Grangemouth cadets gave me seven of my best years

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An era came to an end the day Tom McMorrow decided to step down as commanding officer of Grangemouth Air Cadets.

True, the Stenhousemuir man had been in charge for only seven years, but they were seven of the organisation’s most eventful, and successful.

Years that produced a world renowned memorial featuring a full-sized replica Spitfire and a lasting tribute to pilots who gave their lives in World War Two and the youngsters who helped preserve their memories over half-a-century later.

Now, 57-year-old Tom has handed over command to Pilot Officer Jim McFarlane and taken up the post of Special Projects Officer for Scotland And Northern Ireland Region Air Training Corps.

It was a post Tom only agreed to take up if he could remain a member of staff at Grangemouth.

He said: “I just thought it was time someone else had a go. I’m still a member of staff so the kids won’t see any more or less of me than they used to when I was commanding officer.

“Being CO was such a privilege that made the last seven years the best of my life. I found a role and a purpose through working with the cadets that I don’t think I’ve ever felt in any other respect.”

A love of the RAF and flying has followed Tom throughout his life, first as an air cadet, later while working with the Crown Office as a procurator fiscal depute specialising in financial crime and now in his current job as director of policy regulation and ethics with chartered accountancy firm Baker Tilly.

It was Tom’s son Kevin (28), an officer with the Fleet Air Arm now awaiting the birth of his first child (Tom’s first grandchild) who was responsible for his dad becoming involved in the air cadets again.

“He got me back into it just over 10 years ago when he and his friends joined the Falkirk 470 Squadron Air Cadets. He said they were short of adult staff so I joined as a civilian instructor.

“In 2005 I was commissioned by the RAF as a Pilot Officer and shortly afterwards I heard Grangemouth 1333 Squadron had no commanding officer. They didn’t have anyone else so I agreed to go.

“I was actually a wee bit reluctant, but the challenge of building the squadron up from the 12 cadets it had then was too tempting. Thankfully for me, the squadron’s founder Sandy Calderwood was there when I became commanding officer in October 2006.”

Now home to 46 cadets, Grangemouth 1333 Squadron is one of the most popular and respected in the area, but Tom is the first to admit there were a few struggles along the way.

“Sometimes the things that stay with you most are the mistakes you make. I didn’t really have a plan and had no command experience. I thought whatever we do here it has to make a difference to the cadets.

“Along with Sandy and the other adult staff, we came up with a variety of ideas which we thought would accomplish this. A lot of the things we were trying were very different from other squadrons.

“It was great having Sandy there as one of the squadron stakeholders. You’d say I would like to try this or that and he’d tell you, show me how it benefits the cadets.

“If you could show the benefits he would be the first to back it.”

One of those ideas was an annual camp to Kinlochard where the cadets could take part in a wide variety of activities, everything from mountain biking to a mini Highland 

Grangemouth 1333 also offers cadets the opportunity of flying scholarships and even has its very own aeroplane, a Piper PA 28 Warrior.

“That’s thanks to Jim and Kate Watt of Tayside Aviation and the Robertson Trust,” said Tom.

Of course the cadets’ greatest accomplishment while Tom was in charge was their Spitfire Memorial.

A massive undertaking which grew out of a small project to remember fallen Polish pilots, the memorial garden near Bo’ness Road, its wall and full-sized replica Spitfire has become a famous landmark and an amazing achievement which Tom and all the cadets can look back on with great pride.

“There were times when you lost the belief that you would ever see it completed, but Provost Pat Reid always said it would happen. He was always so good to our cadets and supported them all the way.

“We have to thank Pat and the other Spitfire Trustees, including Iain Mitchell, Derek Penman, Ian Scott and Sir David Tweedie.”

Tom’s exciting new role has him working on a scheme to make flight training available to those who would not normally be able to afford it and to those youngsters who come from troubled backgrounds.

“If you want to be a pilot and you don’t have a lot of money your options can be quite limited. We think it is unfair that the people who may have the aptitude for flying are not necessarily the ones who get the best opportunities.”

If you ask Tom what was so special about his time in charge of 1333 Squadron he will give you a simple answer.

The cadets.

“Their conduct and their appearance is praised wherever they go. There have been so many of the cadets who have achieved things individually and collectively and you just love to see that.

“As staff you are there to give them a framework that will give them a chance to shine. Some have a lot of talent, some have not got as much, so it’s up to you to find out what they are good at and develop that.

“When you see those cadets who had the least confidence start to develop some it’s just brilliant.”