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18th September 2021, 18:55

Freedom of the City of Gibraltar conferred upon Royal Air Force

The Freedom of the City of Gibraltar was conferred upon the Royal Air Force on Saturday in a ceremony at John Mackintosh Square.

Although unanimously approved in Parliament in 2018, it hasn’t been possible to hold the event till now.

Gibraltar has a long tradition of military parades, but this one seemed to take on extra significance - because of what was being celebrated, and because the Covid pandemic has made us appreciate things we once may have taken for granted.

Among the hundreds present, family members of those taking part in the Parade, together with the Chief Minister, the Governor and the Commander British Forces.

Air Vice Marshall Richard Maddison travelled to Gibraltar specifically to receive the honour on behalf of the RAF.

The conferment was carried out by the Mayor. Christian Santos told GBC the event combined civic elements with military ones, while following public health advice.

The conferment of the Freedom of the City was followed by a speech from the Chief Minister at City Hall. Fabian Picardosaid the RAF has been fundamental throughout the decades, and was again this year in delivering vaccines. He presented Air Vice Marshall Maddison with the Gibraltar Medallion of Honour, a certificate and a memento to mark the occasion.

You can catch extended coverage of the event on Viewpoint, Thursday night at 9.30.

The conferment was followed by a speech from the Chief Minister at City Hall. This is Fabian Picardo's speech in full:

Your Excellency, Ministers,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am grateful to have been invited by his Worship to say a few words about today’s recipients ofGibraltar’s highest honour.

[I know how you all love a long political speech on a Saturday morning...]

First of all, it’s my pleasure welcome Air Vice Marshall Richard Maddison to Gibraltar.

He has travelled specifically to receive the honour on behalf of the Royal Air Force.

It was on the occasion of the RAF’s 100th Anniversary, that I took to Parliament the motion conferring the Freedom of the City to the Royal Air Force.

I am delighted to say the motion was, OF COURSE, approved unanimously.

The fact is that the RAF is as much a part of the defence of the Rock as it is of the sovereignty of the United Kingdom and of Western parliamentary democracy.

And the RAF’s home on the Rock is the runway hewn from the Rock itself and constructed by the RAF for the RAF during the Second World War.

[What a pity no one had the prescience to have carved room for a tunnel from the beginning!] Even now, ours remains a military airfield with civilian operations on it. We may take that runway for granted day to day. But it was fundamental in the 1940s.

It was fundamental in the 1960s and 1970s, when Gibraltar was once again under siege.

And it became fundamental again this year, in 2021 when the supply of COVID vaccines would not have reached us by any other means.

But it was back in the 2nd World War, on 15th September 1940, that the RAF fought and achieved a remarkable victory in the Battle of Britain.

A victory commemorated this weekend also.

The first decisive battle in history fought entirely in the air. And a dramatic turning point in the Second World War.

Prime Minister Churchill perfectly summarised that achievement in a manner that has reverberated through the decades since then.

'Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few'

How apposite that we should have that quote in mind today.

Because it was thanks to the Royal Air Force, working closely with the FCDO, the MOD and the Convent in Gibraltar that we were able to deliver our robust and successful vaccination programme.

I will never forget the cold and wet evening of Saturday 9th January 2021.
The whole community waited with expectation for the RAF’s A-400 aircraft to defy the weather

and land our first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
And on every occasion, the weather seemed the make the job harder and harder for our ‘vaccine angels’.

But, despite the adversity, those magnificent men and women in their flying machines landed their precious loads every time!

We look forward to the arrival of further essential vaccines for boosters and 12 to 15 year olds.

[I have, of course, asked the Prime Minister not to ship them until the weather closes in a little more!]

Ladies and gentlemen, we all know that the RAF has so significantly contributed to our Community this year, in a way that is only the latest example of their closest ties with Gibraltar.

And I know we all look forward to many more successful years of RAF operations now as FREEMEN and FREEWOMEN of Gibraltar.

Thank you very much for joining us this morning.