Drive out events are really quite popular as there is the chance to meet up, socialise and do some driving along scenic routes to a few attractions. Being September, it had to be something incorporating The Battle of Britain and a couple of the attractions that, despite not being in the mainstream, pack a really powerful punch in their relevance to Kent and the southern counties during WWII.
This event was organised by Jack Hodson and the first personal hitherto unvisited location was the Biggin Hill Memorial Museum. This attraction is special as it concentrates on the people who worked on this pivotal wartime airfield and the surrounding villagers who, all too often, bore the brunt of everything thrown at this frontline fighter station.
The M25 was kind to me and I managed to meet Jack early at The Lookout Cafe at the end of the Biggin Hill runway. This is a perfect place for a bit of aircraft spotting and we were lucky enough to see one of the Spitfires land over a coffee and bacon roll. This really set the scene for a memorable day out.
After breakfast we met the other AROCKES members at the memorial museum itself and, in retrospect, it would have been good to all start the day off at the cafe as it is amazing how a bacon roll sets you up for the day. Next time we will remember to include this as it didn’t occur to Jack or myself until afterwards – apologies.
Attending members were Jack Hodson; Dave Norman in The Zoë yellow Spider; Don Gilkes in the S4 Spider; Anne & Terry Seal in the 135 MiTo Sprint; Ray Skilling in The Giulietta Veloce TCT; May & Doug Field; John Dray in his Giulietta Veloce; Graham Duplock; and myself in the MiTo QV Line TCT .
Jack had previously paid for a guided tour and we were treated to the most intimate expose of wartime daily life at the station by Barry Day who volunteers there and gives an immersive tour of the museum. I won’t spoil it for members visiting in the future but three of the few Military Medals awarded to female service personnel during WWII were won here in near life ending circumstances.
To me, one of the most iconic exhibits was the original “Scramble Bell” and the pre-scramble wall wide video presentation of pilots waiting to be called to action who did not get to finish their game of chess.
Another memorable exhibit was a gift to the station during the five year air battle from the London Taxi Drivers Association. It commemorated the 1,000th enemy plane shot down by fighter pilots based at this fighter station up to 1943.
Dave Norman, whose knowledge and humour is matched only by the sharpness of the wedge on his Zoe yellow 916 Spider, also pointed out that the Hawker Hurricane had more combined kills that the famous Spitfire as it had a far more stable gun platform, albeit much slower. Meanwhile, the rest of us opted for the myth of popular culture and posed in front of the Spitfire. At one time, both of these iconic fighter planes, displayed in front of the museum, were the real deal but have in recent years been replaced by replicas to preserve the originals.
We were then were treated to a talk and presentation by Andrew Burton, another volunteer and retired Metropolitan Police officer, on the life of Winston Churchill. Those that have visited Churchill’s home at Chartwell will understand how fascinating this wartime leader was.
There was one famous speech missing though and this came from Churchill after the successful allied landings on D-Day: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
On that note, it was definitely the end of the tour and, perhaps, with the aid of half decent navigation we would find our next destination – The Shoreham Aircraft Museum.
This is an incredible private museum and its website can be found at www.shoreham-aircraft-museum.co.uk/ and if you belong to a club or society the museum will open for a private viewing and guided tour. This comes at a cost as the curators, Geoff Nutkins and Peter Atkins, have been excavating wartime crash sites in a 10 mile radius of Shoreham for many years. Occupied aircraft must never be touched as they are classified as war graves and are protected. The museum itself does open from 10am to 5pm every Saturday, Sunday and bank holiday. There is ample parking in the nearby public car park. The cafe can only be described as exquisite, is great value and it wasn’t only used by us but by passing ramblers and cyclists.
The museum’s displays are a culmination of a life time’s work by both curators and their families, and feature many of their exploits over the years.
One of the most poignant exhibits stood out as it came with a story. It was that of Sgt John Lansdell’s Hurricane –P3933 based at Tangmere in Kent which was shot down on the 17th September 1940. It was excavated in 1986 at Beltring, Paddock Wood in Kent where it crashed. The engine is the first exhibit you see on entering the museum building. A bit of a mystery ensued in 1999 when Geoff and Peter decided to pay their respects at the pilot’s graveside at St Margaret’s Church at Hempnall in Norfolk. Not only was his name missing from the roll of honour but his grave was badly overgrown. Comments in the visitor’s book put this all to rights as the grave was reinstated and repaired. Not only that, exactly sixty years to the day Sgt Lansdell was shot down and killed there was a fly past over the grave by The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight ensuring one of the few would never again be forgotten. I was very graciously allowed to take one photograph of the remains of Sgt Lansdell’s Hurricane for this article as photography is not allowed at the museum.
A mug of tea and yet another bacon butty was called for as the tea garden really just has to be sat in to be appreciated. You have to realise that this is someone’s house that is opened up to the public and the owner’s passion is obvious all around you as you soak up the scent of the late summer blooms. I did have to swat the occasional wasp, as at this time of year they get a bit carnivorous and I was not giving up any of my bacon butty for anyone!
I have to thank Geoff Nutkins, who is himself an accomplished artist, as well as Peter Atkins. Both gave an in depth insight into the important work that they both do in preserving this part of local English history for the benefit of future generations. Geoff’s website can be found at https://www.aviartnutkins.com and some of his fantastic portraits are on sale in the museum shop.
The section will be organising similar and different events in the future and participation will be ticketed through the AROCKES account to ensure Jack is not out of pocket again. Jeff, of course, will provide details so hopefully we will see more of you all in the future. This was a really memorable day out!