Bunkering down with a piece of wartime history
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