Just outside the comfort zone of the M25 barrier, on one of those long snaking rural roads that link villages together lies a small house with a stone memorial in its front garden.
Once a home, then taken over as the entrance office for a WW1 airfield, this building now houses a small museum that commemorates the military history of the North Weald Airfield during both World Wars and later, during the Cold War.
Just outside the building is the memorial – erected in 2000 around an older stone obelisk that was given to the museum in 1952 by the people of Norway in memory of the Royal Norwegian Air Force who were also based there during the war.
Inside, and past the £2 entry fee, the museum is divided into a series of rooms dedicated to the history of the airfield and the aircraft based there.
A lot of references dotted around the museum to the efforts of “the few”, named after Churchill’s famous speech. Interestingly, it’s worth noting that by the end of WW2, there were over a million people in the RAF, out of a UK population of 49 million. The few?
The four rooms are:
- 1916-1939 ‘The Wulstan Tempest Room’ [Great War and after]
- 1940 ‘The Victor Beamish Room’ [Battle of Britain]
- 1941-1945 ‘The Scott-Malden Room’ [The Allies]
- 1945-present ‘The Roger Topp Room’[The Jet Age]
The displays are largely made up of photos of people who served at the airfield, and died over mainland Europe, with a very substantial collection of model aircraft all over the place. A few physical mementos are dotted around, such as an early ejector seat, which was put next to a church organ – maybe if the rector was bad they could eject him through the church windows?
There is also a room in the back which apparently focused on civilian life, but it was blocked off. Charmingly, a sign pointing to the “museum shop” actually a glass case built under the stairs with a note to ask at the desk for help.
Depending on your political views, you might be alarmed/delighted to see some photos of a very young Norman Tebbit on display – he served at the RAF base during the war, and was rather later, a local MP.
Would I travel out there just to visit the museum, probably not, but if I was in the vicinity (which I was), then it is worth a detour.
A few more photos in my gallery