Speech by The Chief of the Air Staff ACM Sir Michael Graydon at the RAFES Gala Dinner at RAF Cranwell, September 1995.

I am delighted to be your guest tonight. It is over a year ago that Sir Lewis Hodges asked if I would attend: the event has been etched into my diary since: I would not have missed it for anything.

I count it a particular honour to have been invited to be with you tonight on your 50th anniversary, both a commemoration, a celebration and a poignant end of a particular chapter in your remarkable history.

You are one of the most exclusive and extraordinary societies in the world, a Society not only brought about to repay a debt but with the aim, I have no doubt, inspired by a deep and often very personal desire, to maintain contact with the families of those who had literally laid down their lives for others in the pursuit of freedom.

Thus Lord Portal's directive in 1945 for the RAF Escaping Society to maintain links with the 'Helpers' has been carried out with a dedication and diligence which would be hard to match. I would venture to suggest that he would be well pleased both in the manner in which these links have been maintained and in the strength, still after 50 years, of this Escaping Society.

But perhaps there should be no surprise, for as members of this remarkable Society, you have had some unique characteristics, a combination of courage, determination, cunning, imagination and no doubt some luck.

Have you ever thought of going into politics?!

For whatever reason, for whatever aspect of character carried you through, you escaped, you evaded and you returned. That is an entrance test unique to any society.

And yet, of course, you would be the first to acknowledge that none of this would have been possible without the Helpers. And you above all would know that, however long it took to reach safety, whether it was days, weeks or even months, there was an end gameand when you reached it, God willing, you would be free.

For your Helpers, that was not the case. They had everything to lose, their family, their home and overshadowing it, the persistent fear, the threat of concentration camps and execution - a pressure that was there for years. I can understand why you feel so strongly and have committed yourselves so valiantly to the links with the Helpers.

With over 2800 British and Commonwealth airmen making it back to the United Kingdom, the number of Helpers was vast ... Let me, on behalf of today's Royal Air Force, pay tribute to you and to all those to whom we owe so much.

Now you have decided to close the Society. If I may say so, you have done it with great good sense and with much dignity.

The trophy that you have presented over the years will continue to remind all of today's Royal Air Force of your deeds, your exploits and your commitment to your Helpers.

The Society will certainly not be forgotten when people meet to talk of honour, valour and integrity.

You were set a task by Lord Portal 50 years ago. As one of his successors I can say you have met fully the remit placed on you then. Today's Royal Air Force is honoured to take part in this occasion and salutes each one of you tonight.

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