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Why the RAF has relaxed its ban on beards

PUBLISHED: 19:00 18 September 2019

Beard inspection of 1 Squadron RAF Regimentgets underwayl at RAF Honington Picture: SAC JAMES LEDGER

Beard inspection of 1 Squadron RAF Regimentgets underwayl at RAF Honington Picture: SAC JAMES LEDGER

© UK MOD Crown Copyright 2019.

A relaxing of the rules on growing beards has seen airmen at RAF Honington in Suffolk gaining 'permission to grow' in a good cause.

The members of 1 Squadron RAF Regiment undergo beard inspection at RAF Honington Picture: SAC JAMES LEDGERThe members of 1 Squadron RAF Regiment undergo beard inspection at RAF Honington Picture: SAC JAMES LEDGER

Airmen at RAF Honington have zeroed in on a relaxing of the rules governing growing beards in memory of a fallen comrade.

The Royal Air Force recently dropped decades old regulations governing the growing of facial hair.

Now, following the new rules brought in last month, 150 members of 1 Squadron RAF Regiment obtained permission to grow beards en-masse in return for a donation to the Remembering Peter McFerran charity.

Peter was a member of No 1 Squadron who died in a rocket attack on Basra air base in Iraq in 2007.

Lance Corporal Glen Lewis, right, is congratulated by Flight Lieutenant Liam Summerfield on his winning beard Picture: SAC JAMES LEDGERLance Corporal Glen Lewis, right, is congratulated by Flight Lieutenant Liam Summerfield on his winning beard Picture: SAC JAMES LEDGER

The RAF changed the rules to promote inclusivity and make the service more representative of modern society.

The idea for the sponsored grow came from Officer Commanding 1 Squadron, Squadron Leader Alex Jones.

Under the rules, individuals must seek permission before growing a beard which is inspected after 14-days to determine if it is sufficient to be maintained or not.

The beard must be maintained between a grade 1 (1/8th of an inch) and grade 8 (1 inch) in length. Anything shorter is classed as stubble - 'designer' stubble is not allowed.

Beards in the armed forces were usually only previously permitted for religious or medical reasons Picture: ANDREW PARTRIDGEBeards in the armed forces were usually only previously permitted for religious or medical reasons Picture: ANDREW PARTRIDGE

The airmen held a contest for the best growth over 14 days, with each beard closely inspected by deputy squadron commander Flight Lieutenant Liam Summerfield, and squadron warrant officer Shaun Noble to gauge if it met the minimum length for it to be spared the razor.

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Each of the Squadron's four flights put a nominee forward to be judged the best beard, with the award going to Lance Corporal Glen Lewis from HQ Flight who donated his £60 prize to the £500 the event raised for the charity.

It aims to buy an incubator for the maternity ward at the Countess of Chester Hospital in Chester, where Peter was born eight weeks premature in 1983.

The squadron aims to raise £11,000 for the incubator as it celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2021.

Warrant Office Noble said: "We are getting an old incubator soon that we can adapt for sponsored runs and hope to have it running in the London Marathon."

Donations can be made direct to the Charity via Just Giving - Remembering Peter McFerran.

The RAF's change in facial hair policy came into effect on September 1.

For the first time in its 101 year history, RAF personnel are now allowed to grow a neatly-trimmed beard that covers the entire jawline.

Previously, beards were only allowed for medical or religious reasons, but under operational conditions commanders have the power to order they be shaved off - for example, stubble can break the seal of a respirator against the face, rendering it ineffective.

In the Royal Navy, personnel have long been allowed to grow beards with permission, especially at sea.

In the Army they are still banned except for medical or religious reasons, although in recent years they were allowed in Afghanistan to foster relations with the local population who see beards as a symbol of virility and authority.

Special forces soldiers may also grow them when on operations.

However some ranks are allowed to grow them for ceremonial reasons, including Pioneer Sergeants, Drum Majors, Pipe Majors, and Goat Majors.

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