Grantham is home to one of the oldest air cadet squadrons in the country - 47F Grantham Squadron.
Since 2009 the squadron has been under the command of Flt Lt Gary Allen but this month he handed the reigns over to Flt Lt Paul James. We caught up with the pair this week.
Q) Gary, how did you come to be Commanding Officer of 47F?
Gary: I started when I was 13 here at Grantham as a young cadet and I stayed on until I was 22. The age limit at the time was 20 - you could stay until 22 but you had to be the top rank, a cadet warrant officer.
I then left while studying to be an engineer before coming back as a civilian instructor. The commanding officer pushed me to take my commission which I did 16 years ago. Then I took command of the squadron in September 2009. The squadron was in a bit of a mess when I took over, I think it’s fair to say - it was more kind of a youth club then. It certainly hasn’t been just me - it has been a big team effort to get the squadron back on track.
Q) Have you enjoyed your time in command? What are your proudest moments?
Gary: I have very much enjoyed it. I’ve had a lot of proud moments. I think the proudest was marching down the High Street on Remembrance Sunday, both last year and this year. I’ve never known it because it’s usually a solemn event but we got a round of applause. No one else gets a round of applause.
What I enjoy is seeing them come through the door and then leave as more adjusted, rounded and self-disciplined people. I always read the court pages in the Journal and I can honestly say I have never seen a cadet or ex-cadet in the court pages. I don’t know what we do but we do something right that stops them taking drugs or getting into trouble on a
Q) Paul, how did you become to be involved with the cadets?
Paul: I was a cadet myself. My father was in the RAF so I grew up around various RAF stations like Waddington. Then I joined the RAF aged 17 back in 1989 and was lucky enough to go to the first Gulf War aged 19. I see some of the cadets here and think “I was out in Saudi Arabia for the first Gulf War when I was their age”. I finished at RAF Luffenham and moved down in 1994. It was Gary that took me on as far as the cadets go. I took my son along aged 12 and Gary gave him the chapter about what we do here. I said I would like to help out but my son was too young to join so Gary said “you can start now but your son will have to wait”.
Q) Why is the Grantham squadron called “47F”?
Gary: Grantham was one of the first towns to have a squadron and the first 50 were given the “F” as a “Founder Squadron”. We are also the senior squadron in Trent Wing.
Paul: If the numbers drop below a certain level you can actually lose the “F”. Then even if you get the number back you can’t get the “ F” back. So it’s massive to us that we are an “F Squadron”.
Gary: When I became Commanding Cfficer the previous CO said to me “Congratulations on becoming CO of 47F...don’t be the last!” and I’ve said the same to Paul but the squadron is in good hands.