Recognising the work of Sandy Hunter CBE

Air Vice-Marshal (retired) Sandy Hunter during his talk with Morpeth Rotary Club President Andrew Hamnett, centre, and Secretary John Pringle looking on.
Air Vice-Marshal (retired) Sandy Hunter during his talk with Morpeth Rotary Club President Andrew Hamnett, centre, and Secretary John Pringle looking on.


Air Vice-Marshal (retired) Sandy Hunter CBE, a Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Northumberland, has worked for the Queen in various ways for 60 years.

He first put on the Queen’s uniform in 1957 and learned to fly before he left school. He joined the Aberdeen University Air Flying School while he studied for a career in law and planned to fly for a few years before going into legal work.

Sandy joined the RAF in 1962 for pilot training and got his wings. One of his first postings was a year at RAF Acklington, where he thought it less comfortable than it is now as HMP Northumberland.

Just after he married in 1964, he joined 81 Squadron as a pilot in Singapore for three years and continued in the Far East in Indonesia before returning home to the Central Flying School.

He became an instructor at the Newcastle University Air Squadron while based at RAF Ouston.

He confessed that he did something stupid whilst piloting an aircraft that he thought no-one knew about and he had some nervous moments to deal with because shortly afterwards, he was called to the Air Ministry in London.

Sandy thought he had been rumbled, but instead he was asked to go to Moscow for a couple of years as Air Attaché at the Embassy. It involved a lot of travelling and keeping an eye on what the Soviet Union were doing in air defence.

He had to do a one-year Russian course and, as it was a diplomatic posting, his wife was able to attend the course and ended up doing much better on it than he did.

Permission had to be obtained from the Russians for any travel and there was much obstruction and playing of diplomatic games. However, he still managed to travel 200,000 miles in two years. He had his 41st birthday at Donetsk Airport in the Ukraine.

The shared Russian driver they were required to use was thought to be a KGB agent. On one rare occasion when Sandy fell out with his wife, his driver offered to introduce him to a woman companion.

There were rounds of cocktail parties for diplomats, including one where he was asked to represent the Queen. We had fallen out with Poland at the time of Poland’s National Day and sending one of the ‘lower minions’ like Sandy was meant as an insult to the Polish Embassy.

He went back to Staff College for more management training. The Commandant at the time, an Air Vice-Marshal, said he had done ok, but he would never have him back there on the staff.

He went back to flying and this time it was helicopters. He had seven years of enjoyable work in the UK, Belize, the USA and Northern Ireland. It included a lot of experimental work before he was sent as Squadron Commander to Germany to introduce Chinooks.

He had various staff jobs and then in 1998 went back to the Staff College as Commandant. He took great delight in ringing the previous Commandant to tell him.

Sandy went back to Russia in 1989 with the first British Military Delegation since the end of the war. He was sent to meet the Queen and had a 20-minute conversation where she gave him good advice on compost-making and rose growing.

He was sent to Cyprus as Officer Commanding British Forces and Administrator of the two sovereign British base areas. Cyprus had a role in the first and second Gulf Wars. The first was a straightforward response to an invasion and Kuwait was liberated, but he cannot understand why we got involved in the second.

Sandy said it was sad at the end of the Gulf War to see severe cuts to the armed forces and the three services at each other’s throats about where the cuts should fall.

He thought this was a good time to take early retirement and that would be the end of working for the Queen. But in 1994, a year after he retired, he was working with the TA and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and was asked if he would provide a military perspective for the Lord Lieutenancy as a Deputy Lord Lieutenant.

In each county there is a Lord Lieutenant who represents the crown, a Vice Lord Lieutenant and several deputies. There are 24 deputies in Northumberland.

He has had 20 years in the post and has served three Lord Lieutenants – Lord Ridley, Sir John Riddell and current Lord Lieutenant, the Duchess of Northumberland.

As well as supporting the dignity and office of the Queen, there are two main strands of activity, encouraging voluntary organisations and arranging visits for members of the Royal Family. They present the Queen’s Award for Industry and awards for voluntary service and they have excellent support from the Clerks to the Lieutenancy based at County Hall, Bob Biggs and Janette Milburn.

One of the first visits he organised was for Princess Margaret when she came to open the RAFA respite facility at Rothbury in 1996 and thankfully that went very well.

Another very big event was the visit of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh to Alnwick for a garden party for 1,500 people in 2011 and there was the visit of Prince Charles and Camilla to Rothbury in 2012, where he meant to spend about seven minutes at the local butchers but got really interested and took 27 minutes.

Prince Andrew, who often gets a bad press, led an inspirational visit to a wind turbine facility in Blyth in 2012. Prince Andrew had done a lot of detailed planning in advance to make the visit go well.

Sandy then got to the age of 75 when deputies have to retire, but was asked to stay on to arrange the World War I commemoration service at Hexham Abbey.

During questions, he was asked where the Royals stay locally when they visit. They often stayed with Lord Ridley or in the days of the Royal Train, they would rest in a siding somewhere. Now they tend to come in and out on the same day.

Asked about his interest in history, he had worked with two local people to produce a book on the First World War called The Valley Remembers. It is about people from the Coquet Valley who served. It was printed in Morpeth and sent free of charge to every house in Coquetdale.

Sandy was thanked for his wide-ranging and interesting talk by Rotarian Jeff Reynalds.