Thursday, 7 May 2015

RAF East Kirkby 1943-45

A few weekends ago we went on a very pleasant outing to the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre at East Kirkby. The Centre is situated on a Bomber Command airfield and includes the original control tower. Lincolnshire had many airfields during the Second World War, it is a very flat county making it practical and it is on the East side of England so is near to Europe. The Centre is owned by two brothers Fred and Harold Panton. They opened it as a memorial to their elder brother Christopher and the other 55,500 aircrew of Bomber Command who lost their lives in the war.

The most well known exhibit is the Lancaster Bomber NX611 which is situated in the main hanger. As you walk in through the hanger doors you come in just under it's nose and the sheer size of the aircraft takes your breath away.

NX611 is better known as Just Jane. She was built in Birmingham in April 1945 and was destined for the Far East. However, she was not needed and ended up in storage until 1952. I like to see all the art work.
Having been bought by the French Government she was used in maritime patrols and in Air Sea Rescue until 1964. She spent a year in Sydney and then returned to England in 1965. The Panton brothers were able to buy her in 1983 to become part of their museum built on part of what was RAF Kirkby. She has been restored to taxiing standard so she doesn't fly but you can sit in her and have a taxi run. Unfortunately this wasn't possible on the day we visited so I will have to return; only 3 Lancasters in the world can still move under their own power.

I did get to sit in another aircraft though and gosh it was a tight squeeze. From nearly taking a slice off the top of my head on the door frame to squeezing into the pilot's chair it was all a bit tricky. I am only 5'4" so I have no idea how grown men manage!

I may have been pushing up my glasses in reality but in my mind I was adjusting my flight goggles.

Do you want to see what it was like inside?

So many dials! I couldn't make head nor tail of it! I am full of admiration for pilots.

The main hanger is huge and also houses displays of many RAF artefacts and tells the stories of the squadrons of Bomber Command. There are many personal possessions on display and I found theses little rodent crew mascots to be particularly poignant. I hope that they worked.

One of the stories is that of the Dambusters and one of the bouncing bombs is displayed.


There were also lots of vehicles that would have been used either on the airfield or as transport to leave the base. These are a few of my favourites, chosen not because of their function but for their shape and shininess of course!

A motorbike for nipping around the airfield.

Some lucky airman's pride and joy!


An Austin K2 NAAFI wagon which was used to take tea and refreshments to the ground crew when they were dispersed around the airfield. This one still works and is often used when the museum puts on special events.

I rather liked this little Ford.


Bedford WLG coach 1931. This was used by airmen at all the local bases to travel around the area. It was owned by a local garage and was used regularly until it crashed into a ditch in 1947. Whoops!

The final thing about the main hanger is something that struck me as soon as I walked in and that was the smell. It smelt exactly like my Grandad's shed used to do. Grandad's shed was the place where he did wood and metal turning, making bits and pieces, pottering about and entertaining us with science magic when we were children. I suppose it is some mix of metal, grease and who knows what lingering in the air. I mentioned it to my parents and they told me of the time a few years ago when they took Grandad to the Centre. His short term memory was going and he was often confused but they said that as soon as he walked in and saw the various pieces of aircraft he knew exactly what everything was used for and how to fix it. He was RAF ground crew during the war so it must all have struck a cord somewhere inside him. I was pleased to have that little link to him.


These tin huts are situated to the side of the main hanger. Do you want to look inside? I did!

This is the billet hut which would have been home to the aircrews and ground crews on the base. Those beds look mighty uncomfy but a friend who has tried them says they are not so bad. The shelves and chairs contain the belongings of the men which were interesting to look at.

This diagram shows how your kit would have needed to have been laid out ready for inspection. I just find it fascinating. Imagine the trouble you would be in for getting it wrong or misplacing something.
Let's go in!
The briefing room was exactly what it sounds, the place where the aircrew found out about their next mission, saw the maps and charts, looked at the weather, discussed tactics and timings. It must have been most nerve wracking sitting there wondering about your chances of surviving the next few hours.

For some reason I didn't take many more photos. I didn't get any inside the control tower for two reasons. It was set up as it would have been when it was operational but some areas were behind glass and I couldn't get good pictures. Also, there were lots of mannequins dressed in RAF and WRAF uniforms but their faces and synthetic hair freaked me out and I didn't want to look too closely at them!  

We also visited the memorial chapel, the escape museum and the Home Front exhibition. My favourite thing in the latter exhibition was a sewing machine!
I didn't realise that the Air Ministry branded their Singers! This one was from 1941 and was used to stitch parachutes. I do like an old sewing machine, I have three of my own!  

I definitely recommend it as an interesting place to visit and it is worth looking out for the events that are held there.

As an aside, I am having a May sale in my Etsy shop if you fancy taking a look. All items have been marked down by 20% to celebrate Spring!

18 comments:

  1. Fascinating! And great photos. I feel like I think of these old planes as being small, because compared to a 747 they are, but they are still pretty massive!

    The little rodent mascots are the best though! So cute :)

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    1. I am glad you enjoyed it. The mascots are cute aren't they!?

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  2. Thank you for sharing this, I love seeing displays like these and get a sense of what it must have been like for the people who had to work and serve in the war. Loved the pictures of you in the plane :D

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    1. I think these things really give you an appreciation of what everyone went through. I gad fun pretending to fly the plane!

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  3. That looks like such an enjoyable excursion. I've never been to an aviation museum, but would very much like to. They're less common in this country than the US or UK, but I do know of at least a couple, with one being in the neighbouring province of Alberta, so it's not beyond the realm of possibility. :)

    Have a splendid weekend, dear gal!
    ♥ Jessica

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    1. I hope that you get to your nearby one in time. It really was a fascinating place.

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  4. What a lovely and informative post! Especially since I'm just at the end of Elinors book (which is sooooo good) and seeing these images, now gives life to many of the scenes I envisioned in my head.

    This also reminded me of the Hamilton Warplane museum just outside of Toronto. Very similar.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Liz

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    1. Interesting to know you have a similar museum. I haven't read Elinor's book yet so I will look forward to it bringing this visit back to me!

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  5. love this vintage cars and you look so cute in that sweater, a very becoming blue on you
    retro rover

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    1. Thank you very much, I will remember that!

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  6. That looks like a fun day out. I always think places like that aren't for me, but I know I'd love it if I was there. x

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    1. It was a fun day. There was the odd bit that was for the more mechanically minded than me but I found plenty to entertain myself!

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  7. I love that we have so many fab places like this in the UK! I went to The Muckleburgh Collection a couple of years ago and it was similarly great (although not as big or varied as this one, from the looks of it). Will have to add this one to my list! CC x

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    1. I agree, the UK has such a great selection of museums including plenty of quirky little ones. I will have to add the Muckleburgh Collection to my list!

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  8. That looks really brilliant. Do you suppose 'Just Jane' was named after Jane the comic-strip heroine?

    I'm sure the mice must've worked - they've survived to be put in the museum, after all.

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    1. Good point about the mascots, that makes me feel happier! I couldn't see anything to explain the Lancaster's name so let's go with your idea!

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  9. You look so cute in your blue dress:) I love seeing exhibits like this. How fun to actually go in the plane!

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    1. Thanks Joanna. It was so interesting!

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