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RAF centenary commemorated with events in two towns

Thursday, 31 May 2018

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A SERIES of commemorative events took place in Ballymoney and Coleraine on Friday  to mark the centenary of the Royal Air Force (RAF).
The events were organised by the local branch of the RAF Association, Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council, the Royal British Legion and the Kingdom of Dalriada Ulster Scots Society.
The day began with a workshop in Ballymoney Town Hall for 250 pupils from Ballymoney High School, Dalriada and Our Lady of Lourdes hosted by the Kingdom of Dalriada Ulster Scots Society and funded by Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council.
In attendance were representatives of the RAF, including Air Vice-Marshal David Niven.
There was a unique opportunity to learn about RAF air gunner Flight Sergeant Francis McCluskey of Ballymoney who was shot down and killed over the Netherlands in 1942 and is buried in Rhenen.
A delegation from the Netherlands, including Hans van der Pas, Mayor of Rhenen, and Toon Blokland, a Dutch war historian, delivered a gripping account of Flight Sergeant McCluskey's fateful last mission and told the pupils how this story had now helped to establish strong links between Rhenen and Ballymoney.
 A  talk was then given on the Battle of Britain and the consequences if the RAF had not defeated the Luftwaffe back in 1940.
 Air Vice-Marshal David Niven told the assembled pupils about the RAF in the past and its present role today.
In the afternoon, a special lunch was generously provided by the Royal British Legion which was followed by a Service of Remembrance at Ballymoney War Memorial in memory of Royal Air Force personnel who have been lost during the last century.
  Reverend Alan Knox, Chaplain of the RAF Association, Causeway Coast Branch, officiated at the service and wreaths were laid by Mrs. Joan Christie CVO OBE, Her Majesty's Lord Lieutenant for County Antrim, Air Vice-Marshall David Nevin, both attending Mayors, Councillor Joan Baird OBE and Hans van de Pas, the Royal British Legion, RAF Association, relatives of Francis McCluskey and local school pupils.
Toon Blokland also laid a wreath on behalf of the people of Elst and Polish pupils from Our Lady of Lourdes School on behalf of the pilots from Poland who valiantly served in the RAF during World War II.
The programme concluded with a reception at Cloonavin hosted by the Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, in honour of the Mayor of Rhenen and the accompanying Dutch visitors.
Mayor Joan Baird OBE said: "Today's events have served as a poignant reminder of 100 years' of service and sacrifice by the RAF and how the legacy left by people like Flight Sergeant Francis McCloskey still resonates with us today. "I was honoured to host the delegation from Rhenen who joined us for the commemorations and together we will ensure his story is never forgotten."
Mayor of Rhenen, Hans van der Pas said: "We are very grateful for all the preparations and arrangements that were made and the wonderful activities that were organised for our visit.
“We feel very welcome in Northern Ireland, here in the heart of the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council.
“ We had the opportunity to speak to local elected representatives and we feel we are growing closer towards a friendship between our two Councils.
“Thanks to Keith Beattie and Joe Donaghy, we again had a stay we won't forget."
Dutch historian, Toon Blokland said: "As a former Officer Social Worker of the Royal Dutch Army I know how disruptive war can be to the lives' of those in the military, to their families and the community.
“The fear, pain and sadness are tremendous. I am very glad I could research the story of Francis Anthony McCluskey and discover more about him and what he looked like, to 'give him a face'.
“ Now we, the family and the communities of Ballymoney and Rhenen, honour him."
The Kingdom of Dalriada Ulster Scots Society would like to thank Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council for the funding it received under its Culture, Arts and Heritage programme which covered the costs of the successful workshop and the educational resources that have been produced for local schools.
The RAF Association, Causeway Coast Branch and Royal British Legion would like to thank everyone who supported and assisted the various events which were organised, including the Mayor and staff at Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council, Kingdom of Dalriada Ulster Scots Society, Ballymoney High School, Dalriada School, Our Lady of Lourdes School, Air Vice-Marshall David Niven and the many other people who contributed.

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