II (AC) Sqn’s 560 Mile Cycle Ride
Recreates historic deployment from Farnborough to Montrose
As promised last month, an update on the bike ride undertaken by nine members of No II (AC) Sqn, to commemorate this first ever deployment of aircraft to a purpose built aerodrome and to mark the Centenary of Montrose Air Station.
On Friday 21st June, the team set off from Farnborough Air Sciences Trust (FAST) which saw a further strengthening of the historic ties between the RAF’s oldest fixed wing flying squadron, No II (AC) Sqn, and Farnborough, their ancestral home. A Tornado GR4 aircraft flew into the historic Hampshire airfield and parked in front of the ‘Black Sheds’. This was a particularly poignant moment as the Black Sheds housed the Squadron’s first aircraft over 100 years ago!
The visit to Farnborough also gave the Squadron an opportunity to donate a commemorative engraved ‘brick’ to the FAST, for the museum’s Cody Statue Project. So far, this scheme has raised over £27,000 towards the project’s cost. Chairman of FAST, Richard Gardner, said, “We are really proud to share a joint history with this famous Squadron which was born 101 years ago here at Farnborough and today is still protecting this country as an essential front line air power asset. Having our local MP, Sir Gerald Howarth, with us as well as the Mayor of Rushmoor and the Deputy Chief Executive, as well the co-operation of TAG Farnborough Airport, underlines just how supportive the local community and its representatives are when it comes to celebrating our unique aviation history here – where it all started.”
At around 1300 the Team set off for RAF Halton on the first stage of the “Tour De Montrose”. Despite the poor weather and hilly terrain the cyclist’s morale remained high and the first stage was completed in good time. However, the same could not be said of the Support Team who had the misfortune of trying to negotiate their way past Ascot Racecourse in a box van at the same time as the public were leaving following the conclusion of the racing!
The Team soon settled in to their stride of averaging about 85 miles per day between different Service accommodation along the route. This was typically split to ensure that their were suitable rest stops along the way and to visit some of the finer cafes. As the route entered Yorkshire the terrain got significantly more challenging; the hardest leg was between Barnard Castle and Otterburn saw the Team climb over 6200 Ft (one third of the total for the whole distance) and summit three 1:5 hills. Arguably one of the best days was crossing the border in to Scotland, achieving speeds of 40mph on the descent in to Edinburgh, and then arriving at Edinburgh Castle for the night.
On the evening of Thursday 27th June the Team arrived on the outskirts of Montrose at Dysart Farm, the location of the original aerodrome in Montrose. This marked the end of the original deployment made by the RFC in 1913 and the end of the hard cycling for the Team who had now clocked up an impressive total of over 560 miles. On Friday the 28 June the Team set out on the penultimate leg down to Sleepy Hillock Cemetery in Montrose accompanied by Wing Commander Jez Holmes, the Officer Commanding II (AC) Sqn. The purpose of this short journey was to lay a wreath at the grave of Lt Desmond Arthur, RFC, the first fatality recorded on II (AC) Sqn. At 1200 the Team cycled the final two miles to the Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre where a warm reception greeted them as local dignitaries, cadets and members of the museums team turned out to welcome the Team. During the ceremony the “Peter Arundell Hay Neave Trophy” was kindly loaned in perpetuity to II(AC) Sqn by 2163 Auchtermucty Squadron Air Training Corps. Originally the trophy was commissioned by the parents of the II(AC) Sqn Flt Lt who was killed in 1943. He flew a crippled aircraft clear of a town, thus becoming too low to bail out. It is the honour of II(AC) Sqn to become the keeper of this trophy given it’s history and the manner in which the trophy came to be.
Squadron Leader ‘Dutch’ Holland, the team leader of the cycle team said, “The Centenary Cycle has been a great success and brought out the best in all the people involved. The ride was extremely challenging and physically demanding but the whole Team, including our fantastic support elements, pulled together to ensure that we arrived in Montrose on time and in good order. We have greatly enjoyed the experience and are grateful to have had the opportunity to recreate this historic journey and would like to thank both FAST and the Montrose Air Station for their continuing support in commemorating the Squadron’s history.”
II (AC) Sqn have chosen the Royal Air Force Association (RAFA) as their charity for the year. While the Centenary Cycle is not a charity event, the Squadron will be fundraising throughout the year and donations can be made at: mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/shinytwo.