Wartime RAF squadron looks for new recruits as it takes flight again
A wartime auxiliary squadron of the RAF, for which Winston Churchill had a special regard, is back in action at Flying Station Aldergrove – and it's looking for recruits.
It's 502 (Ulster) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force, which at the height of the Second World War was in the forefront of the campaign against the dreaded Nazi U-boats.
With 'I Fear Nothing' as its motto and a Red Hand as its official badge (and with Wing Commander James Armstrong as the modern-day commanding officer), the unit is making a comeback at its old Aldergrove home.
For 502 Squadron has returned as a multi-trades squadron in a vital new role, with its mission to support regular RAF flight operations.
It means that, half-a-century after its colours were laid up in St Anne's Cathedral in 1957, when the squadron was stood down for a second time, 502 has been given a new lease of life.
The squadron was formed in 1925 for special reserve duties in Bomber Command and joined Coastal Command to patrol the Irish Coast in the search for the enemy.
The first disbandment came in 1945, when the last all-clear was sounded at a time when the squadron had earned three DSOs, 50 DFCs, two AFCs and 10 DFMs, but had lost 174 men in action.
However, 502 came back with Fighter Command in Mosquito, Spitfire and Vampire aircraft in 1946.
It was then stood down again 11 years later.
Now, it is all systems go once more for the outfit that refuses to die.
Now auxiliary part-time reserves are being recruited with the emphasis on flight operations, logisticians, medical staff, dental officers, physiotherapists and nurses.
"We are also looking for a chaplain," said James Armstrong.
He emphasised that former regular RAF personnel will be able to join up.
His No 2 is Squadron Leader Jack Rankin, who has served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Initially, 120 recruits are being sought for the comeback, explained the CO, who has also served in Iraq and Afghanistan and retired from the regular RAF in 2013.
The squadron had its latest revival in January to the delight of veteran 502 pilots Bill Eames (90) and Dick Spencer (88). The young Spencer is in the group photograph – third from right – of 502 men taken in the mid-1950s.
There will be a formal launch at Aldergrove on September 13 of 502 as a multi-trade outfit.
"The story of 502 is about to go full circle," added Armstrong.
"We are offering training opportunities to RAF Reserve recruits with little, or no, military experience, as well as looking out for ex-service personnel as qualified entrants."