East Ham Air Cadets mark proud past in 75th year
- Credit: Archant
The Air Cadets is about much more than just flying.
That is certainly true of 282 Squadron, whose long and proud history is at the core of everything it does.
Among its famous members is a decorated war heroine, while its activities over the years have included foreign charity work and a strong focus on preparing young people for adult life.
Formed 75 years ago, in 1941, the Air Cadets – and Squadron 282 – was originally meant to boost manpower during the Second World War.
“The RAF was told it needed to get young people involved in the war to help out,” Flt Lt Chris Booty, from the Vicarage Lane, East Ham-based squadron, said.
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“There were other squadrons in Newham in those days, but after the war interest faded away and fewer people joined.
“But now we’re doing well again and have about 100 cadets and 13 staff.”
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In 1969, the French wartime spy and concentration camp survivor Odette Hallowes became president of the squadron – and her story of bravery and commitment has been told to every cadet since.
“She had the will to carry on against evil,” Flt Lt Booty said. “We use her example all the time.”
Odette had moved to England before the Second World War began, but once her native France was invaded by the Nazis she did her bit by joining the espionage agency Special Operations Executive (SOE).
She was sent to France in 1942, where she helped resistance movements fight the Germans.
“When everything seemed completely lost, she put her life on the line,” Flt Lt Booty said.
And she very nearly lost it when, in 1943, she was captured by the Nazis while on a mission in southern France.
She then endured two years of gruesome torture at a prison and later at Ravensbruck concentration camp, where she was given a death sentence.
“She was captured with a man called Peter Churchill, and they managed to persuade the Germans they were relatives of Winston Churchill,” Flt Lt Booty said.
“That meant they were treated a little bit better at first.”
After being freed from the camp, she was awarded the George Cross and was personally involved in Squadron 282.
She served as president until her death in 1995.
Her legacy is used to inspire the cadets to this day, whose charitable missions have included going to India to help refurbish schools.
“Our history really means a lot to us,” Flt Lt Booty said.
“You see a lot of squadrons where they don’t know much about their past – I think we’re unusual in knowing so much.”
He added: “But it helps give the cadets something to be proud of – a lot of them come here without having been abroad and we give them a chance to be a part of something.”
Flt Lt Booty said a lot of cadets go on to be police officers, as well as doctors and engineers.
And that success, he added, is due in part to the unique sense of pride derived from the likes of Odette.
“It does great things for them,” he said.
For more, visit 282squadron.org.uk