A Battle of Britain class steam locomotive adopted the nameplate ‘Royal Auxiliary Air Force’ at an unveiling service held at the Nene Valley Railway on 27 May 2023. The service, sponsored by the Royal Auxiliary Air Force Foundation and master-minded by one of its Trustees, Squadron Leader Alfie Hall, was the first of a number of events to be held to mark the centenary of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force in 2024. Short presentations by the Foundation’s Chairman, Group Captain Richard Mighall, and the Force’s Commandant General, Air Vice-Marshal Ranald Munro, preceded the unveiling of the nameplate by Honorary Air Commodores Veronica Pickering and Dr Marcia McLaughlin of 504 and 7644 Squadrons respectively. The cutting of a celebratory cake followed, and the Service concluded with a fly-past by a Spitfire of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Music was provided throughout by members of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force Band, and 7644 Squadron provided media coverage.
The Locomotive’s History
The locomotive was one of a number of so-called ‘Battle of Britain’ class locomotives which displayed on their sides the badges and nameplates of individuals and RAF Stations associated with the Battle. Also displayed were the badges and nameplates of many but not all of the 48 Royal Air Force and 14 Auxiliary Air Force fighter squadrons which took part in the Battle.
In the 1960s, with the advent of diesel and electric engines, the steam-driven Battle of Britain class locomotives were taken out of service, and most of them were scrapped. Fortunately, thanks to the diligence and far-sightedness of a few railway enthusiasts, 9 were rescued and have been saved for posterity. As for the badges and number plates, some were scrapped along with their parent locomotives, but a good number ended-up in museums or in private collections. Today, they are much sought after railway memorabilia and command a high price at auctions.
This particular Southern Railways locomotive was one of the ones rescued from the scrapyard. Also rescued were its 92 Squadron badge and 92 Squadron nameplate. The locomotive was painstakingly restored by volunteers over a number of years and emblazoned with its original 92 Sqn regalia.
Last year, in recognition of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force’s impending Centenary celebrations in2024 – and of the invaluable contribution made by the Auxiliary Squadrons during combat operations – the Battle of Britain Locomotive Society kindly agreed that the 92 Squadron badge and nameplate could be replaced with a new cast brass nameplate entitled ‘Royal Auxiliary Air Force’ – a gesture which is greatly appreciated by all those associated with today’s Force. The 92 Squadron nameplate will be later reinstated – at which time the Royal Auxiliary Air Force nameplate will be auctioned with the net proceeds going to the Royal Auxiliary Air Force Foundation.