We are a group of four Anglican parish churches who enjoy working collaboratively in serving the people and communities of Beech Hill, Farley Hill, Grazeley, Riseley, Shinfield, Spencers Wood, Swallowfield and Three Mile Cross. Our four parish churches are delightfully different in history and character, each offering a different take on what it means to be active, forward-looking, community-focussed churches of the 21st century. Each church also has its own style of worship, weekly activities and pattern of services that continue to evolve. You should find all you need to know about us as you engage with our website, but if you’d like to meet and talk something through in person… don’t hesitate to get in touch.
The Centenary of the Royal Air Force 1918 - 2018
On April 1st, 1918, the Royal Flying Corps was merged with the Royal Navy Air Service, and together they were formed into the Royal Air Force, the third arm of the British Services. The RAF was to become of vital importance in the defence of the United Kingdom, it’s role exemplified by victory in the Battle of Britain. This crucial air battle is remembered every year in September at a thanksgiving service at Westminster Abbey, at church services and RAF Association events up and down the country and, indeed, around the world.
At the beginning of WW1, powered flight was still in its infancy, and aircraft really were quite basic. RFC pilots navigated using road maps, looking out for landmarks on the ground, and used cameras for photographing strategic information. The cramped cockpits made it impossible to carry parachutes, even if they’d been allowed. Senior army commanders forbade the carrying of parachutes in case they diluted the fighting spirits of pilots……!!!
The RAF saw some of the earliest action of WW2. The day after war was declared in 1939, bombers attacked German shipping near Brunsbüttel and Wilhelmshaven. Here, the first losses of men and aircraft were sustained, in a conflict that would become a worldwide struggle to gain mastery in the air upon which victory depended.
Closer to home, the RAF presence at Shinfield was centred upon Shinfield Park, located to the north of the M4, which was the home of RAF Flying Training Command from 1940 until 1968. (The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) now occupies the site).
We can only guess at the experience of the young men who flew aircraft in such dangerous and uncertain circumstances. Books such as ‘First Flight’ by Sqn Ldr Geoffrey Wellum DFC, who died recently at the age of 96, give us some idea of their determined courage, and the circumstances in which they served. The recent death of Mary Ellis also reminds us of the bravery of women pilots too.
Perhaps not surprisingly, flying gave young men a feeling of freedom and an understanding of things eternal. We get some sense of this in the poem ‘High Flight’, by Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee of the RCAF, who died in a flying accident over England in 1941.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
Overlooking the River Thames at Cooper’s Hill in Runnymede, Surrey, stands the Runneymede RAF War Memorial, which commemorates more than 20,000 airmen and women who were lost in the Second World War during operations from bases in the UK and North and Western Europe, and who have no known grave. Engraved on the great north window of the control tower designed shrine are words from the 139th Psalm, sometimes called the Airman’s Psalm.
If I climb up into Heaven, Thou art there;
If I go to Hell, Thou art there also.
If I take the wings of the morning
And remain in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there also shall Thy hand lead me;
And Thy right hand shall hold me.
I have a feeling that this Psalm must have given many of the young pilots some solace at a time of great uncertainty, and perhaps you too can find in these words the comfort, strength and courage that knowledge of the omnipresence of God can bring to your own circumstance in today’s uncertain world.
Blessings and eternal peace.
Revd Paul Willis