Tag Archives: No. 11 Group RAF

Tangmere Military Aviation Museum

The Tangmere Military Aviation Museum was established in 1982 on the historic RAF Tangmere airfield. Tangmere was the sector station for the embattled 11 Group and was also home to many record breaking aircraft in the post war years.

With such a rich history in aviation, it seemed sensible to investigate the museum. 

I was greeted by a team of earnest volunteers (all chaps over the age of 60), who quickly ushered me into the ‘screening room’. Before being unleashed on the exhibits, all guests are encouraged to endure a shabby little video made in 2007. The museum is really only two rooms, but the film takes at least 10 minutes to explain how you should find your way around.

Overall, the museum has the feeling of a neglected attic. The displays look handmade, dusty and faded. Most of the aircraft are replicas. The ‘simulators’ aren’t  a patch on what you’d find on a modern video game. And, for me to take my family in, cost £25…

It was a sad place, because you can feel the intensity of the volunteers as they try to preserve history. What will happen when this current wave of custodians are no longer able to unlock the doors and take in dreary groups of school children? I noticed that their leaflet asks for anyone with web development skills to get in touch (the internet age is just beyond their reach. Their website advertises out of date events and is littered with broken links). A sign at the gates, which is covered in weeds and flaking paint reads: “For sale: former aircraft hangar”. In this museum, you can see that the War is bleaching away from living memory with every passing day. It takes energy, creativity and investment to preserve the past.

But, if you take the time, and look at each artifact on its own, there were some fascinating items languishing in the crowded cabinets. Perhaps the best bit that I discovered was a voice recording of a Lancaster crew on their bombing run over Germany. You could hear the pilot, navigator and bomb aimer speaking to each other over the intercom. It was haunting to listen to their voices as they went about their work. The accents and manner of speaking were far removed from modern inflections. They were so calm. I listened to the recording several times and had a chill down the spine.

In short, if you are passing near Chichester and have a bit of time on your hands, the museum is worth a visit- close your eyes to the overall effect and instead look for a lost relic in amongst the chaos.

Download the Tangmere museum brochure

The Biography of Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park

After reading Bungay’s Most Dangerous Enemy, I was intrigued to discover more about Keith Park.

Park is painted as a brilliant tactician, who grasped the situation and made the correct decisions in the heat of battle. However, after the Battle, he lacked the political ability to capitalise on his military triumph and convert it into career gain. This, of course, only serves to further cast him in the role of a hero.

Shortly after the Battle of Britain he was relieved of his command of 11 Group and sent off to train pilots (he would return to front line action in the War, but more on that later).

Vincent Orange‘s substantial biography of Keith Park presents the facts and well-deserved tributes in a readable manner. He enjoyed unrestricted access to Park’s papers and as the first edition of the book was written in 1984, he was able to conduct many interviews with people who had known him.

Orange reveals a man whose energy and courage won him supreme praise from Churchill and the lasting respect of all who served under him.

Christchurch Press writes:

“Park emerges from this very thorough and scholarly biography not as The Great Man, but as a human being with strengths and weaknesses like the rest of us: a man whose greatness is delineated alongside his more everyday qualities.”

Park wasn’t recognised in his time; the official record of the Battle doesn’t even mention his name. However, he has now taken up station as one of the War’s great leaders. To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, a campaign was launched to create a permanent monument to him

“Individuals can achieve so much in a single life, and we should never forget how each of us, everyday, can make a difference to the world around us. That is something that Park and his Pilots knew only too well.”

-Terry Smith at the unveiling of the statue of Sir Keith Park, Waterloo Place, London, 15 September 2010

So, a hero now but not then. Why? Did someone fail to see the triumph at the time, or does history start to re-write itself over the decades?