Battle of Britain Pilgrimage 30/31st October 2010 – 70th Anniversary

Discussion in 'Warbird Displays' started by Geedee, Nov 2, 2010.

  1. Geedee

    Geedee Well-Known Member

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    This weekend just finished, Rocketeer (AKA Tony) and I went on a Battle of Britain pilgrimage tour of some of the key Battle of Britain airfields and museums in Kent. Although I have a keen interest in Warbirds, I haven’t had any major desire to concentrate on a particular period of that conflict, preferring to pick and choose the bits that interest me. Having said that, with all the recent TV and press coverage of the events from 70 years ago, I must say that this had sparked my interest quite considerably (that and the fact that I’m getting riveting withdrawal symptoms from not working on Tony’s Spitfire !) in the actual Battle of Britain.

    Our first stop was at West Malling airfield. I’d last visited WM back in the 80’s when the Great Warbirds Air Displays where held on an annual basis. These where the days when Gary Numan (the pop star) would fly around in his all white, ‘Zero’ configured Harvard and get ‘shot down’ by the Catalina.

    Sat Nav got us to the airfield…but we couldn’t see it. So we drove around endless roundabouts and junctions and found a pub called The Spifire !. The airfield was under the biggest housing / industrial estate ever built !. The only surviving part is the old control tower….all boarded up behind an ASDA superstore !!!!. We managed to find a few holes in the 10 foot high wooden fence that surrounds the building and got a few pics from the chain link fence. It would appear though that all is not lost as it seems this fantastic building (looks almost art – deco to me !)...is now a listed building, so its future for the time being is assured.
     

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  2. Geedee

    Geedee Well-Known Member

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    From there, we went to Brenzett museum. This museum is a great little place, housing some very impressive displays of artefacts. Of all the museums we visited over the weekend, this was the only one that permitted photo’s to be taken.

    For the displays of items from crash recovery sites, it was good to see the story behind the pieces. To read about the pilot, what he was flying, what he was doing, if he survived etc.

    One interesting item was the wing tip from a Spitfire that had clouted the wing of a V1 to make it crash before hitting a village. To see it bent at the tip, with the paint scratched and to read the story was quite exciting. We’ve all seen the blurry B/W photos of this sort thing happening, but to see items from just such an event filled me with wonder that some-one was actually able to fly that close to a flying bomb, with its hellish exhaust note, formate on it, and then actually hit it with your own plane….wow.
     

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  3. Geedee

    Geedee Well-Known Member

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    From Brenzett we motored down to the Kent Battle of Britain Museum at Hawkinge. Kent Battle of Britain Museum, Hawkinge. Welcome to the web-site of the Kent Battle of Britain Museum

    One word….Wow !.

    Museum policy is no photo’s / video’s / pen and paper, however after about two hours walking around just trying to take all the displays in, you couldn’t do it justice even if you where allowed !. The displays where beautifully laid out in five big buildings. There is way too much to take in on one visit as each item on display has a full write up on it. It was fascinating to be able to see photo’s of the pilots involved, from both sides of the conflict, and to see their story. Kudos to the museum founder and crew for a warm welcome and for producing without doubt a World class facility that just has to be one of aviations top places to visit.
     
  4. Geedee

    Geedee Well-Known Member

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    When we managed to drag ourselves away from the museum, we drove a short distance to the Hawkinge Cemetery to pay respects. This was quite a humbling experience, to see a headstone for an 18 year old serviceman who was killed in the conflict. Other ages where mostly in the early twenties, and its because of their sacrifice, I was able to stand in front and bow my head.

    Interestingly, amongst the rows of headstones neatly laid out on well cared for ground, there where a number of German aircrew. As the headstones where laid out in chronological order, it was tempting to try and decide on the aircraft they where flying according to the number of graves. Two stones on the same day could have been a Me 110, Four could have been a Ju88.

    One headstone I stopped at for a while was simply marked ‘Ein Deutscher Soldat’ next to a named comrade. Sad that his name is not known but, glad that he is in the company of heroes. Other nationalities present where from the Netherlands, New Zealand, Canadian, Australian, Polish and an American Eagle Squadron volunteer !.
     

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  5. Geedee

    Geedee Well-Known Member

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    Deep in thought, we then drove to the memorial at Capel le Ferne.

    Quite simply, what a beautiful War Memorial !.

    Set in acres of ground on the top of the cliffs overlooking Folkestone harbour, this Battle of Britain Memorial with the lone pilot, head held high, sat in the centre of a three bladed prop, looking over the water to the French coast 20 miles, will make your emotions run high.

    Behind the Pilot is the memorial listing all those pilots who took part in the battle, and slightly to one side is a bronze bust of Sir Keith Park looking after his pilot. Tony and I left a small wooden cross at this wall
     

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  6. Geedee

    Geedee Well-Known Member

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    After leaving the Memorial, we then drove past Dover Castle to the two RDF Radar masts (part of the Chain Home system) overlooking the Channel. We couldn’t get to the masts as they where on private land, but again, looking at those two huge structures, unchanged since 1940, standing tall and proud, was kinda spooky as well
     

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  7. Florence

    Florence Member

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    Very interesting stuff. Those pics are excellent. Sounds like you blokes had a great time. Thanks for posting.
     
  8. Geedee

    Geedee Well-Known Member

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    A quick drive from there took us to the ‘The Cat and Custard Pot’, which was closed for that afternoon, but the landlady kindly let us in for a quick look-around. While not a themed pub, there was a veritable stack of memorabilia relating to the War and the service personnel who would have used it as ‘their local’ from the station at Hawkinge. It was very easy to imagine the smoky atmosphere and the packed uniforms that would have crowded in here and the noise.
     

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  9. Geedee

    Geedee Well-Known Member

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    By now it was getting a bit dark so we made our way to ‘The Jackdaw’. This pub is the one in the ‘Battle of Britain’ film where Mr Plummer parks his green MG out the front before going inside and meeting up with Susannah York. The front of the pub, where the Home Guard parade in that scene, is now a grassed area. Inside, there where some BoB film memorabilia pictures by the bar.

    We had a really good meal….Tony, whose eyes where bigger than his storage capacity, chose a rack of ribs that fell off either side of his plate (think there where about 17 ribs !!!!.) while I had the Hunter Chicken, wrapped in bacon and topped with wild mushroom sauce, veg and chips…highly recommended !. The pubs sister pub (?) is the Duke of Cumberland where we where booked in for the night and was only a few miles away.

    And Yes, I had a bottle of Spitfire.

    That was the end of day one. 2 Museums, 2 Airfields (both no longer visible), I Cemetery, I Memorial and 2 pubs !
     

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  10. Geedee

    Geedee Well-Known Member

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    Day 2 started off with a great ‘Fat boys’ full English breakfast and a leisurely drive to Lashenden Museum at Headcorn.

    Errrrr, nope, actually it turned into a number of detours to visit other grave yards in the various villages we drove through, looking for BoB related headstones. Found a few at Charham and 2 at Pluckley
     

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  11. herman1rg

    herman1rg Well-Known Member

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    Wonderful pics and great stories
     
  12. Geedee

    Geedee Well-Known Member

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    Finally got to Lashenden. Again, no photography allowed inside.

    This is a fairly small museum but really big on its displays and supporting info. As with the other museums, any artefacts had pictures and supporting documents all neatly laid out.

    While looking at the remains of a Ju88 tail fin and smashed engine, I recognised the names of the four crew from the headstones I had seen at Hawkinge cemetery. Again, a warm welcome from the Museum crew on this, their last day of opening for the season.

    It was raining by this time and then a whole herd of Mazda MX5 (I call them hairdressers cars !) cars turned up for a photo shoot in front of one of the airfield hangars. More bizarrely, they where all dressed in Halloween costumes .Scary !.

    Did find a rather unusual 'Wooden Wonder' by the car park tho !
     

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  13. Geedee

    Geedee Well-Known Member

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    From Lashendon it was a 40 mile drive down some very tight, leafy lanes to visit Geoff Nutkins at his BoB Museum at Shoreham. Following a quick pits-top for a home brewed cuppa and some cake in the cosy little on-site café, we had a very good look at the items on show.

    The jewel in the crown for me was the front cockpit section of a JU88 that was being rebuilt by Geoff. That is one sweet looking bird !. The two Jumo’s on display with mirrors underneath to show the internals was also a very good exhibit. On display here is the blackout board from ‘The White Hart’ at Brasted. This was the local haunt of 92 Sqn and is signed in chalk by the squadron members. Some very famous names on that board !.
     

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  14. Geedee

    Geedee Well-Known Member

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    About twenty minutes after we left the museum, we drove through Brasted and there on the left was ‘The White Hart’. Tony practiced his uncanny ability to cause his vehicle to face in a different direction to the way we where actually travelling and one very quick emergency stop / handbrake turn / power-slide, found us parked up in the carpark….which is pretty da*mn impressive considering he drives a diesel Citroen people MPV !!!.

    Although there was a reproduction of that famous board on display, there was little else and the pub is now a Brassiere…soul-less !.
     

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  15. Geedee

    Geedee Well-Known Member

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    From Brasted, we drove down some even smaller, steeper roads to the Chapel at Biggin Hill.

    The Chapel has two Gate Guards and pretty realistic they look too !.

    On the inside of the Chapel, all the ‘stained glass’ windows depict various branches of the RAF. And even the kneeling cushions have a Spitfire emblazoned on them.

    There is a new housing estate about half a click from the chapel and all the street names are after people from the BoB and have a bit of history about them as well
     

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  16. Geedee

    Geedee Well-Known Member

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    After that little lot, it was back down the motorways, enjoying the traffic jams, average speed cameras, lane closures and stationary traffic to home…..just in time for the trick or treat knocks on the door !

    What a fantastic weekend. A real ‘pilgrimage’ in every sense of the word. Yes, we had an itinerary to try to complete and not only did we complete it, we added to it as things developed. 450 miles, museums / airfields / memorials / cemeteries / pubs….crickey, I’m knackered !.

    All of the places we visited, I haven’t seen before (less the Control Tower at WM), and all the people we met were enthusiastic and passionate about keeping alive the memory of that epic battle.

    If you get the chance to visit just one of these places I’ve been to, you absolutely will not regret it.

    Roll on next year, where we are planning a longer visit, and to more stations like Kenley. And this time, we will both pick a pilot from both sides and trace their history from cradle to grave and follow their final moments in the skies over Kent to their resting place.

    And thanks for wading trhough these entries !
     
  17. Aaron Brooks Wolters

    Aaron Brooks Wolters Well-Known Member

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    Stupendous Gary!!!!!!!!!!!! I love seeing places like this!! Thank you for sharing the experience with sir!:thumbright: :cool:
     
  18. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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    WOW, I got goosebumps looking at some of those pics.
     
  19. Crimea_River

    Crimea_River Well-Known Member

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    Gary, fantastic job putting all that together mate! Wish I was there with you guys to tour me around. How did you plan the itinerary? Seems like a lot of research went into that.
     
  20. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Brilliant stuff Gary and Tony. I had planned a similar thing for September, but couldn't follow it through. Shame about the 'No Photos' restrictions though.
     
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