RRT visit IX Squadron, RAF Marham 18th March 2014
Account by RRT member of visit to RAF Marham
On the night of 7th-8th January 2014, members of the Dereham and Norwich Rapid Relief Teams assisted at the tragic USAF helicopter crash at Cley Marshes, and were subsequently invited to visit RAF Marham with other groups who had also assisted. Here are notes of their experiences.
We arrived at RAF Marham at 0900 and were warmly welcomed by Flt. Lt. James Pettit, who we had previously met at Cley Marshes and who had kindly arranged this visit.
Our tour began with coffee and biscuits at the station’s Heritage Centre, where we were shown exhibits from the station’s history beginning with World War 1 and continuing to the present day.
Our guide for the centre was Station Warrant Officer Steve Roberts, who gave us a fascinating account of the Vulcan bombing raid on Port Stanley and his role in the more recent Libyan conflict, where for a whole week he managed on one hour’s sleep per night to keep the squadron operational. Interestingly, we also discovered that he was present at the Kegworth air disaster on 8th January 1989, where members of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church assisted in the rescue effort – a forerunner of RRT activities today.
We were then taken onto the airbase by coach, where we visited IX Squadron, one of three Tornado squadrons based at Marham, the other two squadrons being already deployed overseas. IX Squadron are maintained in a state of constant readiness to respond to any attempted violation of UK airspace or threat to national or global security within flying range of Marham.
Our tour of the Squadron began with a briefing from Weapon Systems Operator, Flt. Lt. Mark Tolman, held deep inside a bunker where we saw its thick, reinforced concrete walls and how it had been equipped to withstand chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attack. During the briefing we were shown how modern weaponry has been developed to minimise collateral damage whilst effectively taking out the target, and were impressed by how much effort and expense is devoted to minimise bloodshed, both of aircrew and of civilians, in modern warfare.
Flt. Lt. Tolman then escorted us to a hardened aircraft shelter where we were able to closely inspect – and sit in – an operation-ready Panavia Tornado GR4. He also explained in great detail the aircraft and what it is like to fly one. It was sobering to hear that when aircraft fly at low altitude, they are 0.3 seconds away from hitting the ground, and illustrated the need of constant training and concentration, and we felt fresh gratitude for those who daily face life-threatening situations to maintain national security and contain global conflicts.
Our tour of the squadron completed, we were met again by Flt. Lt. Pettit and returned to the Officers’ Mess. This vast building is home, restaurant and clubroom to officers who are deployed away from their families, and we were told that it looks almost identical today to how it would have done to the crews of Wellington and Stirling bomber squadrons stationed there during WW2; glancing into the lounge area as we passed, we could imagine the officers sitting in the leather armchairs, in the tense moments before a raid was on.
The Officer’s Mess Manager, Mr Nick Caswell kindly provided us with a table where we were formally attended to by RAF Mess Attendants and offered a choice of Chicken Chow Mein or Beef Stroganoff. RAF personnel sat at nearby tables and we were impressed by the discipline and restraint they showed, even when off-duty and in the convivial atmosphere of a shared lunch.
Following lunch we were met by the Station Commander, Group Captain Harvey Smyth, Wing Commander Neil Tomlin, Squadron Leader Marshall Kinnear and Flt. Lt. Darren Miller. GC Smyth thanked us collectively for our contribution to the search and rescue mission at Cley Marshes, and in private conversation they were all extremely interested to hear of the global activities of RRT. We also presented the Station Commander with copies of our pbcc publications ‘Faith That Serves’ and ‘Living Our Beliefs’ which were gratefully received.
Several RRT members live in close proximity to Marham and frequently hear the aircraft passing overhead, often in the early hours. It is never a problem that they have disturbed our night’s sleep, but as we turn over in our beds we offer up a prayer for their safety.