Bunker­ing down with a piece of wartime his­tory

Uxbridge Gazette - - News -

EV­ERY dad wants to be Top Gun, right?

That might be why the Bat­tle of Bri­tain Bunker in Uxbridge was ab­so­lutely packed as fam­i­lies vis­ited the re­cently-opened bunker mu­seum for a spe­cial day of ac­tiv­i­ties.

Built in 1939 at what was then RAF Hilling­don, the bunker is lo­cated 18 me­tres un­der­ground and housed the op­er­a­tions room for 11 Fighter Group, Royal Air Force. It has been given an ex­ten­sive re­fur­bish­ment and a brand new mu­seum opened to the public re­cently.

This is one 70-year-old fa­ther, grand­fa­ther and air­craft fa­natic’s re­view of his spe­cial day out, which took place on Sunday June 17, which just hap­pened to be Fa­ther’s Day.

“AF­TER park­ing the car, our fouradult and one-baby fam­ily en­tered the new vis­i­tors’ cen­tre and paid our fee for the next avail­able guided tour of the bunker next door.

“We had about an hour to wait, so de­cided to ex­plore the dis­plays in the cen­tre it­self first. I hes­i­tate to use the word ‘mu­seum’ be­cause it was very much ‘hands on’ for adults and chil­dren, par­tic­u­larly the ex­am­ples of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion equip­ment and sys­tems of the day so vi­tal to the op­er­a­tional role of the bunker.

“There were many other ex­hibits, in­clud­ing the re­mains of an aero en­gine, a wing-mounted machine gun as used by our fight­ers, an an­ti­air­craft gun and much more all un­der the canopy of a replica Spit­fire and Hur­ri­cane fighter sus­pended from the ceil­ing.

“Sur­round­ing the ex­hibits is a dis­play ex­plain­ing many as­pects of the aerial war over Bri­tain dur­ing the First World War and the po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary re­sponse to Ger­man ag­gres­sion lead­ing up to and in­clud­ing the Sec­ond World War.

“Our guided tour started by de­scend­ing deep into the 18-me­tre deep bunker via a two part stair­way.

“I be­lieve there are 76 steps, but I did not want to de­mor­alise my­self when fac­ing the re­turn jour­ney by count­ing them.

“Af­ter a few twists and turns in quite narrow cor­ri­dors, we ar­rived in the ac­tual con­trol room.

“For the lay­out, imag­ine a small cin­ema with the area for the screen dom­i­nated by a board span­ning both the height and width of the room. Il­lu­mi­nated by coloured lights, the board dis­played the state and readi­ness of the fighter squadrons avail­able to 11 Group sta­tions dur­ing the Bat­tle of Bri­tain.

“On the op­po­site wall, there is a two-tier con­trol area oc­cu­pied by the duty of­fi­cers with their tele­phone com­mu­ni­ca­tions to the fighter squadrons. This is where de­ci­sions were made as to the type of re­sponse each squadron would make based on the in­for­ma­tion dis­played on the readi­ness wall and the wooden blocks dot­ted across the huge plot­ting table dom­i­nat­ing the cen­tre of the room; each block rep­re­sent­ing the lo­ca­tion of enemy air­craft for­ma­tions and the RAF fight­ers op­pos­ing them.

“I was im­pressed by the ded­i­ca­tion dis­played by the mem­bers of the Women’s Aux­il­iary Air Force who con­trolled the plot­ting table, con­stantly up­dat­ing the sit­u­a­tion from in­for­ma­tion via the tele­phones and the dis­play board in what would have been an ex­ceed­ingly stress­ful and claus­tro­pho­bic en­vi­ron­ment. That’s as well as the se­nior con­trol of­fi­cers charged with de­cid­ing the cor­rect re­sponse by our fight­ers to the in­vad­ing enemy bombers and fight­ers.

“Then there’s the de­tailed in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by the Royal Ob­server Corps on height, type and lo­ca­tion of the Ger­man for­ma­tions and our radar in­stal­la­tions, which pro­vided the early warn­ing crucial to the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process.

“There are more arte­facts from the war era dis­played around the con­trol room and I was left with the feel­ing that I could have spent many more hours brows­ing in what is a most in­ter­est­ing and pro­fes­sional pre­sen­ta­tion of a mo­ment in Bri­tish his­tory, the out­come of which has left a legacy of pride and grat­i­tude to the mem­bers of the Royal Air Force in­volved in the de­fence of this coun­try.

In the words of the Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill, be­lieved to have been quoted dur­ing a visit to the site, “Never in the field of hu­man con­flict was so much owed by so many to so few”. I’ll def­i­nitely plan a re­turn visit.”

For more in­for­ma­tion about vis­it­ing the bunker, go to https://www. hilling­don.gov.uk/bunker.

The Bat­tle of Bri­tain Mu­seum in Uxbridge is a must for those in­ter­ested in the his­tory of the RAF

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