Tommy Broom, one of Britain’s most decorated war heroes, has been honoured with a permanent memorial after the new purpose-built Portishead Joint Cadet Centre was officially opened in his name.
The Squadron Leader Tommy Broom Centre in Station Road, developed at a cost of £420,000 by Wessex Reserve Forces & Cadets Association, provides state-of-the-art facilities for the town’s Air Training Corps and Army Cadet Force.
The building is on the site where the units struggled for years in portable buildings which, according to Flying Officer Dawn Adam, the recently appointed ATC Officer Commanding, were “cold, damp and with mushrooms growing out of the walls.
“This is just perfect. We have classrooms, flight simulators, internet facilities – everything our cadets could need as well as being ideal in helping inspire more young people to join us.”
Portishead-born Tommy, who died aged 96 in 2010, achieved the rare feat of being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross three times after surviving more than 80 RAF missions over the hostile skies of Europe.
Three quarters of these were in a two-man Mosquito low-level bomber with his namesake and great friend Ivor Broom (who became Air Vice Marshall Sir Ivor Broom). They were known as the “Flying Brooms”.
After completing his RAF service, Tommy returned to his home town, working in the accounts department of Esso Petroleum at Avonmouth for many years.
His daughter, Mrs Mary-Ann Iles, attended the opening of the new centre. “I was born and bred in Portishead and this is still my local area,” she said. “I feel so proud that each time I go past I can look across and see my father’s name on the front of the building.
“He never said a great deal about his war experiences. He was lucky, I suppose – he could have been shot down on his first mission. But there were some extraordinary adventures, not least when his plane came down after hitting an electricity pylon over Belgium in 1942. After being picked up by members of the Belgian Resistance, he crossed the Pyrenees on foot and eventually made it to Gibraltar and home again.”
The opening ceremony was performed by Lady Gass, Lord Lieutenant of Somerset, who unveiled a plaque in Tommy’s honour.
Brigadier Tony Dalby-Welsh, Chief Executive of Wessex Reserve Forces and Cadets Association, said: “This is an important facility for Portishead as, in addition to jointly serving the Air Cadets and the Army Cadets, it fits nicely into an area where other youth facilities are also established.
“And it is available for hire by civilian organisations and local people under our Alternative Venues scheme.”
The UK cadet movement is one of the oldest and most successful voluntary youth organisations in the world, celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2010. In the South West, there are more than 8,500 cadets supported by 2,000 adult volunteers. For more information, go to the Wessex RFCA website, www.wessex-rfca.org.uk/cadets/