Four month relay to mark WRAF anniversary reaches Norfolk airfields

National WRAF relay walk. Left to right, Jasmine Franklin-Brown, Vicki Franklin-Brown, Juliet Bryce and Angie Johnson set off to Neatishead RAF base from RAF Coltishall.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY National WRAF relay walk. Left to right, Jasmine Franklin-Brown, Vicki Franklin-Brown, Juliet Bryce and Angie Johnson set off to Neatishead RAF base from RAF Coltishall. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Tuesday, August 19, 2014
8:52 AM

Theirs was a friendship formed in the tight-knit world of the armed forces, and now the trio has come together again to take part in a country-wide relay of hundreds of women commemorating the organisation they served.

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National WRAF relay walk. Left to right, Jasmine Franklin-Brown, Vicki Franklin-Brown, Juliet Bryce and Angie Johnson set off to Neatishead RAF base from RAF Coltishall while being waved off by Spirit of Coltishall members.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYNational WRAF relay walk. Left to right, Jasmine Franklin-Brown, Vicki Franklin-Brown, Juliet Bryce and Angie Johnson set off to Neatishead RAF base from RAF Coltishall while being waved off by Spirit of Coltishall members. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, which later became the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF), and what started as a whimsical suggestion on Facebook to mark the anniversary has become a four-month relay of veterans raising money for charity.

The relay began in Stranraer, Scotland, on June 28, and aims to end at the National Arboretum in Staffordshire in October, taking in as many current and former RAF bases on its way as possible.

Yesterday, it was the turn of Marham, West Raynham, Coltishall and Neatishead, with WRAF veterans Angie Johnson, Vicki Franklin-Brown and Juliet Bryce walking the final eight-mile stretch.

The trio met when they did air defence work at RAF Neatishead at various times between 1980 and 2005.

History of women and the Royal Air Force

Hundreds of women taking part in the four-month relay around the country are marking the 75th anniversary of the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF), but the history of female involvement in the air service stretches back decades earlier.

WRAF was first formed towards the end of the First World War, on April 1, 1918, and was disbanded in 1920.

Norfolk has a particularly special connection with the original WRAF. King’s Lynn resident Florence Green, who joined the service aged 17 in 1918, became the world’s last known veteran of the conflict in 2011. She died, aged 110, the following year.

Remembering her service, she told this paper: “I would work every hour God sent but I had dozens of friends on the base and we had a great deal of fun in our spare time. In many ways I had the time of my life.”

Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Nursing Service was formed as a permanent branch of the RAF in 1923, and the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, which was re-formed as WRAF in 1949, was created in 1939.

Women were not allowed to take part in combat missions, but were otherwise to be treated as like men in the RAF, and were posted to RAF stations in the UK and overseas, including Singapore, Burma and Iraq.

WRAF was fully integrated into the RAF twenty years ago, and there are now female pilots flying operationally for the service.

The relay, which is being carried out by 600 former and serving WRAFs, is raising money for the Royal Air Force Association, and Macmillan Cancer Support.

It was an especially poignant day for Mundesley resident Ms Bryce, who is taking part in the relay following the death of her father, Tony Cracknell, of cancer.

The 49-year-old said: “I found out on Friday that my dad had died. He requested donations to Macmillan, so I thought it’s a good excuse to do it for my dad.”

Ms Johnson, 58, served at RAF Neatishead from 1980-82 and 1986-91, said: “We spent our formative years together. It’s your first time away from home and they became like your brothers and sisters. We might not see each other for years, but when we come back together it’s like we never were apart.”

The women were seen on their way by members of the Spirit of Coltishall association, whose chairman Dave Welsh said: “They did all the supporting role which got the air craft where they needed to be.”

To support the relay, which has raised nearly £9,000, click here.

Are you holding a charity event? Email martin.george@archant.co.uk

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