Things to do in lockdown
Sadly aviation heritage sites in England have had to close temporarily due to meet the latest legislation aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19. Until they re-open, here are are few suggestions for armchair and outdoor aviation activities:
The Biggin Hill Memorial Museum has a 1.6 mile walking trail tracing the history of RAF Biggin Hill (now in the London borough of Bromley, south of London) which takes in key buildings, memorials an pubs used by RAF pilots. It also has a driving trail which takes in key sites further afield, including Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s residence and the Queen Victoria Hospital, where pioneering burns treatments and plastic surgery techniques were used in the treatment of air crew.
If you are near the London of Borough of Hillingdon you can take a tour the key sites frequented by members of the Polish Air Force during the Second World War. Most were stationed at RAF Northolt with the Polish Fighter Wing, with a smaller number working at RAF Uxbridge. From their bases, through their social venues, to their final resting places, you can follow in their footsteps by following the interactive map and trail (the leaflet is published in English and Polish).
Visit Lincoln has also devised a driving trail that includes a wide variety of airfields, memorials and manufacturing sites in Lincolnshire, which became known as ‘Bomber County’ in the Second World War. The region’s rich aviation heritage goes back to World War 1 when the City of Lincoln was at the centre of the UK’s fledgling aviation industry. At its peak, the city was one of the largest aircraft production areas in the world, producing more than 3,500 aircraft and 3,000 aero engines. Today, the city is home to the Red Arrows aerobatic display team, based at RAF Scampton, and the UK’s tallest war memorial at the International Bomber Command Centre. The aviation trail highlights are available online providing a brief glimpse of the diverse aviation pedigree of the city and the surrounding area, alongside a more detailed smart-phone friendly gazetteer of sites.
A new heritage trail tells the story of RAF Kenley and the men and women who served there. RAF Kenley is the most intact fighter airfield associated with the Battle of Britain, alongside the meadows and ancient woodland of Kenley Common. There are still a significant number of structures remaining from WW2, which have become some of the youngest scheduled ancient monuments in the country. Kenley Common is located in the London borough of Croydon and is open and freely accessible all year round. The trail information is on signs and information boards around the perimeter of RAF Kenley Airfield which is still in active use by the Ministry of Defence. A map with the sign locations is here.
To celebrate the centenary of the Royal Air Force, Air Cadets in Norfolk have mapped 40 airfields and aviation sites. From 1915, the major threat was perceived to be from Zeppelin raids, the first of which occurred on the night of 19-20th January 1915 when two massive German airships crossed the Norfolk coast dropping bombs at Sheringham, Brancaster, Hunstanton and Heacham before attacking King’s Lynn, causing two fatalities. As a result of this threat, air defence became a priority and airfields sprang up all over Norfolk. The largest military aerodrome in the area and indeed the UK, during WW1, was at Narborough. In the 1930s Germany was re-arming and an expansion programme was begun with new bomber bases being built at Marham and Feltwell. This was followed in 1937 by construction of Watton and West Raynham. Following the Munich conference in 1938, the declaration of war in 1939 and the arrival of the Americans in 1942, expansion continued apace until the Norfolk landscape was scattered with airfields. At the end of the war, there were no fewer than 37 major military airfields in the county. The cadets have published a downloadable Norfolk aviation heritage map booklet with information about each one including their map co-ordinates, perfect for designing your own cycle, hiking or driving trail. Some are still used as airfields, many have derelict buildings and pieces of concrete runways and often there are pillboxes and shelters still in existence.
A great website for discovering aviation heritage sites is Andy Laing’s Aviation Trails blog which is ideal for armchair exploration and inspiration. Andy documents 60 journeys to sites all over the country with photographs, histories and site descriptions. He has also built an impressive index and map of airfields, memorials and aviation sites. The RAF Heraldry Trust also has a military airfield map focusing on World War II and post-war airfields; it is work in progress but the extensive entries mean that you may well find that you have a historic airfield site to discover not too far away.
The RAF Museum has made the video proceedings of their recent conference, The RAF in a World Transformed, 1945-49 available online for free. It features a wide variety of talks and presentations and the recording is accessible here.
If you have any further suggestions for aviation heritage activities in lockdown, do get in touch.