Sunday, 22 November 2009

The beginnings of the Wings Museum

The Museum finds its Wings

Ok, so let's kick start the museum blog off by saying a little bit about how the Wings Museum came to be what it is today.

As a child growing up during the 1970's I shared an interest in World War Two aircraft with my older brother (Kevin), Kevin became interested after completing a school project on World War Two. I used to follow my brother around everywhere much to his annoyance!. Every Easter we would visit relatives in Norfolk, our cousins at the time were into flying model aircraft and used the old perimeter tracks of the long since abandoned American 8th Air Force airfields to fly their model aeroplanes. Many a Sunday afternoon was spent walking the old airfields and as a boy of about 5 or 6 years old, something must have lodged firmly in my brain at such a young age. While we walked down the old runways my imagination would run wild imaging those mighty B-17's and B-24's rumbling down the runway of on another mission. As I walked along together with my family, I could hear the song of a Skylark high above the airfield, the sound of a Skylark still to this day reminds of those days. It was while walking along the old perimeter track at Flixton one day that we found something that was unknowingly to us going to be the start of it all. Laying on the edge of a ploughed field our dad spotted a gun site from a .50 cal Browning Machine Gun! My brother and I were naturally excited and it was this single find that inspired us to search around for other relics from the war. As you can imagine during the late 1970's quite a lot of material was still to be found laying around on the surface. It wasn't long before my brother emerged from the undergrowth with an armful of bits and pieces such as shell cases, aircraft access panels, personal effects etc. Having shown me what he had found he soon disappeared again, off to find more, leaving me behind to wonder what he would return with next. I was too young to crawl through the thick hawthorns so I eagerly awaited his return.

Searching of the airfields of the Eighth around East Anglia and Suffolk continued on and off right up until 1993. Believe it or not we still have that gun site today and it can be seen on display in the museum together with a few of the finds from what I call our "airfield days".

No one could have envisaged what that discovery would lead on to in later life, since those early days we have attended and organised various 'aircraft digs' in the UK and Europe, we have traveled to the Battle fields of France, we have traced missing aircraft in Belgium on behalf of the families of the aircrew involved, we have also unveiled 3 memorials in Belgium together with the help of our good friends Luc and Marcel, (a fourth memorial is currently being planned for the near future). We have also rescued numerous airframes from certain scrap and have also been heavily involved in the restoration of these airframes. We have traveled to Russia many times on the hunt for warbirds, and have recovered a total of 22 airframes in various conditions from the former USSR including what is believed to be the World's only surviving Japanese B5N2 Kate air frame, we have been to Norway, Holland and the USA. Our passion for aircraft takes us all around the world and the people and friends we meet along the way are unforgettable. We have held history in our hands as it emerges from the ground after years of laying undiscovered. The buzz one gets from recovering something buried in the ground is as addictive now as it was back then.

Today, I cannot walk along a field or track without having my eyes firmly fixed on the ground! this provides great amusement to my wife who thinks I am totally mad! In fact when I proposed, I even hid the ring in some bushes, then while walking along the river after a romantic meal on Valentines Day, I stopped to poke about in a bush only to come out with the ring catching her completely off guard! I went down on one knee and popped the question, of course she said yes! who wouldn't want a human magpie as a husband!

During our adventures we have always dreamed of opening up a museum to share our 'finds' with the general public. In the early days we would stage one day exhibitions whre ever we could, we often displayed in the Reigate Caves which were an underground ARP Control Centre during World War Two and were also used as public air raid shelters. These proved popular but conditions were not suitable for a permanent display, every time the displays would have to be pulled down at the end of the day and packed away in boxes, this was heart wrenching to say the least. Needless to say we were always on the look out for something more suitable.

The dream finally came true in 2003 with a small aviation museum being established in a run down building at Redhill Aerodrome, which was formally known as 'The old Gas Decontamination Block' Redhill Aerodrome as it is known today was known as 'RAF Redhill" 60 years ago and many squadrons were based there flying Spitfire's, Hurricanes, Mustangs and even Beaufighters. More about this on a later blog.

Since then we have not looked back, like most things it has had it's ups and downs but no one said starting up a museum was going to be easy! Ultimately it has been very rewarding, not in a financial sense for there is no money in running a museum, but our reward is hearing the positive feedback and seeing people take an interest in the past and our discoveries. The Wings Museum is a 'raw' museum that tells the stories of real people and remembers all those that gave so much during those dark troubled times. The museum is run by a group of dedicated volunteers and a special thank you must be said to all those who have assisted and supported the museum over the years.

You can learn more about the Wings Museum here>

Thanks for reading.

Daniel Hunt - Curator Wings Museum UK