CROWDS lined the streets of a Northumberland town as servicemen and women marched in honour of their newly-bestowed freedom of the county.
The procession was flanked by Union Flags and the crowd’s cheers as personnel from RAF Boulmer paraded through Morpeth before being officially awarded the ancient accolade of the Freedom of Northumberland.Related content
Freedom scrolls were presented to the base’s group captain Jeff Portlock in front of the Town Hall by the chairman of Northumberland County Council, Marcia Bircham.
Crowds of onlookers, including dignitaries and school children, should have been treated to a flyby from one of the station’s iconic yellow Sea King search and rescue helicopters, but an emergency callout in the Lake District meant that plan was scrapped at the last minute.
GP Capt Portlock said: “Obviously it is the highest honour the county can bestow and it is a real privilege and honour to receive it in this the 70th year of the commemoration of the Battle of Britain.
“It means a great deal to all at Boulmer who are as integrated into the local community as I have ever seen anywhere.
“And the support we receive is second to none. We are grateful for a very good turnout and fantastic reception.”
Coun Bircham said: “It has been tremendous, and I am absolutely delighted with the crowds, that they have given their support for RAF Boulmer.
“It has been an important part of Northumberland for such a long time. I think the Sea King is what people really associate with them.
“It is really, really good that they have become part of the community.”
Among the crowds were former mayor of Morpeth Ian Hunter, 66, and his wife Gillian, 64, of Middle Greens.
The couple said they had come out to support the Armed Forces and felt proud to have RAF Boulmer in their county.
Mrs Hunter said: “One of our grandsons is in the air cadets, we were here for the heroes and we were here for the fusiliers getting the freedom.
“They do a lot of helicopter rescues from RAF Boulmer and they have brought employment to the area that Boulmer is in.”
Mr Hunter added: “It is not much to come and see them parade when you think of what they are doing.”
A reception followed the ceremony in Morpeth’s Riverside Leisure Centre. Earlier in the day, the servicemen and women had staged a parade through Longhoughton, the village which neighbours the base, where many of them live while stationed at Boulmer. The station has a long history in Northumberland. It initially opened in 1940 as a dummy airfield to divert German Second World War attacks from nearby RAF Acklington.
Three years later, as the air threat receded, it was launched as a satellite airfield to host the advanced flights from a Spitfire training unit at RAF Eshott, further south in the county.
The base is now the force headquarters for the UK Airspace Surveillance and Control System, which maintains a watch over the sky 24 hours-a-day, 365 days per year. The station also provides essential training to military personnel and those of coalition forces, who deploy on operations worldwide.
RAF Boulmer is also the HQ of the School of Aerospace Battle Management.