AIRMEN at one of Britain's most famous RAF bases have been advised not to wear uniforms when they visit a nearby city, the Ministry of Defence said last night.
Senior officers at RAF Wittering near Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, fear that servicemen and women will be abused by locals who oppose British involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.
An MoD spokesman said the decision was a local one made by station commanders.
He said that in general soldiers, airmen and sailors were encouraged to wear uniforms in public.
Des Browne, the Defence Secretary described the situation as a "great shame".
He said: "We must defend our forces' right to wear their uniforms in public.
"It is a great shame that some individuals in this community don't respect our forces – who are daily doing a great deal for this nation.
"This is not a situation we should tolerate. We learned about this today and are investigating it as a matter of urgency.
"I hope that by working closely with Peterborough City Council and the local police, service personnel at RAF Wittering will soon be able to wear their uniforms freely about the town with the support of the local people."
A spokeswoman for Cambridgeshire Police said she was not aware of any incidents of service personnel being attacked or abused in Peterborough
The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshall Sir Glenn Torpy, said: "Whatever people's views are about specific military operations, everyone should be able to recognise the bravery and professionalism of our Armed Forces and respect the difficult job they do."
RAF Wittering – whose motto is "Strength is Freedom" – is one of Britain's oldest military flying bases and was established in 1916.
More than 2,000 servicemen and women are based at the station, which is best-known for housing a fleet of Harrier jump jets.