Day Out at Duxford 15th August 2015
On a perfect August summer day, seventeen members of the ‘Going Out Group’ embarked on a visit to the Imperial War Museum site at Duxford. To start our day off, we had booked a special tour of an area that the public are normally not allowed to visit. Indeed, most occupants of cars driving on the A505 and M11 may get a glimpse of the large static aircraft on display outside, but do not realise there is a group of buildings, hidden away behind trees, that at the height of WW2 housed 3000 people.
This collection of buildings, a few dated from WW1, but most built between the two wars, consisted of distinctive designs for various functions. Most of the accommodation blocks had extra strengthening of the roofs to reduce bomb damage.
Our guide explained the dire consequence if anyone were to come into contact with ‘mustard gas’, and showed us the facility where decontamination would take place. On a lighter note, a building that was used as a cinema, dance floor and community use, still exists. Many of these buildings are used for storage for the museum.
Of course as you would expect on a military site, the NAFFI building was an essential requirement. There was also a small shop, with even smaller shoe department attached one side. On the other side was a tailor where uniforms were taken for alteration, as any service person knows, uniforms only came in two sizes, too small or too big!
The site had its own emergency generator buildings, and its own means of sewage disposal. As we looked at the Boiler House chimney, it was explained the reason for its unfamiliar width, the chimney had a water jacket enclosing the flu to pre-heat the water. Eco economy is nothing new.
We were shown the original wooden building that was the office of the de Havilland Aircraft Company when it was formed in 1920. It stood on Stag Lane Airdrome, Edgware. As it was about to be demolished, the museum saved it and rebuilt at Duxford.
Still in place are a number of air raid shelters, also some of the accommodation blocks had underground shelters. If there were casualties or illness, they had a hospital building to treat the patients.
We were told that halfway through the Second World War, the United States Air Force took over the base with their Mustang Fighter aircraft, and as we walked around this site, a Mustang was ‘screaming’ overhead on flight display, which gave our walk some atmosphere! One of the extra building for the ‘Yanks’ was a Poker room, would you believe!
Our guide frequently told us humorous antidotes, one however ended in disaster. A pal of one of the Mustang Fighter Pilots, asked for permission to visit him by means of flying into Duxford with his B29 Bomber, this was granted. This Pilot then invited his pal and some other servicemen to have a jaunt in the Bomber. They thought it a good idea to ‘buzz’ the control tower, unfortunately as the aircraft swooped up, it caught its wing on a radio mast. The resulting crash killed all those on board, and demolished several accommodation blocks. As you look at the open grassed area where the aircraft came down, there are still traces of the foundations and paths.
Today some of the accommodation blocks are being renovated and made habitual to rent out, to provide extra income for the Museum.
It was a unique and interesting look, at an episode in our history.
The afternoon was spent enjoying all the Duxford exhibits, and of course for most of us, the required walk through, the speed record holder of the Concord fleet.
We thank Ray our Chairman, very much for making all the arrangements for a splendid visit.