Duxford has a long and distinguished history dating from 1917, when it was established to train Royal Flying Corps aircrews.

It became a fighter station that played a role in Britain’s air defence during the Battle of Britain, the home of the United States Air Force's 78th Fighter Group and was a base for RAF planes during the Cold War during the final years of its operational life. 

Now, it is a centre of aviation history and home to IWM Duxford, where visitors can get up close to historic aircraft and walk through the same hangars and buildings as those who served there. 

Listen to some of the powerful personal stories of the men and women who have a connection to the remarkable events that have shaped Duxford’s past and present.

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Attack?

Photographs

Attack?

Duxford was built during the First World War and was one of the earliest Royal Air Force stations. The Royal Flying Corps expanded in 1917 and Duxford was one of the stations established to train aircrews for flight – and for battle.      

Pilot Frank Burslem flew a DH-9 bomber – an example of which is now on display at Duxford - and remembers that it wasn’t always easy to know what exactly had happened during missions.  

'I never flew with him again'

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'Very romantic'

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'Very romantic'

After the war, Duxford opened as a flying school and in 1924, it became a fighter station. But it also gained attention for the aerobatic flights undertaken by No 19 Squadron, which was based on site.

Flight Lieutenant Harry Broadhurst - pictured here with his two wing men Flying Officer J R MacLachlan and Pilot Officer B G Morris – recalled their exploits and the “romantic” nature of flight in 1930s.

'It was not warlike...it was pretty'

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Exhilaration

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Exhilaration

The outbreak of the Second World War would have a profound impact on Duxford and the lives of those who served there.

Gordon Sinclair, pictured standing on the right hand side in the image above, had been stationed there as part of No.19 Squadron since before the war. In 1940, he was called into action to help support Operation Dynamo, the huge rescue mission to evacuate 338,000 troops from the beaches of Dunkirk.

'I was younger and less frightened...'

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Empty seats in the Mess

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Empty seats in the Mess

In 1940, Duxford played a vital role in the Battle of Britain. Flight crews took off from the airfield while staff on the ground directed squadrons based at Duxford and the surrounding area as they flew to face enemy aircraft.

Sylvia Salmon, one of the first members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), worked in the Officers’ Mess during the Battle of Britain. She remembered pilots such as Douglas Bader -  pictured centre, standing outside the Officers' Mess  - spending time there and the toll the battle took on those involved. 

'It was sometimes very sad'

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Daily Life

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Daily Life

WAAFs performed a range of important roles at Duxford during the war – some like Sylvia worked in the Mess, while others played a key role in directing squadrons from the Operations Room.

But sometimes they had to deal with unexpected events on the ground too.

Len Shirling-Rooke, who was born in Duxford Village and served on the base during the war, remembers one occasion when a group of WAAFs got a surprise when they walked past a hanger during a health inspection.

'I don't know whether I'm allowed to say this...'

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Not kidding around

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Not kidding around

William de Goat became the mascot of 609 Squadron after being given to one of their pilots as a gift by a pub landlady– and when the squadron was deployed to Duxford, William went too.

Alec Atkinson, a pilot with the squadron, remembers that William rose through the ranks during the war – but occasionally caused a bit of mischief.  

'Rings painted on his horns to indicate his rank'

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Rumours and reality

Photographs

Rumours and reality

In April 1943, the United States 8th Air Force was handed control of the airfield. It became the headquarters of the 78th Fighter Group, who would play a crucial role in providing air cover for the fleet of ships and troops taking part in the D-Day operation  on June 6, 1944.

Pilot Hayden Richards recalls the rumours that circulated ahead of the operation – and how pilots realised that the “big mission” was going ahead.

'Tomorrow's gonna be the big day'

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Unexpected encounter

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Unexpected encounter

Duxford was officially handed back to the RAF in December 1945. The Second World War was over but the base continued to see service as the world entered a different kind of conflict - the Cold War.

As a pilot with 65 Squadron, Gerry Honey flew a Hawker Hunter jet aircraft, which is now on display at Duxford. One day, flying his aircraft back to base, he encountered something unexpected in the clouds.

'I didn't think my guns were loaded'

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Preserving the past

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Preserving the past

The last operational flight from RAF Duxford was in July 1961 but the site would find a new lease of life in the 1970s.

The IWM had been looking for a space to store and display some of its large exhibits and secured permission to do this at Duxford.  It is now the European centre of aviation history, where visitors can now see a range of aircraft and objects throughout the site.

Among the unique exhibits on display are the caravans from which Field Marshal Bernard ‘Monty’ Montgomery planned some of his most famous campaigns during the Second World War. He describes how they came to be at the museum and his hopes for how they might be used. 

'My three caravans came with me'

These clips and many more were originally featured as part of DX17, a sound installation at IWM Duxford during Summer 2017.

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