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’Yeovil’s Mag­nif­i­cent Fly­ing Ma­chines’ will see the cre­ation of a vast oral his­tory ar­chive, sav­ing the sto­ries of West­land He­li­copters em­ploy­ees – past and present

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - ON THE RECORD -

years af­ter it was

first erected, Cum­bria’s his­toric Poo­ley Bridge was de­stroyed in floods

on 6 De­cem­ber The his­tory of a Som­er­set air­craft man­u­fac­turer is to be brought to life thanks to a new pro­ject.

Com­mu­nity ra­dio sta­tion Ra­dio Nine­springs ( ra­dion­ine­springs.co.uk) has been awarded £45,000 from the Her­itage Lot­tery Fund (HLF) to gather sto­ries of men and women who have worked at the West­land He­li­copters fac­tory in Yeovil over the past 100 years.

En­ti­tled ‘Yeovil’s Mag­nif­i­cent Fly­ing Ma­chines’, the ini­tia­tive will see the recorded in­ter­views pre­served as part of a ‘per­ma­nent spo­ken ar­chive’, telling the story of the avi­a­tion firm from past to present.

Now known as Agus­taWest­land, West­land He­li­copters was founded in 1961 fol­low­ing the amal­ga­ma­tion of West­land Air­craft and the he­li­copter divi­sions of the Bris­tol Aero­plane Com­pany, Fairey and Saun­ders-Roe.

How­ever, air­craft has ac­tu­ally been man­u­fac­tured at the same Yeovil fac­tory site since 1915, when the town’s West­land Works was es­tab­lished in re­sponse to Govern­ment de­mands for sea­planes dur­ing the First World War.

Over the fol­low­ing decades, West­land – in its var­i­ous in­car­na­tions – be­came a world leader in the de­sign, de­vel­op­ment and man­u­fac­ture of he­li­copters, em­ploy­ing hun­dreds of lo­cal peo­ple.

Pro­ject di­rec­tor Steve Haigh said it was im­por­tant to make sure that sto­ries from fam­i­lies and friends, as well as the work­ers them­selves, are pre­served for pos­ter­ity. “West­land has been man­u­fac­tur­ing air­craft in Yeovil for 100 years and its ac­tiv­i­ties re­main in liv­ing mem­ory,” he said.

“We want to cap­ture those mem­o­ries through recorded in­ter­views to en­sure the story of West­land is avail­able for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions to learn about and un­der­stand.

“With­out those mem­o­ries, an im­por­tant piece of Yeovil his­tory will be lost with time.” The in­ter­views are cur­rently be­ing car­ried out by Mr Haigh and a team of vol­un­teers, which in­cludes mem­bers of the West­land Re­tire­ment As­so­ci­a­tion.

Once the pro­ject is com­plete, ex­tracts from the in­ter­views will be up­loaded to the web for lis­ten­ers to ac­cess free of charge, with record­ings also avail­able at Yeovil Li­brary and the nearby Fleet Air Arm Mu­seum.

In ad­di­tion to the oral his­tory ini­tia­tive, the HLF money has also en­abled stu­dents at Yeovil Col­lege to be­gin work on a doc­u­men­tary film, mainly fo­cus­ing on how a West­land Lynx broke the world he­li­copter speed record in 1986 – an achieve­ment that still stands to­day.

Any­one who would like to be in­ter­viewed about their mem­o­ries of West­land or who may have old cine film footage of West­land air­craft can get in touch with the pro­ject team via west­land100.org.uk.

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