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A former World War II RAF plotter took the controls of a glider in the skies over Cornwall on a flight to fundraise for us … just a week before her 100th birthday.

Kate Orchard, who lives in Camborne, Cornwall, took off from RNAS Culdrose, near Helston, on bank holiday Monday, with Seahawk Gliding Club, and, under instruction from the pilot, enjoyed a flawless flight.

She said: “It was a lovely trip. The team down there at Culdrose were absolutely brilliant. I really enjoyed the flight; I even took the controls at one point.

“I followed every instruction the pilot was giving me and I’m glad to say we didn’t end up in the sea somewhere,” she laughed.

Kate Orchard prepares for her fundraising flight (courtesy Neil
Kate Orchard prepares for her fundraising flight (courtesy Neil Hope/South West News Service)

Coverage of her daredevil fundraiser reached far and wide and, subsequently, she was inundated with cards, calls and gifts.

She explained: “I’ve had lots of telephone calls and the doorbell’s gone six or seven times. I’ve had lots of parcels and flowers, and even a nice big bottle of champagne and chocolates from the RAF in Melbourne, Australia. It’s ever so good of them.

“I’ve also had a card from the RAF here. Cards, champagne, cakes, chocolates ... I’ve had so much. It’s wonderful. Thank you.”

Kate was born into a large Anglo-Indian family of 13 brothers and sisters, with her father working as a chief telegraph inspector on the Indian railways.

Kate takes control of the glider (courtesy Neil Hope/South West
Kate takes control of the glider (courtesy Neil Hope/South West News Service)

In 1941 India created the Womens Auxiliary Corps (India), recruiting women to help the war effort and 20-year-old Kate and two of her sisters volunteered. A year later she was working in the Air Defence Centre, Number 5 Filter Room, alongside both the RAF and the Indian Air Force, as a plotter/teller on 24-hour watches, plotting aircraft targets and sending signals to the air warning systems.

She rose to the rank of Warrant Officer First Class and became a trainer of new plotters. She also met her husband, Bill, during the war who was serving in India with the Royal Artillery before he was, later, sent to Burma. Having married in 1944, after the cessation of hostilities, in 1946, the couple moved to Bill’s home in Cornwall – Kate’s first visit to the ‘homeland’.

She wears proudly her 1939-45 Service and India Service Medals when attending VE Day and VJ Day Remembrance Day services and was present at Bentley Priory in 2015 for the Battle of Britain 75th anniversary commemorations.

She was also invited to attend the annual Battle of Britain Sunday service, at Westminster Abbey, which was also attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall, the Prime Minister and many other dignitaries. Indeed, she enjoyed a friendly chat with their Royal Highnesses at a reception following the event.

And, in recognition of her past service to the UK (Overseas) in the second world war, as one of the WAAF personnel manning and operating the Dowding System, she was made a Veteran Member of the Association of Royal Air Force Fighter Control Officers.

Explaining why she chose to raise money specifically for us, she added: “I’m so glad I chose Help for Heroes. It’s the most deserving cause. They sacrificed a lot for us. I believe passionately that it’s very important that all ex-military personnel are looked after, especially those unfortunate enough to have physical or psychological injuries.”

Our Area Fundraising Manager, Rhys Edwards, said: “Kate is such a lovely, wonderful lady and our thanks go out to her for her fundraising efforts. It was great to see the shots of her inside the cockpit, clearly loving every minute of the flight. I hope she reaches the same heights of pleasure on her 100th birthday next week. Happy birthday, Kate, from the whole nation.”

Discover how you can fundraise to help support our veterans 

All pictures courtesy Neil Hope/South West News Service.