Friday, 28 February 2014

Up in the Air

A fun filled half-term and a full busy week back at work later and finally I've found my moment to squeeze in some bloggy time. 
We had a marvellous week doing a bit of all our favourite things and catching up with some lovely friends. 
 Mid-week we visited a place that we've only ever whizzed past on route to London. We were planning to drive to Greenwich that day, but muggins here overslept so we headed off to Duxford Museum instead. To be truthful we had such a fabulous day there that I'm glad I did.

I'd never realised how big the place is as you only get a glimpse from the motorway so I wondered how we'd fill up a day there. How stupid was I? If like us you're madly fascinated by the First and Second World Wars then this is the place for you. As a child I read all I could about the wars. When I was twelve I got the book on the Holocaust that I'd asked for for Christmas. It never seemed odd to me until my man pointed out it wasn't your average twelve year olds bedtime book.

 When we first got there my man and I got sidetracked by all the great books and postcards in the shop. Then we heard a moan of "are we going to spend all day in the shop?". How times change.

 Brief facts about Duxford. The site was first used as an airfield in 1918 and continued as one until the early 1960's. I was surprised that there were no concrete runways until the 1950's, but then that made sense when I thought about it as it would be harder to spot from the air and attack. For most of the war the planes were controlled from a watch room rather than a tower. This is where we found displays about the airfield and the men and women who had worked and flew from there. 

As there are so many different places to visit at Duxford we got a lot of walking in too which was just what we needed. In the middle we squeezed in a visit to the NAAFI where we drank hot choc from enamel mugs. 

One of the buildings that drew the biggest gasp of interest from us was the Operations Room. We've seen women pushing planes on maps with stick paddles on films, but never in real life. Apparently this is the only remaining control room left so it's really special.

 The Battle of Britain hangar housed the ante-room where the pilots had their briefings before scrambling to their planes. We wandered around an excellent exhibition detailing all aspects of the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. I can't remember the exact figures now, but I was shocked to see that more people were killed in one nights bombing raid on Hamburg than they were in all the bombing raids on London throughout the war. I had an idea of how badly hit Germany was mind you from a dear Uncle of mine. He was with the forces that first arrived at Bergen-Belsen and was so shocked by what he saw there that he stayed in Europe for years afterwards working in refugee camps helping people attempt to get a life back. He described the state they found Germany in and said it was beyond the destruction of even the worst raids on cities such as Coventry. Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5 which ends with the bombing of Dresden also gives another side to my perspective of the Second World War.


 See I've managed to pop into the shelter with the family for the night.

Despite seeing some Spitfires, I didn't take any pictures of them. I'm always overwhelmed with emotion when I see them as they are such a strong symbol of youth, hope, courage and pride that I get caught up just staring at them wondering who might have flown it.

There were a few vehicles in the this exhibition that caught my eye too. An American car which was converted to become an ambulance and a London Bus with the figurehead of Old Bill on the front. The bus had been used to move troops about at the Front during the First World War and had a poignant brass plate commemorating each of the main sites it had visited and the dates ending with 1919 Home.

 Towards the furtherest end of the site we found the American Air Museum. The Americans arrived at Duxford in 1943 and so their place in the war is commemorated here as is some of their later aviation history. In one of the earlier hangars we'd seen the Sally B, a B-52 which is sponsored by a group of volunteers. Alongside the Spitfire this is the other plane that remains emblematic of the Second World War. 

Living in Norfolk, the part the Americans played in the latter part of the war is part of everyday history as so many of their bases were built here. We live in one of the villages where farmland gave way to an American base in 1943. I love visiting it - seeing the pictures of daily life, marriages and the ones of the christmas party when the children were invited there for the day. One elderly villager told me about the three saddled bike they used to get to the pub on. The most drunk one sat in the middle where there were no pedals. As for me, I'm the product of an American airman who was stationed in England in the 1960's and a woman from an Irish RAF family. Maybe that's where some of my fascination comes from.

In the American Air Museum you walk in from above the planes.  Underneath there is a section dedicated to the men who lost their lives flying for those two years. We were thrilled to see James Stewart's uniform in one of the end cases as he's a favourite actor of ours.

The final place after this to explore was the Land Warfare exhibition.  We walked through history from the Boer War, to the Trenches, the war in Burma and beyond ending up in the D-day landings. Phew. At this point the girls had more fun exploring the lifts and playing hide and seek. I think they were historied out. That's not to say they didn't enjoy it here as they loved it.

 With the war all behind us there were a couple of post-war exhibits to see. The prefab bungalow, which gave so many who had lost their homes affordable housing, was really interesting to see. We couldn't go in so we peered through all the windows at the rooms which had been set up. 

There was also a piece of the Berlin wall. It made me realise how much history my generation has actually lived through and been able to touch having parents and grandparents who played their parts in both wars.

 It was just one of those fascinating perfect days when we all had a great time. I even got driven home so I could do my crochet. I usually drive as my man hates it so.

Being history nuts we headed off to see Horrible Histories Barmy Britain last night. That was an amazing show, four actors working their socks off and delighting us all. My favourite was Henry V111's bottom wiper portrayed as Kenneth William's, Queen Victoria rapping and spinning on her head was a close second. Little Bun loved Burke and Hare the bodysnatchers singing along to the tune of Postman Pat and Miss Rosey was sold on William Wallace in Take Me Out.

Crafty stuff has been happening here too. More of that another time. I must just show you though what came in the post today.

 I was asked by a lovely lady (thought you might want a bit of anonynmity D) who I know through this old blog and the markets I do if I would read and review a book. It's the first novel, written by the daughter of a friend of hers. Of course I said yes and so here it is.

Here I am trying to finish my February book for the Year in Books and now I've been sidetracked by a book that has already gripped me from the blurb on the back. The Dead Wife's Handbook will most definately be my March book even though I'm already ten pages in. I'm most attracted to books that play about with narrative. The one I'm reading at the moment moves back and forth in time, this one has a dead wife as the narrator. The ultimate omniscient narrator I guess. 

I'll let you know my thoughts on this one once I've finished the book I'm already reading.

Bye for now.


  1. I enjoyed your museum visit, we're fascinated by World War I and II. We'll be visiting England this summer and hope to finally make it to Churchhill's War Rooms.

  2. I think I would like that book also. One of my all time favourite is the Time Traveller's Wife, I am sure you must have read it. I will look forward to see what you think of the book you are reviewing. xxx

  3. Duxford looks like a great place to visit.....looks most interesting!

  4. Duxford is one of those places we keep meaning to go to, your post has pushed it up the list.

  5. We live near Duxford and are members, so go there often. I never get tired of it! It is lovely to see that someone else has enjoyed it too!

  6. We adore Duxford, and visit about 6 times a year. It is great on air show days, but I think it's at it's best when there are very few visitors, and you can soak up the atmosphere of the historic site. I was lucky and got to trade at a vintage fair that was held in the conservation hanger-such fun. Living in Suffolk, like you, WW2 airfields are part of our local history, and I love it. Glad you had such an amazing time :-)

  7. My husband comes from near Duxford, I spent a lot of time going to and fro to Addenbrookes and so know Duxford. I also lived on a USAF base here in N. Norfolk for a time, before moving down to London and then coming back to this lovely county. Sadly it was a non-flying air base... I love watching fighter jets, they practise on a bombing range just over the Wash from us so we see them often. A grand day out was had by all it seems!

  8. My husband comes from near Duxford, I spent a lot of time going to and fro to Addenbrookes and so know Duxford. I also lived on a USAF base here in N. Norfolk for a time, before moving down to London and then coming back to this lovely county. Sadly it was a non-flying air base... I love watching fighter jets, they practise on a bombing range just over the Wash from us so we see them often. A grand day out was had by all it seems!

  9. A post of reminiscing for me as well I spent three lovely years in England when my dad was stationed at an Air Base there ~that is when my love for the U.K. that was instilled in me. I spend a lovely part of my childhood there, riding ponies through the countryside , visiting the lovely shops , falling in love with the pastries, seeing plays in London, and so much more ~ still tugs at my heart .

  10. I love things like that. It fascinates me. I get absorbed in the history and the people. There is a place I went to as a child and it was like this. The memories have always stayed with me. I would love to take my children as it is important to me they understand what happened and how important history is for learning lessons. This is the place xxx

  11. What a wonderful post.
    And Jimmy Stewart's uniform! Wow!


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