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New lease of life for historic squadron at its RAF Cosford home

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It played an important part in the Battle of Britain and counted the Duchess of Cambridge's grandfather among its members, but there are few people who remember the RAF's mighty 605 (County of Warwick) Squadron.

It was formed in 1926 as a day bomber unit of the Auxiliary Air Force and was later redesignated as a fighter squadron.

During the Second World War 605 Squadron had a chequered history, flying patrols and escorting bombers over northern France, undertaking day and night defensive patrols from the Midlands, serving in Singapore, Java, Malta, and the Netherlands.

In 1946 it was again redesignated as an Auxiliary Air Force squadron, flying day fighters until, on 10 March 1957, it was disbanded.

"Nunquam dormio" – I never sleep – was the squadron's motto, but sleep is exactly what it did for nearly 60 years. Now, in a remarkable turnaround, 605 Squadron has been brought out of history.

Last year the MoD, keen to recruit more reservists, announced it was reviving three squadrons – and one of them was to be 605.

This time, however, it will be primarily a logistics squadron, providing support to the RAF wherever in the world it is needed from its new home at RAF Cosford.

"We have been fully integrated into the fabric of station life," said Squadron Leader Rich Newton, 605's new executive officer.

"Any member of the general public who decides to join us as a reservist can not only expect professional training, an exciting challenge and financial benefits, but as with their regular counterparts, full use of the station's excellent facilities."

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The insignia of the 605 squadron

The importance of the RAF's mighty 605 Squadron cannot be understated. It was formed 89 years ago and undertook patrols in Europe and the Far East. Its history spanned a period from 1926 to 1957, by which time it had been redesignated as an Auxiliary Air Force squadron.

Ironically, it's motto was "Nunquam dormio", the translation for which is "I never sleep". Of course, that is precisely what it has done for so many years.

But the squadron is making a welcome comeback and will provide logistical support to the RAF from its new home at Cosford. It is likely to enable missions around the world, by providing the sort of expertise and technical know-how that are essential in modern combat.

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It is heartening to witness the restoration of a once-proud part of our local military. In these days of austerity and cutbacks, we grow all too used to services being withdrawn. We are used to seeing things disappear altogether.

So it makes a welcome change to see something being brought back after many years' absence. It is also a fitting reminder of the important role Cosford – and Shropshire – continues to play in the story of the RAF.

On Saturday 605 Squadron held its first recruitment day for more than half a century. Among the new recruits was Jon Oliver, who currently lives in Edinburgh.

He said he was very excited at the prospect of being one of the first recruits. "I've done my Airman Selection Test and interview, and passed my fitness test and medical, and I've got my kit," he said. "Now I need to start my training.

"My first experience of being in the Reserves is going to be with 605 Squadron, and I'm ridiculously excited by that."

Recruits will be expected to commit at least 27 days a year, most of which will be taken up with training weekends, but could involve deployment alongside the regular RAF. Members will be able to use all the facilities at the airbase as well as be paid for the time they spend on duty.

Wing Commander Mike Sherburn will lead the new unit. He said it was important to remember the history of the squadron as it moves forward.

"It's a great thing about the forces that you've got the history and you keep that with you," he said. "While RAF Cosford is a main centre for engineering we haven't had a reserve unit so it's great for us to have reserves in this area again."

Flight Lieutenant Tristam Carter, the squadron's training officer, agreed. "When the squadron disbanded they formed an association of ex-members which only ended in 2006," he said. "We were very fortunate to get in touch with the squadron historian who presented us with two large albums full of the squadron's history.

"One of the interesting things that we learned from that was that the Duchess of Cambridge's grandfather was a member of the squadron and flew Mosquito aircraft."

Peter Middleton was one of the many unsung heroes of 605 Squadron during the war. He served with the squadron when it was based at Manston, near Ramsgate, in August 1944.

As a fighter pilot, his job was to use the wing tips of his Mosquito plane to divert German "doodlebug" VI flying bombs from London. Yet, despite risking his life on an almost nightly basis, it is not thought that he received any honour for his bravery.

And that's not the only link to the past that has come to light.

"We managed to find some of the squadron's silverware as well," said Flt Lt Carter. "One piece, a silver Mosquito aircraft, was presented to commemorate their 100th enemy aircraft in 1944, and another piece, the Warwickshire bear, was found in the offices of Stratford-upon-Avon town council and has been loaned back."

Flight Lieutenant Tristam Carter with the silver aircraft

And one of the former members of 605 Squadron, who remembers its early days at Castle Bromwich, has been in contact with the new officers. Peter Freeman-Pannett served with 605 Squardron as a Flight Sergeant from 1937 to 1940 with Hurricane aircraft and from 1942 to 1945 with Mosquito Intruders.

Now 95, he said: "I am still very much a 605 man and was thrilled to hear that the Squadron has risen again for the third time.

"I started with 605 Squadron in 1936, when I left school at 16 in London and my father sent me to an engineering apprenticeship to Selly Oak, Birmingham.

Ed Coxhead with Sergeant Adam McMann at the open day

"At weekends I would go to work on Saturday morning in civvies and at lunchtime take the bus to the aerodrome, change into uniform and start my training to become an Aircraftman (AC) Engine Fitter.

"By the middle of 1937, I was good enough to qualify as an 'AC2' Engine Fitter and enlisted in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force that November. My service career went on until I was demobbed in 1971.

"Recruits joining 605 Squadron could not have a better start in life and I wish them all good luck."

Anybody interested in joining 605 Squadron for roles including driver, chef, warehousing, distribution and police, can visit www.raf.mod.uk/recruitment or call 0345 606 9069.

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