Marks & Spencer (M&S) is proud to announce a new partnership with the Royal Air Force (RAF) to celebrate 100 years of the RAF’s service. The partnership is inspired by the shared histories between M&S and the RAF which will go on display at a new special exhibit at the M&S Company Archive in Leeds. Air Vice-Marshal Mike Wigston CBE of the RAF and M&S CEO Steve Rowe will open the exhibit ‘Marking RAF100: M&S and the Royal Air Force in WWII’ at an event on 26 June.
The partnership will also see M&S pledge to raise £500,000 in M&S stores up and down the country in aid of the RAF100 Appeal. Funds raised through the M&S partnership will inspire the next generation of engineers, scientists and technology specialists through providing scholarships, training and university bursaries for air cadets and school pupils from underprivileged backgrounds.
To commemorate the partnership, M&S has designed a limited edition men’s leather flying jacket which will go on sale from 26 June, with all profits going to the RAF100 Appeal.
The exhibit ‘Marking RAF100: M&S and the Royal Air Force in WWII’ will showcase the historic ties between M&S and the RAF, in which Simon Marks, M&S Chairman and son of the founder, helped form the RAF Cadets in 1938 – the pipeline of future RAF talent. With £25,000 needed to create the cadets and only £7,000 pledged, Simon Marks personally donated the remaining balance. Marks became the Honorary Treasurer of the cadets before later being appointed to its Board of Finance and Welfare Council in 1941, shaping the development of the RAF Cadets for the remainder of his life. In 1944 Air Commodore Chamier wrote: ‘Dear Mr Marks, you were the man who made the Air Cadets possible!’.
By the end of WWII, almost 100,000 cadets had joined the RAF, a pipeline of talent made possible by M&S and RAF. 320 M&S employees served in the RAF during the war, 18 of which received medals and awards for their service.
To commemorate the centenary year, M&S has designed a limited edition men’s leather flying jacket which will go on sale online and in selected* M&S stores from 26 June. The jacket named ‘The Marksman’ is a nod to the M&S colleagues who raised £5,000 in 1941 to fund a new spitfire for the RAF war effort which they named ‘The Marksman’. The spitfire became best known for Sergeant ‘Tommy’ Rigler’s successful Dunkirk mission on 22 June 1941 which saw him shoot down 3 enemy fighters at 20,000 feet above the beaches. The actions of Rigler and The Marksman earned him the Distinguished Flying Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Steve Rowe, CEO of M&S, said: “M&S and the RAF have made a mark on one another’s histories since 1938 when Simon Marks, our Chairman and son of our founder, helped create the RAF Cadets. But our connection with the RAF runs deeper than our shared history, the RAF’s values of integrity and service mirror our own. The RAF’s spirit of relentless innovation, that has led it to flourish 100 year after its inception, reflects our own transformation from our entrepreneurial roots as a Leeds market stall to becoming a British retail institution. On behalf of our customers and colleagues we are proud to be celebrating 100 years of the RAF and its vital contribution to our nation.’’
Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, Chief of the Air Staff, RAF, said: “The RAF’s centenary is a proud moment to commemorate the achievements, courage and sacrifice of our first hundred years. It is also a moment to celebrate the successes of today’s RAF, and our outstanding people. And an opportunity to inspire the future generations who will lead the Service through its second century. RAF100 is a moment for the whole nation, so the support of Marks & Spencer – another national institution – for the RAF100 Appeal is a tremendous demonstration of our shared values and intent.”