Friday, September 30, 2016

RAFA Jamaica – 70 years serving our brave veterans

excerpt from column by Jean Lowrie-Chin published in the Jamaica Observer
His Excellency Most Hon Sir Patrick Allen raises a toast to RAFA Jamaica in celebration of their 70th Anniversary 
Maj. General Robert Neish, RAFA President
The Royal Air Forces Association (RAFA) Jamaica Branch (580) held an elegant 70th Anniversary Banquet last Wednesday at Curphey Place, at which Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, their Patron and Lady Allen were guests of honour.  Sir Patrick hailed the Jamaican World War II veterans who fought for the Allied Forces.

“A resounding message out of the service of the veterans,” the GG noted, “is that no good cause or just demand should be ignored by those who have the means to make a difference.”

An Officer who epitomises the excellence and courage of our army officers, is the President of RAFA Jamaica Branch, Retired JDF Chief of Staff, Major General Robert Neish. General Neish’s family connection to the Royal Air Forces dates back to World War I when his great uncle commanded the first contingent of Jamaicans that served in World War I and his uncles were members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force. His father served in World War II.

At the head table with the Governor-General, L-R: Major Rev. Denston Smalling, JDF Chaplain; Major (ret'd) Johanna Lewin, Chairman RAFA Jamaica Branch; Brigadier Rocky Meade, Deputy Chief of Defence Staff JDF; WO1 Albert Hird, Band Master Jamaica Military Band; Major General (ret'd) Robert Neish, President RAFA Jamaica Branch.

At a young 76, General Neish can look back on an outstanding career, having joined the Army in 1958 and was sent to the Royal Military Academy – Sandhurst in England for two years. Upon his return, the Federation was disbanded and at the time of Independence, the Jamaica Defence Force was formed. He was posted at Newcastle as a Training Officer.

Sir Patrick greets Dennis Boothe, World War 2 RAF Veteran and Life Vice President RAFA Jamaica Branch, while Vice President of RAFA Jamaica, Merline Bardowell looks on.
In 1963, the Air Wing Unit of the JDF was formed and General Neish volunteered to be trained as a helicopter pilot by a British Major at Up Park Camp. Of significance are his participation in the assistance given when Jamaica experienced severe flooding as a result of heavy rains caused by Hurricane Flora in 1963, and daring rescue operations. This earned him enduring gratitude and respect. In January 1964 he received his Air Wings and was pinned by the then Prime Minister, the Right Excellent Sir Alexander Bustamante.

After retirement, General Neish took up the challenge of serving as the first Executive Director of the Digicel Foundation, setting unshakeable standards of dedication and community engagement which still guide the Foundation. 
The Chairman of RAFA is Major (Ret’d) Johanna Lewin who was Jamaica’s first female flight officer with JDF and the daughter of the legendary folklorist and musician Olive Lewin.  Even as she holds a high position at a Government Agency, this fine leader continues to lend her energy and insight to RAFA. 

She and RAFA Executive Committee Members, including President, Major General Neish, Vice Chair Merline Bardowell, Dennis Boothe, Barry Beckford, Roy A Knight, Stanley Ottey, Brigadier Rocky Meade, and Valerie Tate, have been implementing a series of events to mark this milestone of RAFA. 

Congratulations RAFA Jamaica, outstanding volunteers who work to support our courageous RAF veterans.

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