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 Their website advertises out of date events and is littered with broken links).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