend of 25th and 26th June 2022. On the Saturday, Navy Wings wowed the public with their Westland Wasp, XT420… then on the Sunday we swooned them with the Sioux, XT131. 

June 26th, 7am, 8 seconds of fuel priming, 9 checklist items, press the start button, and the sound of the Sioux engine purrs across Middle Wallop airfield. With the engine alive, I’m briefing Kyle Talbot, a Boeing Supply Chain colleague who previously maintained Chinook helicopters, about each step of the pre-flight checklist. Together, we compare the simplicity of this 77 year-old Bell 47 design to the latest technology in a Boeing Chinook helicopter! 

Our long route from Middle Wallop, to Tatenhill for fuel, then into the Arboretum

We’re airborne, across the airfield and heading north at 70 knots with a wonderful tail wind speeding us toward our refuel at Tatenhill, near Birmingham. In the early morning quiet, we don’t see a single other aircraft as we cross England’s green and pleasant land. 

Topped up with motion lotion from the delightful airfield at Tatenhill, we’re airborne again in no time and heading into the National Memorial Arboretum. 

The Arboretum looks awe inspiring from the air; with the nationally famous Armed Forces Memorial dominating the site, the vista is serene, even from a noisy helicopter! 

On approach to the Arboretum, we have a privileged aerial view of the memorials.

We’re on the ground and in pride of place at the heart of the site; it isn’t long before the first members of the public ask us about the aircraft and the people who operated it. 

We’re joined on the ground by Zeenat Wadee, a Boeing Manufacturing Engineer and STEM Ambassador based in Birmingham. Together, we explain to the public, young and old, how the Bell 47 has been used since the first one flew in December 1945 and the first British version was bought in 1964. Sharing stories of aircrew evacuating injured soldiers from the jungle near Singapore using the venerable Sioux, is always a favourite! 

Kyle Talbot, Zeenat Wadee & Rich Pillans… Boeing colleagues volunteering for the day

Likewise, we shared the impressive feats of the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers who overcame significant technical challenges, while at sea off the coast of Africa, in order to fit a Navy Lynx engine to an Army Lynx so the SAS could rescue 5 Royal Irish Soldiers and their Sierra Leone Liaison Officer as part of Operation Barras. 

I took a few moments to visit the Army Air Corps Memorial and the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers Memorial, both of which I have an affinity with, having served in both. 

I was kindly guided around the main Armed Forces Memorial by one of the Arboretum volunteers; seeing 16,000 names of service personnel who died in service since the end of the 2nd world war is humbling beyond measure.

Me, by the inscription of Capt Andy Nicoll AAC (my highlighting)

I sought out the names of two friends who died when their respective aircraft crashed in 2003 and 2006.

Capt Andy Nicoll AAC and Capt Dave Dobson AAC.

Finding their names on the memorial wall was poignant.

Capt Dave Dobson AAC (my highlighting)

As the day closed at the National Memorial Arboretum, the sound of the Sioux once again chopped through the air. We waved goodbye to the public and to our colleague Zeenat. Heading south back to Middle Wallop in a strong headwind, Kyle and I discussed the success of the day, with the stories of Army aviators and their REME colleagues being told once again.

Photo credits: Kyle Talbot, Neill Martin-Hoare and Rich Pillans