National Award comes home to Morpeth

Bridget Donaldson with Air Commodore Dawn McCafferty Commandant RAF Air CadetsCadet Warrant Officer Bridget Donaldson, 18, has beaten over 50,000 other cadets to win the RAF Air Cadets’ most esteemed award, the Dacre Brooch.

The Brooch, which has recently been valued at over £20,000, was presented to her in a prestigious ceremony in her hometown of Morpeth by Air Commodore Dawn McCafferty, Commandant of the RAF Air Cadets and Group Captain J P Dacre MBE DL RAF.

The Brooch was originally presented to the Air Training Corps by Mrs Elizabeth Dacre in 1982, in memory of her late husband, Air Commodore G B Dacre CBE DCO DL RAF. Since then, the Brooch has been awarded annually, to one female cadet deemed the best in not only the country, but overseas, with the candidates being assessed on all-round performance of their contributions to both the air cadet organisation and society as a whole.

The first time the Brooch was awarded back in 1982 was to Fiona Sharp, née Brown, of 404 Morpeth Squadron. Thirty-two years have passed since, and in that time no other cadets from the North of England have won it. This year, therefore, is a significant year for the Brooch, as Bridget has not only brought it back to the North of England, but to Morpeth too, as she also attends 404 Morpeth Squadron.

Sharp said “It shows how much the Air Cadets have moved on for the better in the last thirty years. It’s great to see so many girls in the Squadron and the standard of Bridget’s citation was outstanding. You can tell when people have been in the Air Cadets or the military; it’s the spirit of adventure instilled at a young age that can only be positive.”

As a committed member of 404 Morpeth Squadron, Bridget has been chosen for a number of important roles. One of these is as the Lord Lieutenant’s Cadet for the Duchess of Northumberland, a role in which she escorted the Duchess on royal duties and official events.

She has also visited the Headquarters of NATO’s Allied Air Command at the US Air Force Base in Ramstein, Germany, where she was able to spend time with NATO personnel. This summer she travelled to Ghana for a month on a diplomatic exchange with the Air Training Corps. Whilst there, she worked with the British Embassy, the Ghanaian Air Force as well as visiting orphanages and carrying out other charitable work in communities.

Furthermore, last year she attended the House of Lords on behalf of the Air Training Corps to take part as lead speaker in a live, televised debate about the legacy that has been left since World War One.

404 Morpeth Squadron Commander Flight Lieutenant Bob Donothey said “Bridget fully deserves this award and I am pleased to add another Dacre Brooch winner’s photo to my office wall”.

Within the Squadron Bridget is a Cadet Warrant Officer, a role in which she regularly takes lectures in teaching Cadets about aviation and related subjects, alongside acting as a mentor for her cadets and further leading sports activities where she has previously had experience, representing the North of England on many occasions on behalf of the RAF Air Cadet Sports teams including Hockey and Athletics.

Bridget takes an active role in supporting her cadets; however the many experiences she has encountered have helped her become a prominent role model. In previous years, she has taken part in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, working all the way up to her Gold Award, which she was presented with in recent weeks by Prince Phillip in St. James’s Palace, London. Not only this but she previously attended a ceremonial camp in Normandy in the presence of many dignitaries including Barack Obama to commemorate the 65th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings. Furthermore, she has gained work experience with the Red Arrows and RAF Search and Rescue and is also qualified along with elite alumni, as a Qualified Aerospace Instructor.

Civilian Instructor at the Squadron, Rachel Fenwick, said “It’s a great sense of achievement for Bridget and the Squadron, and a lot of the Cadets have grown up with her and they have, in her, a role model to look up to. She is an amazing person, I think the main thing is she’s never given up; even if she’s been knocked back she comes out fighting, which is part of the motto of the Air Cadets.”

Outside of the cadet organisation, Bridget has previously been a member of the RYA Team GBR Olympic Junior Development Sailing Squad where she regularly competed in Sailing competitions both Nationally and Internationally, however her focus on an Air Force career has meant she has had to put her Sailing hobby on hold. Alongside Sailing, Bridget has previously been a member of the UK Youth Parliament where she had yet another opportunity to make a live televised speech, though this time in the House of Commons, on the War in Afghanistan. Not only this, but Bridget was able to take the lead in organising many large scale charity events for charities such as Help4Heroes and the Teenage Cancer Trust.

As well as being an active member of her squadron and studying full time for her A-Levels at the King Edward VI School in Morpeth, Bridget’s true passion clearly lies with flying. She is currently a Grade 1 Flying Instructor and travels down to 645 Volunteer Gliding Squadron at RAF Topcliffe, Yorkshire, every weekend to teach students how to fly the Vigilant T1 aircraft. Bridget also gained her full private pilot’s licence last summer through winning the Annual RAFA Flying Scholarship after going through a vigorous selection process down at the Officer and Aircrew Selection Centre at RAF Cranwell. She spent a month in Warwick completing the qualification at a civilian flying school. Furthermore, she has recently returned from yet another RAF Flying Scholarship, this time at RAF Cranwell on the Grob Tutor Aircraft.

This was an intensive course where Bridget was able to learn new aerobatic manoeuvres and advanced handling skills.

McCafferty said “It was incredibly difficult to choose the winner. We’re looking for cadets with breadth of experience; who’ve taken every opportunity they get. I had met Bridget once before when she asked ‘I wonder if you would come to Morpeth squadron to meet my cadets’, without even mentioning that she was a Dacre nominee; it’s not just that she was modest, she had by far the best résumé of all the candidates.”

The future is looking bright for Bridget, who hopes to join the RAF as a fast jet pilot. She said “I feel incredibly privileged to have been awarded the Dacre Brooch. After 7 years in the organisation I feel I have grown so much and come so far. I owe it to everybody who’s helped me every step of the way along this incredible journey. With just under a year left in the organisation I really hope I can give something back to the people who have given me so much, whether that be teaching and giving lectures to cadets at 404 Morpeth Squadron during the week or flying cadets on taster flights and flying lessons down at 645 VGS at RAF Topcliffe on a weekend.”