Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Open House Biggin Hill

Last Sunday I was involved with the Open House event down at Biggin Hill. I didn't do an awful lot, in fact I did what felt like very little in comparison to many of the other volunteers but never the less I was there on the "other" side of the fence.

They were doing an event to highlight the role that the airfield had in the Second World War and to show people some of the things that remain from that time.

The original plan was to have people taken through a "time tunnel" in one of the bomb shelters and when they emerged they would be back in the 1940s. There would have been a RAF re-enactment group, a Spitfire parked up, a tour of a few bunkers and then a simulated air attack.

Things didn't quite work out that way.

The "time tunnel" didn't happen, the bunker was full of paint and other nasty chemicals. The real hardworking volunteers spent hours on the Saturday trying to clean it out but it was just decided that it wasn't safe, so scratch that idea.

Then the Spitfire was late, it had a flat tyre and engine problems. So the early people didn't get to see it. And then when it did turn up a Jet popped out of a hanger and started having various tests done upon it. The result? Well it had to be squished up near the re-enactors and the people couldn't get to the pillbox, sleeping quarters and final bunker where the simulated attack would have happened. Oh and the pyro guy got stuck in traffic so the early people didn't get the attack either.

It was still a great day though.

Visitors were first taken to a WW2 C-Pen (a C shaped walled area to park aircraft in) and given a talk on the airfields history. Then they went past the re-enactors who gave them a shortened briefing as if they were pilots about to go on a raid to Dieppe. The re-enactors had set themselves up in front of one of the last remaining, if not the only remaining, ready room on the airfield. That was where the pilots would sit drinking tea and waiting to scramble and intercept incoming bombers.

Later visitors then got to walk around a Spitfire.

Then it was off to another set of re-enactors who had set up an anti-aircraft post. After that it was off to visit a pill-box, the sleeping quarters and finally the E-Pen (like the C-Pen but E shaped, it could hold two aircraft).

The weather was lovely and the visitors just kept on coming, the scheduled lunch break didn't happen. In the end I believe over 500 people put in an appearance. It was great to see the level of interest, and it was quite moving to watch some old veterans talking to the re-enactors about their memories and sharing some great stories with them.

The state of the ready room was a bit of a sad affair though. Apparently it's a listed building, but the owners of the airfield have no intention of refurbishing it and it's being left to fall apart. They have, allegedly, offered it to the re-enactors who could move it to another site on the airfield. But it would remain on the airfield, and owned by the airfield, who after it's all refurbished could then do with it as they please.

It's a shame to see one of what can only be a very few such buildings just being left. Hopefully something can be worked out and it won't just fade away.

Anyway I'll close with some photos and an advance notice that a similar type of day will quite probably happen next year. So if you're at all interested in that period of history then get yourself down there.

If you're interested the Spitfire is the Pride of Kent and it's a Mk IX that was built in 1944, you can read about it here

The E-Pen

The re-enactors giving their briefing.

The re-enactors, some period vehicles and the ready room.

Looking from the AA Post to the re-enactors.

The Spitfire finally arrives!

Being this close to it as it taxied along was just amazing.

A final posed photo.

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