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Bob’s special RAF surprise

An ex-RAF Chef and St John’s Hospice patient was treated to a special flyover by two RAF Chinooks on Tuesday after a chance meeting with an RLI employee.

Robert (Bob) Pickles from Morecambe was in the RLI with his wife and daughter earlier this week, when he got talking to Stuart Hosking-Durn, Head of Resilience and Patient Flow at the RLI. It was just a chance encounter and the conversation moved onto Bob’s time as a Chef in the RAF during the Second World War. As they reminisced, Bob wistfully said how much he would love to feel part of the RAF again.

That comment got Stuart thinking about how, with some of his social media contacts, he might be able to transform such a thought into a reality for Bob. Stuart said, “It was lovely to meet Bob and his family and after I left them I got to thinking about what I could do to help in a small way. I appealed to a few groups on social media to see if anything could be done. I never expected the amazing response from all corners of the RAF community, past and present.”

At 1:45pm on Tuesday the skies began to thunder as two RAF Chinook helicopters made a special flyover, just for Bob, over St John’s Hospice in Lancaster, as a result of the request from Stuart. Hospice staff, volunteers and patients gathered outside and cheered as the huge aircraft passed by overhead. Sue McGraw, Chief Executive as St John’s Hospice, said, “What an honour to be involved in something like this. You could see how much it meant to Bob and his family. It is a great example of what hospice care looks like, nothing is too much for our patients and people routinely go the extra mile to make wishes like Bob’s come true. We have had weddings, anniversary parties, visiting livestock, but never an RAF flyover! It’s just another unique day at St John’s Hospice!”

As if the flyover wasn’t enough, it has also been arranged for a serving RAF Flying Officer to visit Bob in his home with some RAF souvenirs, as well as two airmen making a special trip to talk to Bob in the coming days. There may well be other RAF surprises in store too. Stuart continued, “To see the big smile on Bob’s face today as he proudly waved the Union flag was such an honour. To see the RAF community, old and new, come together like this is inspiring. It is a great example of social media in action for the greater good!”

There has also been a great response from the Lancaster and Morecambe branch of the RAF Association. Welfare Officer David Hodgson answered the call, “The RAF Association is all about friendship, and once you have served in the RAF you are a friend for life. We knew a Flying Officer was coming to visit Bob this evening, but we were asked if anyone could go and spend some time with him at the hospice before he goes home. I was delighted to oblige and I have spent the morning getting to know Bob and his family and watched the flyover with them, and it was an absolute honour and a privilege.

Bob’s wife Mary and daughter Eloise have been Bob’s side while he has been staying at the hospice. Eloise said, “after meeting Stuart, I messaged him just to thank him for spending that time with Dad, I never expected it would end with something as wonderful as this. It is quite overwhelming and such a lovely surprise, I can’t quite believe it. Everyone at the hospice has been great and now Dad is coming home for some well-earned rest.”

And as for Bob, worn out after all the excitement and flag waving, he just had one word that summed it all up, “Terrific”.

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