Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose honoured for service in Ebola outbreak

St Ives Constituency is arguably one of the most beautiful parliamentary constituencies, particularly as it includes the Isles of Scilly, a group of sub-tropical off-islands located 28 miles southwest of Lands End. The town of St Ives is famous for its artists' community which drew such people as Barbara Hepworth, the sculptor, to live there. Penzance, with the most recognised place name in the UK, is the main town and RNAS Culdrose, one of Europe's largest Naval Air Bases, is found on the Lizard Peninsula.

You can see why this part of the UK punches well above its weight.

It is RNAS Culdrose that is the focus of attention at the moment, following the announcement by the Prime Minister that Naval aviators from the Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose will be honoured with a medal.

The medal, to include the words 'For Service: Ebola Epidemic West Africa', is to be awarded to more than 3,000 Britons who answered the call to help deal with the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.

During the mission, announced by the Defence Secretary in October 2014, three Merlin helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron Culdrose flew 294 sorties in support of Operation Gritrock, codename for the UK Armed Forces' response to the outbreak. The 820 team, who were joined by personnel from the Maritime Aviation Support Force (MASF), also based at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, saw cases of Ebola drop by tenfold in Sierra Leone over the time of their deployment.

The 820 Squadron and the MASF joined RFA Argus last Autumn as she sailed from Falmouth to the region and was stationed off the shores of Sierra Leone.

The Culdrose team and their helicopters delivered vital equipment, supplies and food packages from RFA Argus to remote areas of Sierra Leone and their support made the task of those on the ground, who built the Ebola Treatment Centres, that much easier.

One of the most dramatic exploits of the Culdrose team took place when the Royal Naval Helicopters joined Royal Marines to deliver 220 tonnes of food to remote and isolated communities on islands cut off from the rest of the country by the Ebola outbreak.

Military personnel carried sacks ashore to coastal communities in the Turtle Islands and neighbouring Sherbro Island, whilst the helicopters delivered more than 150 tonnes of food inland. The three Merlin helicopters were able to deliver a month's worth of food in a couple of days, a task that would have taken two weeks using vehicles on the ground.

Behind the scenes onboard RFA Argus, 47 personnel from the Maritime Aviation Support Force, comprising of Aircraft Handlers, Air Engineers, Logistics Personnel, Weapon Engineers, Operations Staff, Medical Staff and Royal Navy Police, guaranteed that supplies were ready, the aircraft were able to fly and all the personnel were looked after and fed.

RNAS Culdrose, situated on the outskirts of Helston has over 3,000 men and women working on the base. It delivers highly capable Helicopter Squadrons specialising in Anti-Submarine Warfare, Anti-Surface Warfare and Airborne Surveillance and Control.

Derek Thomas

Member of Parliament for St Ives