A 16-year-old who secured his Rolls-Royce apprenticeship ahead of almost 6,000 others, through the positive approach to life he learned as a Royal Air Force (RAF) cadet, is an example of what’s being achieved thanks to work led by a Lincolnshire Freemason

He’s Bob Chalklin, currently Master of Daedalus Lodge No. 3843 in the market town of Sleaford in Lincolnshire, which used to be the RAF lodge, and is also the Wing Commander responsible for the RAF dimension of a government initiative to expand the number of cadet units in schools to 500 nationwide.

With the RAF part of the target already exceeded and the project supporting a rolling population of more than 11,000 cadets at any one time, significant benefits are already being realised.

It’s immensely rewarding for Bob and his colleagues in the other Services, who have doubled the number of schools involved over the last eight years; largely funded by ‘reinvesting’ money taken from fines levied on the banks after the LIBOR scandal. Bob said: ‘Doubling the number of schools with cadet units in eight years is quote something significant. The units are open to boys and girls from the Year 8 – but, as the government requested, we have targeted schools outside the traditional area for cadet forces, the independents and grammar schools. 

‘The units we have set up are mainly in areas of social deprivation; where high numbers of pupils are on free school meals, for example. These are the schools of pupils whose parents might be earning minimum wage, if they’re employed at all, and so don’t have the wherewithal to pay for their sons and daughters to be involved as once might have been the case, and it’s working. Absenteeism is dropping, discipline is improved, and the cadets engage more effectively with their academic work,' says Bob, who is also a member of Hope Chapter 588.

Bob’s role in setting up new cadet units has been to visit schools and explain the problems that must be faced and the benefits that will be achieved, and interviewing staff to become volunteers. He said: ‘It is a burden for a school, so the Head has to convince me the school really wants to have a unit, which is going to mean extra work for staff, because they’ll be the volunteers who run it with help from RAF permanent staff. It’s like setting up a new department.’

Bob also works on the RAF Air Cadet Leadership Course, which runs for four weeks every summer. It involves 66 (16 and 17-year old) cadets on each of four weeks, building on what they’ve learned in the cadet units and equipping them with the skills to secure Level 3 Certificates in teamwork from the Institute of Leadership Management – a qualification you’d normally expect an adult to apply for, not a 16-year-old.

‘But we are building skills for life,” said Bob. “Through the cadet units these young people learn oral communication, a willingness to talk to someone they have not met, teamwork, problem solving, social awareness, and a spirit of adventure. These are the things people look for in potential employees, and once learned, are skills for life. To see the development of the youngsters in a week on our leadership course is just fantastic and humbling. You might say we’re making good young men and women better.’

Bob’s life in the RAF

Bob was an officer in the RAF Regiment for 33 years, before which he’d been a cadet in school squadron, a civilian instructor and officer volunteer before joining the RAF in 1973. Having retired from RAF Cranwell in 2006 he was asked to apply for a post firstly looking after events for the whole Air Cadet Organisation and then running the RAF part of the Combined Cadet Force. ‘I did that until October 2016 before retiring for a second time, and then in January 2017 was asked to look after the RAF Cadet Expansion Programme, which I’ve been doing part time ever since,’ he said.

Joining Freemasonry

Bob’s entry into Freemasonry began with a misunderstanding. He made a remark about the craft when talking about the film The Man Who Would Be King, leading a work colleague to think he was on the square. He said: 'When I told him that I wasn’t, he asked me if I was interested and  made the necessary introductions to a friend in Daedalus Lodge.'

Suited but not booted

Although the RAF provides uniforms for its cadets, it doesn’t provide footwear. Bob is currently working on completing uniforms by appealing for masonic donations to cover the cost of appropriate boots, and hopes to talk to Provinces nationwide to explain the position and get their lodges, and neighbouring businesses, to help meet the need. ‘A pair of boot seems a small price to pay as a contribution to the lifetime of benefit that can be achieved,’ he said. In addition, small donations to support the cadets from financially challenged families to attend meaningful training activities and camps can be life changing for them.

While much is known about the endeavours of the Dambusters, Squadron Leader Jerry Fray’s more covert role of photographing the resulting destruction is far less familiar

Almost seventy years ago, the Royal Air Force No. 617 Squadron or ‘Dambusters’ used a specially developed bouncing bomb to attack the dams that supplied hydro-electric generated power to Germany’s industrialised Ruhr valley. The aim was to bring the German military to a halt by denying power to the factories that would build the machines and ammunition required for Adolf Hitler’s war.

Operation Chastise was carried out on 16-17 May 1943 and its success is the stuff of legends. Barnes Wallis’ spectacular feat of engineering allowed a bomb to bounce across water until it struck its target, before sinking to explode underwater. The Möhne and Edersee dams were breached, causing catastrophic flooding of the Ruhr valley and the Eder valley.

Iconic photographs showing Germany’s submerged industrial heartland quickly found their way onto the front pages of British newspapers. The images were taken during a lone flight in an unarmed plane on 17 May by Frank Gerald Fray – or ‘Jerry’ as his friends called him. A flying officer in the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, Jerry had flown in a specially adapted sky-blue camouflaged Spitfire to capture the devastation wreaked by the Dambusters’ raid.

Flying determination

Jerry’s identity was only revealed in 2001 by the RAF and brought to the public’s attention through an interview in The Sunday Telegraph in the same year. ‘I could see the industrial haze over the Ruhr area and what appeared to be a cloud to the east. On flying closer I saw that what had seemed to be cloud was the sun shining on the floodwater,’ said Jerry. ‘I looked down into the deep valley which had seemed so peaceful three days before, but now it was a wide torrent.’

With his photographs proving to be a massive morale boost to the British public, Jerry had written himself into the history books. Born in Bristol, and the eldest of three children, he was educated at the City of London Freemen’s School in Ashtead, Surrey. With war imminent in 1938, Jerry’s parents were not enthusiastic about his desire to become a pilot so he volunteered for the army and joined the Royal Engineers. Shortly after the outbreak of war, he was sent to France and attached to the No. 4 Squadron at Mons en Chaussée. Evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940, Jerry was transferred to the RAF for pilot training shortly afterwards. His early flying training was at the No. 4 Elementary Flying Training School in Brough, followed by advanced training at the No. 9 Service Flying Training School in Hullavington, where he gained his pilot wings and was commissioned into the RAF in January 1942.

Medals and masonry

Electing for special duties, Jerry undertook specialist navigation training before flying unarmed Spitfires at RAF Benson. With his photography of the Möhne dam immortalising the exploits of the Dambusters, Jerry was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and later the Belgian Order of Leopold and Belgian Croix de Guerre (with palm) for photographic work to help the Belgian resistance.

After two successful operating tours, and with the war ending, Jerry was posted to India to command the No. 34 Squadron at Palam, Delhi. After the partition of India he joined No. 80 Squadron in Germany, still flying Spitfires, but in a tactical role. Then followed a period as a regular officer with No. 613 (City of Manchester) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force, and two and a half years in Greece with the RAF Mission. Twelve months at the Staff College at RAF Bracknell preceded various staff appointments at Fighter Command and RAF HQ in Germany.

In 1963, Jerry took early retirement and for several years was involved in management training with the British Productivity Council in London. It was at this time that he began his masonic career. By all accounts an enthusiastic Freemason, Jerry was initiated into the Daedalus Lodge, No. 3843, in 1963. He joined the Pegasus Lodge, No. 5637, in 1965, where he was installed as the Worshipful Master in 1979. Jerry finally retired to Somerset in 1981. Becoming Provincial Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies in 1985, he was appointed London Grand Rank in 1990 before being promoted to Past Provincial Grand Superintendent of Works in 1991 and to Past Provincial Grand Sword Bearer in 1999.

Just two years after his interview had been published, Squadron Leader Jerry Fray died on 26 June 2003. He had lived long enough to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Dambusters and his remarkable flight over the Ruhr valley. Ten years later, his contribution to the war effort still resonates in an evocative series of black and white photographs that were captured at first light on that May morning. ‘The whole valley of the river was inundated with only patches of high ground and the tops of trees and church steeples showing above the flood,’ said Jerry in the final remarks of the newspaper interview, ‘I was overcome by the immensity of it.’

Acknowledgement

Freemasonry Today would like to thank Squadron Leader Bob Chevin, Buckinghamshire Past Provincial Grand Charity Steward and Past Senior Grand Deacon, for his help in putting this piece together, and the RAF Museum London, for letting us access its archives.

 

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - No. 21 Spring 2013

 

Dambusters

 

Sir,

 

We were fascinated to read your article in the winter 2012 edition about Jerry Fray. Except for the mention of London Grand Rank, the article left out, in particular, that he joined Elthorne and Middlesex Lodge, No. 2094, in 1973, was Master in 1979, was a key player in achieving the lodge’s centenary in 1985, including writing the lodge history during a period (1980-1990) when its continuing existence was very precarious, and Master again in 1986.

 

He attended regularly thereafter as DC, until the day after our December meeting in 1995 when he suffered a stroke. Even so, he was back in post with a ‘runner’ the following October. We made him an honorary member in 1998. He last attended in December 2001, although he had not long before suffered another, less serious, stroke.

 

Charles Brookes, Elthorne and Middlesex Lodge, No. 2094, London

 


 

Sir,

 

Although currently unable to be a frequent attender to my own Elthorne and Middlesex Lodge, I too was surprised that we were not mentioned in the newspaper report, although naturally bow to the fact that Jerry Fray wrote his own obituary.

 

However, there may be some small interest in my writing that once, at the Festive Board following a lodge meeting, I was able to discuss elements of his photo reconnaissance participation in the Dambusters’ raid with him.

 

I recall Jerry advising that he flew over the dams on several occasions prior to the raid, including the day before and again the day after. Upon returning to his home base, the film from his cameras would be quickly processed and (after his PR Spitfire was refuelled) he then flew copies directly onwards to the then RAF Spitalgate at Grantham. He would then deliver them personally to the Dams Project team with the great advantage that he was able to describe exactly what he had seen only the briefest of time before.

 

Jerry mentioned that he had been able to keep copies of the photographs and it is with great anticipation that I look forward to seeing these, should a book of his life come to fruition.

 

If interested to know why this was of particular interest to me, then I shall add that not only did I fly at RAF Spitalgate as an RAF Air Cadets gliding instructor, but I also served as a Territorial Army officer for many years at Prince William of Gloucester Barracks (formerly RAF Spitalgate), Grantham – so have always been pleased to think that I had, in one sense, shared the airspace with men of such sterling qualities as Jerry Fray.

 

Edward G Waite-Roberts, Elthorne and Middlesex Lodge, No. 2094, London

 


 

 

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