Exactly 100 years ago on 1 April 1918 the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service merged to create the RAF and it became the world’s first independent air service.
To mark the centenary, a breakfast reception was held at a building on the Strand, London – formerly Hotel Cecil which was the first headquarters of the RAF – where a printed message from the Queen was read out by aircraftsman Adam Wood.
Aged 16 and from Aylesbury, he is one of the youngest members of the RAF.
The Queen wrote: “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 ended the message with the Latin motto of the RAF, Per Ardua ad Astra, which translates to English as “through adversity to the stars”.
Air chief marshal Sir Stephen Hillier said that as the RAF enters its second century, the anniversary is a “chance to reflect back on a first century of achievement, success, courage and sacrifice”.
Asked what the message from the Queen means to the RAF, he said it is “tremendously important”, highlighting how King George V also sent a message when the service was first formed.
“And now to have Her Majesty the Queen sending a message to her Royal Air Force and recognising what we have achieved in the past and also looking forward to the future, it is a tremendously significant moment for us,” he said.
Sunday’s celebrations also included a service at St Clement Danes Church, in London, the RAF’s Church, attended by veterans, serving RAF personnel and former Countdown presenter and honorary group captain, Carol Vorderman.
Other events to mark the milestone included former pilots flying in Spitfires at Biggin Hill Airport.
They included 96-year-old former pilot squadron leader Allan Scott, who was taken up as a passenger.