Mud had booked the last week of the Easter Holidays off and for the most part we had taken it easy, recharging our batteries, enjoying some family time but it wasn’t long before he began to get itchy feet and started to cast about for somewhere to visit. The girls waited eagerly as we went through and discounted the local possibilities and then suddenly Mud said,”What about the Imperial War Museum at Duxford?”
This wasn’t the first time he had mentioned Duxford, having recounted, on more than one occasion, a visit he had made several years ago. Detailed descriptions of amazing exhibits had been forthcoming but when asked if a visit was possible, he had always said not until the girls were older, as it is quite a hike from our corner of North Lincolnshire. So we didn’t really pay much attention to his ramblings and were all taken by surprise when he suddenly announced that he thought that a trip to the IWM would be a grand day out and that is how we found ourselves climbing into Dafny the corsa, at stupid o’clock the next day. Just over 4 hours later (including a stop for coffee and another for breakfast), we pulled into the almost empty car park at the museum and waited ten minutes or so until the doors opened at 10 am.
The ticket prices at Duxford are a little strange as there are two options for each type of visitor/group. For example: a family ticket, covering two adults and three children was £47.25 with a donation or £42.25 without the donation. I have to say that I think that you would have to be quite a brave soul to stand in front of a large queue of people, at the kiosk and ask for the cheaper entry. We didn’t mind paying the donation and we also bought a guide-book and Battle of Britain DVD for about £8 I think, both of which I ended up carrying for the larger part of the day. Other ticket options were: Adult £18 or £16.35; child (5 to 15, under 5s free) £9 or £8.15; family ticket covering 1 adult and 2 children £31.50 or £28.60; and concessions £14.40 or £13.05. One carer per disabled person was admitted free and ‘Friends of Duxford’ members were also no charge.
This was the first of 8 display hangers and is right beside the entrance building. The aircraft housed within this building represent the history of both British and Commonwealth aviation and it was quite a sight to see full-sized aircraft suspended as if in flight. A mezzanine runs along three sides of this hanger and one side holds a whole range of interactive learning activities, explaining the engineering and physics behind aircraft, which the Mudlets enjoyed immensely.
Descending down onto the ground floor, we were dwarfed by and in awe of such planes as the Lancaster Bomber, Concorde and the de Havilland Comet. Several of the aircraft were open to the public, including the Concorde 101 which was a test aircraft but really gave you an appreciation of the extremely narrow, almost claustrophobic cabin that its’ passengers would have travelled in. Even the cockpit was intimately cosy and I’m guessing the flight crew would have needed to be especially careful as to what they had eaten in the hours before a flight (garlic bread anyone?) and there was literally no room for spats and fall outs.
Entering some of the other passenger aircraft from the 1940’s/50s’ we were struck by how much more luxurious they were, with ample leg room, sumptuous fittings and in one aircraft (sorry but I forget which one) the bathroom was, well, unbelievable! This was a time when only the very wealthy could afford air travel and they expected a standard of care and comfort that many modern-day travellers can only dream of. Peering into the cockpits, we were all staggered by just how many dials and switches the pilots and co-pilots of the day had to use.
Also on the ground floor was the Airborne Assault exhibit which relates the history behind the Parachute regiment and Airborne Forces and a separate ‘Conservation’ hanger.
Incidentally, on the day that we were there the Lancaster Bomber was also open to the public but we were warned that as there were a large number of people listening to the first official talk of the day (they ran regularly throughout the day and lasted about 20/30 minutes or so) about the aircraft and they would be allowed on first, the queue for those of us who weren’t listening to the talk would have a very long wait before we could get on board. So we decided to see the rest of the hangers first and then, if we had time before the airplane doors shut for the day (the Lancaster was only open until 3pm), then we would come back. You may be wondering why we didn’t just join one of the official talks – well the Lancaster flies over our house on a regular basis and is a plane Mud knows a lot about and he has shared this information with me and the girls several times over the years. In addition Mud is pretty clued up on the more technical/engineering side of the Lancaster anyway and I don’t find that side of things interesting at all. No doubt the talk would have imparted some new information or stories but we decided it really wasn’t worth wasting 20/30 minutes of the day on the off chance. There was a lot to see within a certain amount of time, as we needed to leave no later than 4pm to avoid the worst of the commuter traffic.
The American Air Museum.
A memorial wall lines the path up to the entrance to the American exhibit, with different shaped aircraft engraved onto it to represent the American crews lost from English bases.Unfortunately it was raining heavily as we passed it and so I wasn’t able to get a photograph of it but it is both very long and very humbling.
We had been suitably awed by the sights within the Airspace exhibit but this in no way prepared us for the breathtaking sight of the American aircraft when we walked through the entrance straight onto the mezzanine! The first thing that you see is the cockpit window of the enormous B52, the aircraft having been positioned with its’ nose pointing towards the entrance. I could give you all sorts of dimensions about this aircraft but to be honest, unless you have stood beneath its’ wing, or beside its’ main wheels, you can not truly appreciate the scale of this beast. It is huge, behemothic, looking gargantuan even amongst the other giant aircraft. The jet suspended immediately above it, is in itself a large craft but it is dwarfed by its’ companion.
If you can tear yourself away from this centrepiece aircraft, there is much more to see and appreciate including the Blackbird which has always been a particular favourite of mine, in terms of aircraft and not only have I given it its’ own montage in this post, the reflection picture at the top of this post was actually taken in front of the protective glass cover of one of its’ engines.
Information boards and displays are dotted all around this vast hanger and there is also the opportunity to try on American uniforms, although neither of the Mudlets’ wanted to do this.
The next exhibit we wanted to see was next to the American museum and is actually the furthermost exhibit from the main entrance. This building was beautifully arranged with life-sized diorama depicting scenes from various wars. I very nearly missed the solitary poppies that had been placed in the first scenes, a poignant reminder of the lives lost. Moving through the exhibits we were impressed with the staging which included a tank coming out of a building, a landing craft acting as a bridge between one section and another, a very life-like base camp with soldiers peering at a map and a massive gun in a bunker. No detail was spared and you got a very good feel for the conditions and devastation endured by civilians and military folk alike.
As we made our way back to the exit/entrance of the exhibit, we passed by the tanks and vehicles used in modern-day warfare and with Mud acting as our personal tour guide, we were able to appreciate the evolution of the tanks used by both sides.
Over the next couple of hours we explored the remaining 5 exhibits including the Conservation in Action building where several aircraft were being worked on by engineers. Everywhere you looked there were spare parts – engines, wing sections, fuselages – and it reminded me strongly of our back garden, sheds and workshop, although Duxford was on a much, much larger scale. Floor to ceiling racks of engines, mysterious shapes shrouded in protective coverings, still on the pallets they were delivered with, half a wing here, another half a different wing there and whole sections of fuselage waiting to be fitted to the plane from which they came. We did wonder if some of the half built vehicles were there to act as donors for those already on display but an engineer told us that the intention was to restore every one of the planes and trucks in the workshop, money permitting of course.
One of the last buildings we went into was the Flying Aircraft exhibit, in which privately owned airworthy planes were kept and displayed. Mud was in his element especially when he spied a P51 Mustang sitting in fabulous condition amongst the spitfires and other WW2 aircraft. It was as we were looking at the Mustang that we heard the blood tingling sound that could only be a WW2 fighter about to take off and we hurried outside and to the delight of Mud and the Mudlets we found ourselves watching a free airshow featuring another Mustang. I can’t begin to explain the emotions we felt as we watched it loop the loop, or the sensation of ‘feeling’ the distinctive sound of the engine as vibrations coursed through the air and as for the whine of the engine as the plane made an attack run just a few feet above the runway ……… that sound will stay with me forever and even as I type this I feel overcome with the emotion generated by that short but oh so memorable display.
We still hadn’t seen everything by the time we headed back to the gift shop to purchase the requisite memorabilia for the girls and we certainly hadn’t made it back in time to see inside the Lancaster but no one was too disappointed as we had been in a good half-dozen or so other aircraft. The girls made their gift selections and at a little before 4pm we began the long journey home.
The Imperial War Museum provided us with a wonderful day out and ranks right up there as one of the best. Be warned though, it’s a mile from Airspace to the Land Warfare building and so comfortable shoes are a must …… as is stamina!