RAF Boulmer – Freedom of Northumberland

Ringing World   12th November 2010

Photo: RAF flag
 The Northumberland Flag usually flies from Morpeth Clock Tower, signifying that it is in the care of Northumberland County Council, although on suitable occasions it is replaced with the Union Flag or that of St George. That September 23rd 2010 was a special day was signified by the Royal Air Force Ensign fluttering from the flagpole being the occasion of RAF Boulmer being granted the Freedom of Northumberland.

Photo: Northumberland flag   When the local council approached me and asked if the bells could be rung before the military parade I set about organising suitable ringing. A quarter peal seemed most appropriate since it matched the length of ringing requested  and would allow the event to be recorded. Knowing that Mark Philipson served at RAF Boulmer it was obvious to invite him to ring and he identified that Andy Crosby and Nathaniel Christopher also served there and rang. Thus the concept that this might be rung for the RAF Guild developed.

Mark now takes up the narrative.

  As a non territorial society the Royal Air Force Guild has members scattered over the country with the majority living in the South of England or East Anglia, ie the areas where the RAF – what’s left of it – is mainly concentrated; or where the majority of our membership has retired. In common with the other Service Guilds our serving membership has declined as the numbers in the services have declined. So it was no mean feat to field a band comprising 3 serving members from RAF Boulmer – a remote station on the Northumberland Coast some 30 miles North of Newcastle – and 5 other members of the RAF Guild from the North East and all resident within the D&N Association. The experience level of the band varied greatly from surprise ringers to 2 who had never rung a quarter on 8 before, and 2 others who were a bit rusty on 8 bell quarters to say the least. I had taken the precaution of taking the other 2 serving members – Andrew and Nathaniel – down to Morpeth on 2 practice nights to get some experience on the bells – very different from our 6 at Embleton – and some experience on ringing on 8. Andrew had never rung anything on 8 before apart from some call changes some years ago, and Nathaniel’s only previous 8 bell experience had been on an outing in May. On the plus side it was easy for all 3 of us to get away from work to ring – after all we were ‘participating’ in the parade as well.

Photo: the RAF ringers   After a false start – the band had never rung together before – we re-started with just enough time to ring a quarter and some open ringing to coincide with the parade setting off. Apart from a couple of trips in the first 2 parts the ringing went well with some good striking throughout the quarter. The only tense moment was in the last part where several of the ringers went in various directions and none of them the right one. In the words of Nathaniel, there were some ‘emotional moments’ while I fought to get the bells back into the right places (thank goodness for coursing order and simple compositions), the rest of the band followed orders (well done and thank you for putting up with my ‘emotional moments’) and all came round where it was supposed to. While there have been better quarters of Bob Major rung by far, there have been worse ones, but rarely has one been tied into such a poignant and relevant military/civil occasion.

  The weather forecast had threatened heavy rain for the parade but in the event only the lightest shower was experienced, the sun shone and the crowds were delighted. Hundreds of people lined the route as three flights of RAF Boulmer servicemen and women paraded through Morpeth, led by the Band of the Royal Air Force College Cranwell. Many more gathered in the Market Place as the Chairman of Northumberland County Council, Mrs Marcia Bircham, present the Freedom Scroll to the Station Commander, Gp Capt Jeff Portlock.

  Many of the personnel from RAF Boulmer have served, are serving or are about to serve in the Middle East – Iraq and Afghanistan – and this includes all 3 of the serving ringers. Two days later both Andrew and Nathaniel rung their first peal at Embleton – two significant ‘firsts’ in a short space of time.
Well done!

Richard Major & Mark Philipson
Photo: the parade
 Morpeth, Northumb.
23 Sep 2010,
1280 Plain Bob Major:
Andrew Crosby  # *
Christine Barraclough   2
Nathaniel Christopher  # *
Rosemary R A Ross   4
Andy Woodcock   5
David Barraclough   6
Michael le Marie   7
Mark Philipson *  (C) 8

Rung immediately before RAF Boulmer was presented with the Freedom of Northumberland.
Also for the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

# 1st on 8: 1 & 3.
* Serving members at RAF Boulmer: 1, 3 & 8. 

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