Kentish Eagle Staff Ride 28 Apr – 1 May 14
In late Apr 14, 9 members of Safety Equipment Flight and 1 member of the Military Provost Guard Service visited Kent for a 4 day Battle of Britain tour. Kent was one of the main backdrops to the Battle of Britain and provides numerous places of interest to visit.
These included Dover Castle with its secret underground tunnels and the Hawkinge Battle of Britain Museum. Also, the Manston Spitfire and Hurricane Memorial, Swingate Radar Site and the Capel le Ferne Battle of Britain Memorial. At each of these locations, members of the group gave a presentation on a subject that they had researched.
On Monday 28 Apr we departed RAF Coningsby with high spirits and a full tank of fuel. After a quick pit-stop for an obligatory McDonalds breakfast we headed for RAF Uxbridge.
Uxbridge is home to the underground bunker which housed the Ops room for the Battle of Britain. We were treated to a guided tour of the site. The Ops room was maintained in marvellous condition with amazing attention to detail, for example, the Ops clock – with its coloured segments – was proudly on display. All the different signs and boards were explained, and the procedures for warning of attack and scrambling aircraft thoroughly described. The museum housed a vast array of interesting artefacts and some stupendous framed prints.
The first 2 presentations were from SAC Nathan Lloyd who spoke about Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding (The Dowding System) and Cpl Andy Rae who presented on Reich Marshall Hermann Goering (The Luftwaffe). The latter stand promoted discussion about the Luftwaffe’s air campaign plan against the UK, if it was flawed and whether there were any key lessons for modern air campaign planning.
The next day, Dover Castle did not open until 9.30am so everyone took advantage of a hearty breakfast before setting off. No ‘Pay as You Dine’ here – and no sign of any protein police either!
Dover Castle – what a place! We could have spent all day at this location. The underground tunnels were superb. The 3D exhibition was amazing. The Dunkirk miracle was superbly told. Dover Castle provided the perfect backdrop for LAC Mark Watson and Cpl Dave Bestwick to give their presentations. Mark discussed Dunkirk to Day 1 of the Battle of Britain and Dave spoke about Force Protection and how elements were deployed to defend airfields, towns and cities from attack by the Luftwaffe.
Reluctantly the group left Dover Castle and made the short road journey to Hawkinge Battle of Britain Museum where we enjoyed a 1940s style lunch. The Museum had a vast array of Battle of Britain memorabilia including fascinating personal stories that adorned the walls of the 4 hangars. Four more stands were completed at this site which debated the merits of the various Battle of Britain fighters and the Luftwaffe ace, Adolf Galland.
On Day 3, Swingate Radar station, located in a farmer’s field near Dover (permission granted of course), was the setting for Sgt Richie Lloyd’s presentation on the Chain Home Radar Site. After startling a local sheep population, we negotiated the quiet back roads of North Kent to get to Manston Spitfire and Hurricane Memorial where LCpl Nick Hall gave his second (good man!) stand comparing the leadership qualities of AVMs Keith Park and Trafford Leigh-Mallory. Cpl Ian Ainslie talked about Pilot Off Eric Lock, one of ‘The Few’ and explained some of the actions that led him to becoming the highest scoring RAF Fighter Ace of the Battle of Britain.
On the way back to the Hotel we spotted the Jackdaw Inn in Denton. This pub featured in the 1969 film ‘The Battle of Britain’ with actress Susannah York meeting a Canadian Pilot played by Christopher Plummer, which was deemed sufficient justification for some afternoon refreshment.
The Capel le Ferne Battle of Britain Memorial was our final and most poignant destination. This was opened by the Queen Mother in 1993. A statue of a Pilot sitting cross legged looking out on to the English Channel is the centre piece to the Memorial. A huge stretched plaque with all the names of ‘The Few’ that took part in the Battle of Britain are listed which stretches the entire length of the memorial. Sgt Richie Lloyd gave the last stand of the field trip on ‘The Decisive Day: Invasion postponed – the battle is won”. We departed Capel and headed back to Coningsby certainly with a greater knowledge and understanding of the Battle of Britain and its components.
Many thanks go to Sgt Richie Lloyd for all his research and organisation so that this superb trip could take place.