The United Arab Emirates has played its part this week in a special celebration marking the 100th anniversary of the foundation of Britain’s Royal Air Force, RAF, in 1918. As part of activities celebrating the anniversary, a special baton relay is visiting more than 100 sites in Britain and overseas connected to RAF history, including several in the Emirates.
The RAF100 baton is constructed of wood, aluminium and titanium, the materials used to build the Sopwith Camel a First World War fighter, the Spitfire, one of the top RAF fighter planes of the Second World War, and the F35 Lightning, a fifth generation combat aircraft currently in service.
After arriving in the UAE yesterday, the baton was taken by a team of RAF personnel serving in the Emirates to the war memorial in Dhadnah, Fujairah, erected to commemorate an RAF serviceman, Sergeant Billy Donnelly, who died in February 1943 when his Wellington number crashed there during the Second World War.
In Sharjah this morning, the baton was taken to the Al Mahatta Museum, the UAE’s only aviation museum, which was part of the RAF base in Sharjah from early in the Second World War until 1971. There it was shown to a group of students from Dubai English Speaking College who learned about the RAF’s history in the region and the story of aviation in the region more widely. Also in Sharjah, the baton was taken to the cemetery at St Martin’s Church where a number of British servicemen who died in the UAE during postings here prior to 1971 are buried, with a short service of remembrance being held.
In Abu Dhabi, the baton was carried by serving RAF personnel along the Corniche, which has seen several displays by the RAF’s aerobatics team, the Red Arrows, before a short reception at the British Embassy, hosted by the ambassador, Philip Parham.
The baton will now be taken to a number of other countries in the region, as part of a tour that will take it to other sites around the world before returning to London.
The baton began its journey at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on 1st April and will be on tour for 100 days before it ends its journey at an event in Horseguards Parade, London, in July, which will formally commemorate the RAF’s 100th anniversary.
Recalling the RAF’s long history of links with the UAE, going back over 80 years, as well as its operations here during the Second World War, when three members of the RAF died on active service in the Emirates, the Ambassador said: "The RAF is an important part of our strong modern day defence relationship with the UAE, but its ties here go back long before the UAE’s formation. It is fitting that the RAF100 baton is visiting the UAE as part of its worldwide tour, and I am delighted that we were able to take it to some of the places here that have a link to the RAF and its history."