The Queen made only her third public appearance away from her Windsor Castle home since the start of the COVID pandemic to honour RAAF’s centenary.
The 94-year-old Monarch attended a memorial service at the Air Forces Memorial in Runnymede to pay tribute to the 1,383 Australians who died fighting in Europe during World War II.
The Queen arrived by car at 11am local time (9pm AEDT) and was greeted by high commissioner George Brandis and met members of RAAF stationed in the UK, before viewing the names of Australia’s ward dead and signing a commemorative document.
“As one of the oldest Air Forces in the world, it is fitting to pay tribute to the efficiency, skill and sacrifice of the men and women who have served in its ranks, in Australia and overseas, during the past one hundred years,” she said.
“Throughout my reign, the Royal Australian Air Force has shown immense dedication to duty and defended our freedom in many conflicts around the world.”
The Queen wore the same wattle-shaped broach gifted to her by the government of Australia during her very first visit in 1954.
The visit was extraordinary given the 94-year-old has rarely left Windsor Castle since the COVID pandemic claimed nearly 130,000 lives in the UK. She had previously only met scientists in a defence facility in Salisbury, and for the centenary of the burial of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey in November.
In a statement, Brandis referenced the Magna Carta, which had been signed in the field next to the air forces memorial.
“As Your Majesty observed when you opened this memorial in 1953, it is particularly appropriate that it should be located at Runnymede, the storied place to which we trace the ancient democratic liberties of both of our nations,” Brandis said.
“It was for the defence of those liberties that the 20,000 brave airmen memorialised on these walls – but who have no known grave – made the ultimate sacrifice
“Among them are the names of 1,383 Australian who, between 1939 and 1945 – far from home yet bound by the crimson threads of kinship – died in the skies over Europe in the defence of Britain and the liberation of Europe.
The Queen has left Windsor Castle for a rare public engagement amid the pandemic to attend a service at Runnymede Air Forces Memorial for the RAAF’s centenary. pic.twitter.com/LQaeJlKAIH
— Bevan Shields (@BevanShields) March 31, 2021
“As the RAAF begins its second century, we can be certain that this world class air force will always be here to serve us,” he told the crowd. “It will be here to support Australia’s friends and allies.
“And, you may be assured here in the United Kingdom – whose Royal Air Force was its inspiration – the Royal Australian Air Force will be here for you: as then, so now and always.”
The Queen first opened the memorial on October 17, 1953, when she was just 26.
On 31 March 100 years ago, the Australian Air Force was formed, and five months later, its Royal designation was added to create the Royal Australian Air Force.
It was only the second “Royal” air arm in the British Commonwealth, following the formation of the RAF.