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Queen attends Westminster Abbey service to commemorate RAF’s centenary

The Queen arrives at Westminster Abbey for the service to mark the centenary of the RAF (Simon Dawson/PA) Photo: PA Wire/PA Images

The Queen and prominent members of the royal family have led national celebrations as the Royal Air Force marks a century since its formation.

It was 100 years ago, on April 1 1918, that the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service merged to create the RAF – the world’s first independent air service.

Beginning a day of events, members of the royal family including the Queen, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex attended a service at Westminster Abbey.

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And despite still being on maternity leave, after giving birth to Prince Louis only 11 weeks ago, it is understood that Kate felt it was important to attend Tuesday’s celebrations.

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More than 2,200 people packed Westminster Abbey for the service, with dignitaries including Prime Minister Theresa May, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn attending.

Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during the RAF centenary service at Westminster Abbey Credit: Simon Dawson/PA

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, addressed the congregation and said the RAF has in its first 100 years been a decisive factor in serving the country, as well as being key in protecting democracy and freedom.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said the RAF is key in protecting democracy and freedom Credit: Simon Dawson/PA

With an RAF ensign draped over the high altar behind him in the abbey, Mr Welby also highlighted how members of his own family have served and been killed in the RAF – drawing attention to his own father who flew low level sorties in Burma.

And amid turmoil in the Cabinet and her Government, Mrs May delivered a reading at the service, Hebrews 11:32-12:2, with the head of the RAF Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier also taking to the lectern.

Charles, William and Harry all chose to wear No 1 RAF uniform to the abbey, with Kate wearing a Dacre Brooch – which was presented to her by the Air Cadets when she took on patronage in 2015.

She also wore a coat by Alexander McQueen, and a hat by Sean Barrett, with Meghan choosing to wear a dress by Dior and a hat by royal milliner Stephen Jones.

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And in keeping with the traditional blue of the RAF, the Queen wore a royal blue silk coat with a turquoise collar and dress in the same colour, both by Angela Kelly, with a matching hat by Angela Kelly and a diamond star brooch.

Following the service, along Charles, the Queen will then present a new Queen’s Colour to the RAF in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace before making a brief speech.

The royals will then appear on the balcony of the Queen’s London residence to view a flypast of up to 100 RAF aircraft, a parade of more than 1,000 personnel, and a feu de joie.

Charles, Camilla, William, Kate, Harry and Meghan will also meet veterans, personnel, charity representatives and those from the civil service in a reception after the spectacle.

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Just 15 years after the first-ever powered flight undertaken by the Wright brothers, the decision to create the RAF was made after the War Cabinet inquiry criticised the poor organisation of Britain’s air forces.

Those recognised as the founders of the RAF include Lieutenant General Sir David Henderson and Lord Hugh Trenchard – the first chief of the air staff.

ACM Hillier told the Press Association he knows the royal family will enjoy the day of events – held 100 days since the official centenary anniversary.

“It is a tremendous coming together of a whole range of RAF capabilities, and a celebration of the quality of our people, and it is that connection between the Royal Air Force and her Majesty the Queen,” he said.

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“Her Majesty the Queen has known all of the chief of the air staff, there have been 31 of us, she has known all of them.

“Her father, his Majesty King George VI, was one of the founder members of the Royal Air Force. I think there is a very close personal connection as well as clearly that important connection between the Sovereign and her armed forces.”

The flypast is set to feature aircraft including Puma and Chinook helicopters, a Lancaster, Spitfires, Hurricanes, the A400M Atlas, Tornados, Typhoons and the F-35 stealth fighter jets.

Drawing the spectacle to a close will be the Red Arrows, who in traditional aerobatic style will stream red, white and blue smoke down the length of The Mall.