Written by Johan van Waart
On June 5th 2017, the WWII Research and Writing Centre team visited the IWM at Duxford near Cambridge in England. Duxford was an airfield and was used in WWII. It is quite famous (apart from the movie “Battle of Britain” for its collection of military planes, especially WWII vintage.)
It doesn’t disappoint.
There is ample parking and the entrance is clearly marked. The entrance fee is currently 18 good old British pounds but that is pretty good value for what you get. You enter the complex near the gift shop which I always like. You can already spot some items you may want to pick up later (leather flying helmets, anyone?).
The whole museum is in fact several separate hangars, each with their own exhibition and theme. We started our visit at the Air-Space hall. A very impressive amount of spectacular planes greeted us: Concord, a Sunderland Flying Boat, a Lancaster, a Spitfire, a Lysander, a Vulcan bomber, a Meteor to name just a few. What a sight to see all those together. If anything, it was almost too much with some planes so close together their grandeur was lost.
In a separate area was an exhibition on Airborne. The British Airborne divisions were active in some of the great battles of WWII (Bruneval Raid, Operation Overlord and Market Garden) and also after WWII they were active: Northern Ireland and the Falklands to name just two conflicts. I was very impressed by the original Briefing Boards used in the Bruneval Raid and Normandy. How many eyes have studied these boards before me?
We then walked along the airfield (Duxford is still in use as an airfield and you can arrange a flight in a vintage plane) to the American Air Museum part, the main reason for our visit. On the way we stopped by the B17 Memphis Belle/Sally B that was parked along the runway. Good photo opportunity with two planes in one.
We also went in the Radio room/Comms shed for a quick look which was stacked with old radios and manned by very enthusiastic volunteers that could talk the hind legs off a donkey. If it had been up to them, we would still be there! Very informative. But we needed to make our way to the American part. First it was time for some tea or coffee in the café with very friendly and helpful staff though.
Again, the collection in the American Air Museum is most impressive: where else in Europe can you see a Dakota, F15, A-10 Warthog, B-17, B-24, B-29, B-52, SR-71 Blackbird, P-51 Mustang and a Bell Huey under one roof? And that is not a complete list! Explanations, personal effects, artefacts, uniforms, the collection is pretty complete with very good explanations and personal stories that make you think. All very well and clearly displayed. There is so much to see and read that it would be easy to be overwhelmed. Do not go to this museum to think you will be done in a couple of hours! We almost spent the entire day there.
After the American Air Museum we visited the WWII Operations Room (..bandits, bandits!) where you could almost hear the phones ringing and the plotters at work (make sure you have seen the movie Battle of Britain!). Then it was time for the Battle of Britain hall. To be honest, I expected more of this but what was there was well done. The Spit was missing as it was used for a private function in the Air Space hall (we caught a glimpse of it there) and I was disappointed.
We walked around the displays and went outside to find something to eat. Lo and behold, they were rolling the Spitfire back to be put back in the Battle of Britain hall. It was parked outside the hangar! Great moment to get really close, have a peek in the cockpit and take some photos. I love Spitfires and to be so close to one was a special moment indeed.
Duxford has three places where you can have something to eat or drink: the café in the American hall, the Workshop Restaurant and The Armoury Café and Kitchen. Make sure you time your visit and intake of sustenance. The Workshop Restaurant is a sit down and be served affair (which we found would take too long) and The Armoury Café did not serve lunch anymore by the time we got there are 15.00 or so. This could have been a problem but thankfully the lady always carries a protein bar so we survived. Be warned though.
By this time our feet were almost staring to hurt but we managed to visit the Flying Aircraft and Conservation in Action areas. By this time we had been here for six hours already. It was getting difficult to take things in and we decided to call it a day. Of course we had to go through the gift shop. We picked up some great items from a wide array of available souvenirs and memorabilia: books, t-shirts, trinkets, pencils, WWII sweets, mugs… there is something for everybody.
IWM Duxford provides a great day out. There is a lot to see and the displays are very well done. As it is a working airfield you even may catch vintage planes flying.
I can really recommend this museum.
Read Johan’s review of the IWM London.
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