It can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that 2018 is the Centenary year of the RAF. Aeroplanes had been flown in combat before 1918 but the pilots were a part of the Army and known as the Royal Flying Corps.
The army was still responsible for flying certain types of plane through the Second World War and my father, who was in the army at the time, spent some of his war service as crew on gliders which dropped paratroopers and equipment over Europe. The advantage of gliders was that they were totally silent so were not detected as easily as planes with engines.
The RAF came into its own during 1940 with their heroic exploits during the Battle of Britain, which saved the country from certain occupation with all that that would have entailed. What may not be so well known is the part Marks and Spencer Ltd, that Leeds institution, played in the development of the RAF. In 1938 Simon Marks, the then Chairman and son of the founder, was a leading figure in the setting up of what became known as the RAF Air Cadets and, as such, provided a stream of talent to man the force. By the end of the war almost 100,000 cadets had joined the RAF, along with 320 Marks & Spencer Ltd employees, 18 of whom received awards.
Marks & Spencer Ltd in Leeds played a key role in the morale of servicemen during the Second World War by organising entertainment for the visiting wounded and having a special room set aside for them in the store. Events were held at a nearby club with musical entertainment and a weekly theatre party paid for from the store’s general fund. A dinner was also put on by the company for 95 wounded servicemen and 100 staff were in attendance to make them feel welcome.
We Leeds people don’t just pay lip service to good causes; we put our money where our mouths are and in addition to Simon Marks’ part in the formation of the RAF Air Cadets in 1941 the staff raised £5,000 to fund a new Spitfire ‘The Marksman’, Marks man – geddit? Similarly, for the Centenary celebrations there will be a £500,000 fundraising drive by the company in conjunction with the present day members of the RAF Air Cadets. The funds will be used to inspire the next generation of engineers, scientists and technologists by providing scholarships, training and university bursaries for air cadets and school pupils from underprivileged backgrounds.
The funds will also support the Royal Air Force’s four main charities – RAFA, the RAF Benevolent Fund, the RAF Charitable Trust and the RAF Museum. As a part of the fundraising, the Air Cadets will be on hand in stores to provide bag-packing services in the Leeds store and selling limited edition RAF100 pins. They will also be asking customers to donate any loose change to the fund. Should you wish to purchase something a little more substantial than a pin, or preferably in addition to one, then a limited edition men’s leather flying jacket designed especially for the occasion will be on sale.
However you decide to offer your support for the Centenary celebrations, please give generously so as to, in some small way, repay the debt which we owe to those who have served our country so valiantly, and continue to do so.
Feature images from The Marks & Spencer Company Archive.