Flight Lieutenant Ron Collard, RAF (Ret’d)
I had the interesting experience of spending two hours of my 26th birthday flying a twin jet aircraft at low level along the border of Kuwait and Iraq. My task was to get photographic intelligence on the build up of Iraqi forces threatening Kuwait. The year was 1961. The sortie was just one of the many “special duties” that was carried out by the Photographic Reconnaissance squadron in which my navigator and I were a “select” crew.
Within forty eight hours of the threat being confirmed, an all-British Task Force was in position in the face of which the Iraqis withdrew without a shot being fired or a life lost. There followed thirty one years of comparative peace in that region before Saddam Hussein had another go, resulting in the “Desert Storm” war of 1992.
I held the Queen’s Commission as a pilot in the Royal Air Force for twenty three years: nineteen in the regular service and four in the reserve. Following my operational tours on Fighters and Photo Reconnaissance during the Cold War period, I became a Qualified Flying Instructor and, latterly, a Staff Instructor at the Central Flying School.
On leaving the RAF in 1973 I gained the Air Transport Pilot’s Licence and was a Commercial Flying Instructor until joining Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). This organisation operates 135 aircraft in Latin America, Asia and Africa giving aerial support to missions and relief agencies working in remote areas where land transportation is virtually impossible. I flew in Ethiopia, Chad, Kenya and Tanzania in addition to being responsible for assessing pilots offering themselves for service with MAF, and managing first the Deputation Department and subsequently the Candidate Department.
I was four years old when the second world war broke out and I lived through the Battle of Britain, the blitz and the flying bombs. My life was subjected to the screams and explosions of falling bombs, wailing air-raid sirens, the hollow crump of anti-aircraft guns and the ominous de-synchronised drone of the enemy bombers overhead, and later the threatening pulsating throb of the flying bombs, one of which exploded within 300 yards of my home.
Most of my primary and junior school education was carried out in air-raid shelters and my family and I spent most of our nights in the one at the bottom of our garden. Fear monopolised my life and my nerves were in tatters until…….
For some time I had noticed the peace, serenity and sense of security that pervaded the lives of my two brothers: one ten years my senior, the other eight years. The war seemed incidental to them. As we brothers shared a bedroom (when we were not in the air-raid shelter) I saw them kneel by their beds every morning and evening and spend some time reading the Bible and praying.
I was very upset when I learned that my elder brother, now a soldier, was to be posted to Malaya. Before he left, he gently spoke to me about what death meant when one knew Jesus personally. He simply was not afraid to die! My other brother spoke in similar terms when his turn came to join the army.
One night in 1945 I asked Jesus to make Himself known to me in a way I could understand.
Nothing appeared to happen for some weeks and I even forgot about my prayer until I realised I was no longer afraid. My fears and timidity were replaced with a healthy hunger for sport and the outdoors but…..
Two years later I attended an evangelistic rally in London. The speaker explained what sin was and the need for repentance. So far I had just enjoyed my new-found freedom from fear and thanked God for it but had no concept of what Jesus had done on the cross in dealing with my sin, nor of my indebtedness to Him. It had been a very one-sided relationship!
That night I committed the rest of my life to Christ and was told by the kindly gentleman who counselled me that I must be prepared for some surprises if I was really serious about living for Jesus.
At that point in my life I was “football mad”. When on my holidays in Devon I would train at Torquay United’s ground, and I was already on the books at White Hart Lane as a possible junior with Tottenham Hotspur. Suddenly I experienced the first “surprise”: my devotion to football disappeared. Rather to my consternation, flying came into my life as another surprise! - I was awarded a Flying Scholarship through the Air Training Corps and I subsequently gained my Private Pilot’s Licence whilst still only eighteen years old. This paved the way for me to train as a pilot in the Royal Air Force and I was to prove this to be God’s “calling” for the time being.
To be a Christian in a barrack room, crew room and officers’ mess was no easy thing but I had the joy of seeing some of my colleagues come into a personal relationship with Christ in the same way as I had seen many boys converted in my latter days at the Purley County Grammar School. I still have contact with some, 65 years later!
I have proved Christ to be real and all-sufficient, not only in my professional life but in my family life. I have been married to the most wonderful lady who I met on my first Sunday in the Royal Air Force in 1954 and we celebrated our Diamond Wedding in 2017. We have four children who have all come to know Christ for themselves, married Christian spouses and have established homes in which Jesus is central. Our fourteen grandchildren have also come to know Him and, those who are married, all have Christian spouses. We are now praying that our fourteen great grand children will also come to know Him, early in their lives, and will be His true soldiers and servants.
In these days of broken marriages broken homes, broken relationships and broken personalities, my family and I have found Jesus to be all He said He would be to those who follow Him. “I am come that you may have life more abundant. I am come that your joy may be full”. In spite of serious illnesses, hospital operations, enforced separation, danger, failures and disappointments, I have found, in everyday life, the words of 2 Corinthians 12: 9 to be true::
“My Grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness”
[Ron’s full autobiography, entitled “Below Me, the Clouds” was produced by Upward & Onward Publishers in October 2011. General the Lord Richard Dannatt GCB, CBE, MC, DL, President of the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Scripture Readers’ Association, kindly wrote the Foreword.]