Queen's praise as RAF celebrates 100 years of guarding skies
The Royal Air Force has "defended our freedom gallantly", the Queen said as she sent her "heartfelt congratulations" to the service as it celebrated its centenary.
It was 100 years ago on April 1, 1918, that the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service were merged to create the RAF - the world's first independent air service, totally separate from the Army and Navy, acting on under its own command.
During a breakfast reception at a building on the Strand, London - formerly the Hotel Cecil, which was the first headquarters of the service - a printed message from the Queen was read out by aircraftsman Adam Wood.
The 16-year-old from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, is one of the youngest members of the RAF.
He told the room packed full of dignitaries including defence and staff chiefs Sir Stephen Hillier and Sir Stuart Peach that the Queen sent her "heartfelt congratulations" as he read her message.
The message continued: "The anniversary of the world's first independent air force is of great significance, and it is fitting to pay tribute to the tenacity, skill and sacrifice of the men and women who have served within its ranks over the last century, and who have defended our freedom gallantly.
"Through its enduring focus on professionalism, excellence and innovation, the Royal Air Force stands as a shining example of inspiration around the world today and for the next generation.
"May the glory and honour that all ranks have bestowed on the Royal Air Force light its pathway to the future guarding our skies and reaching for the stars."
The Queen finished with the Latin motto of the RAF, Per Ardua ad Astra, which translates in English as "through adversity to the stars".