’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
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.