I didn’t always know I was going to be a teacher. While I was still doing my graduate studies, I was desperate for something to feel productive, and found a local Air Cadet unit a short distance from my home.
Having been part of the Air Cadets as a child, and loved my experiences and all they gave me, I found purpose and meaning in being able to give back to an organization that had given me so much. Inspired by the young people I was working with, I decided that secondary education would be my career.
I found a community of like-minded people, bonded by a love of aviation and flying.
I found a family, older brothers, surrogate uncles, people who would support and help a young man make his first steps as an instructor, then later a commissioned officer, and take command of the unit.
And I found Ken Hull. Or rather, I had joined “his unit”.
Ken’s family had been from Lewisham, and his father had helped form the first beginnings of the 5th Lewisham ADCC unit, and the basis of what would later become 1921 (Lewisham) Squadron. Ken joined the unit to help his father. When his father retired, Ken carried on the Hull family tradition. When he retired, and moved down to Folkestone, he’d still drive up (a 100+ mile round trip) to the unit twice a week. That was just his way.
A trail blazer and pioneer, Ken had been the first instructor ever to take cadets out to the 100km endurance Nijmegen Marches in the 1960s. Thousands of cadets had gone through Ken’s training programme; and he had literally written the manual on how to do it. He had completed 36 events, is probably still the UK’s Senior Marcher, and been part of the training team for many more. He’d always be down in the south coast around St. Martin’s Plain for the training weekends; turning up with a good brew, or some good advice. That was just his way, too.
Ken had a heart of gold. He was patient, he was kind. A friend – later to be a Nijmegen Marcher, and a Sqn Commander himself – recalls a time when as a young 15 year old cadet, he’d got off the coach at Folkestone to do a Nijmegen march training camp, and realized with sinking horror that he’d left his boots back in his home in South London. With a trembling lip, he confessed his mistake.
“No worries, lad”, said Ken. “We’ll just drive up and get them, shall we?”. And they did.
Ken was a gentleman, of the old school. Sharp as a Sgt Major on the parade square if he needed to be, I never heard him lose his temper, never heard profanity escape from his mouth. The closest he ever got – when I was explaining some new idea, or new doctrine given to us – was to say “Ah, well, it baffles brains, sir”, with a knowing look. He made great tea. He offered great advice. He listened, and then gave you his wisdom.
He was the living embodiment of the unit – the thread that connected us to our beginning in 1938, to the present day. He was the thread that connected all cadets together. He was the first person any former cadet asked about – and he knew them all. Everyone knew him, too – a legend in the Lewisham community, in London Wing, in the Region, and well beyond.
Ken passed away a few weeks ago. Challenged by health problems for much of his life, he was still active and no doubt organizing things in his care home, until a fall saw him hospitalized. He died a few days later, just short of his ninetieth birthday. COVID had taken him, like so many others, and robbed us all of a chance to say farewell as we wanted.
His funeral, on Friday, was attended by the regulation number of people. He should have had a parade. We’d have lined the streets for this man; and thousands would have come to pay respect.
His family – blood, 1921, Nijmegen – spoke together of his qualities, of his service, of his ferocious loyalty to his values. We’d have dipped our banners and rendered honours to his lifetime of service; and he’d have been secretly pleased that so many remembered him.
How could we forget?
I was the youngest member of the Air Cadet family at the funeral – the baby of the group. I’d only known him sixteen years, you see. There were those grieving the loss of their friend for half a century or more.
And yet, in the darkness there was hope. We stood, socially distanced, and shared our stories. We rendered the final honours we could, to a man who had lived his life according to that which he valued: service, honour, loyalty, integrity, great kindness, and great humanity. What an inspiration – not just in what he did, but how he did it.
A role model.
I’ll miss you, Ken. We all will.
Per ardua, sir.