In 2018 the Royal Air Force celebrates its 100th birthday, and will reflect on history and achievements as well as celebrating the work the RAF is currently doing. Up and down the country there are many links between churches and former airfields. Churches often house poignant reminders of brave aircrew, worth seeking out for the stories that they tell. Standing in a quiet church now, it is hard to imagine the bustle and noise that there was once such big part of life there. Here is a selection of churches with close connections to the history and present day work of the Royal Air Force.

Our central church

The central church of the Royal Air Force. A church has stood on this site since the 11th century. After several rebuilds the present structure was rebuilt under the design and direction of Sir Christopher Wren. On 10 May 1941, during the last air raid of the Blitz, the church was badly damaged. Following an appeal by the Royal Air Force the church was completely rebuilt and became their spiritual heart. Since then, it has helped families mourning their loss and to come to terms with their grief.

St Clement Danes, Strand

Battle of Britain memorial

St George’s Royal Air Force Chapel of Remembrance at Biggin Hill is on what was RAF Biggin Hill, which will remain forever linked with the Battle of Britain in 1940. The chapel is a memorial to all aircrew who died flying from the Biggin Hill Sector. Stained glass windows commemorate squadrons, aircrew and ground crew and the reredos records in gold lettering the names of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Spitfire and Hurricane replicas stand guard at the gate.

St George’s RAF Chapel of Remembrance, Biggin Hill

Unique victory boards

Standing proud on top of a hill just outside the nearby village, the church holds a rare and unique collection of war records. In the Officers Mess of Little Snoring were four boards painstakingly hand painted by LAC Douglas Higgins of 23 Squadron between 1944 and 1945, on which the victories of squadrons were recorded for prosperity. They have become a unique record of the events that took place in the latter part of the Second World War and are now displayed in the church.

St Andrew, Little Snoring

Flying training centre

Cranwell has been a flying training centre since the First World War when the Admiralty requisitioned the Earl of Bristol's estate in 1915, to create the Royal Naval Air Service Central Training Depot. Now, the RAF College Cranwell selects and trains the next generation of officers and aircrew. The graves of 25 First World War airmen are in the churchyard. During the Second World War the RAF plot was used for burials from Cranwell, Finningley and Binbrook. There are also four Polish war graves.

St Andrew, Cranwell

Dambusters and Red Arrows

This lovely church sits on the western edge of the village below RAF Scampton, where the famous Dambuster raids were flown from and is now home to the Red Arrows. There is an RAF chapel in the church with Squadron badges and there are several Commonwealth War Graves in the churchyard, including ones to Australian, New Zealand and Canadian air crew, as well as British. There are also eight graves for a German crew of an aeroplane that was brought down nearby.

St John the Baptist, Scampton

The southern typhoons

RAF Coningsby is just half a mile away from the church and is home to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight as well as being the Main Operating Base for the RAF Southern Typhoons. There are many RAF memorials in the church including a chapel furnished by members and friends of No 83 Pathfinder Squadron. It is dedicated to the memory of those airmen who lost their lives on flying operations from RAF Coningsby in World War II.

St Michael, Coningsby

Coastal command

The RAF church for Cornwall. Set in a strange wasteland where there was once a hamlet, it is visible for miles around, surrounded by disused runways of RAF St Eval, an important coastal command airfield during the Second World War. The church has strong links with the Royal Air Force and there various memorials in the church, a lovely stained glass window commemorating the church’s links with the RAF and 21 war graves in the churchyard.

St Uvelas, St Eval

There but not there

Whilst not an RAF church, the installation of 51 transparent seated military figures in the church over Remembrance 2016 lit a touch paper in the psyche of all who saw it. The exhibition has led to a national project, aiming to place representative figures for as many as possible of the names on local war memorials, back in the communities they left behind. The figures are made by ex-servicemen and women and are available to all churches, but started in Penshurst. www.therebutnotthere.org.uk

St John the Baptist, Penshurst

Squadron remembrance

All Saints plays an important role in the 7 Squadron Association's Remembrance of losses, with a memorial window and Book of Remembrance. The window depicts the story of 7 Squadron RFC to the present day and includes the official crests of the Pathfinder Group, Bomber Command and the Squadron are shown with St Michael, the Patron Saint of Airmen. The Book of Remembrance contains the names of the 72 Squadron personnel who fell in World War I and the 1011 who died in Wold War II.

All Saints, Longstanton

Commemorate, celebrate, inspire

The centenary itself will be marked by special events, activities and other initiatives at local, regional and national levels running from April to the end of November 2018. Find out more on the RAF100 website.

Find out more

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