History is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren't there.
History Society field trip 2010 - RAF Duxford
All photographs by Ciara NiGhabhann.
The Society recently returned from a highly successful trip to Cambridge and the ‘Flying Legends’ Airshow at the Imperial war Museum Site at RAF Duxford, just north of London. A good time was had by all, and for the benefit of those who were unable to attend, and in the interests of reminiscing for those who were, the trip went like this;
We flew out of Galway Airport, which proved very convenient, and allowed us to depart on an early flight and return on a late one, (as we didn’t have the extra travel time to and from Dublin), making the maximum use of the time available. We arrived in Luton about nine o’clock in the morning, and despite the fact that certain members of the party briefly went AWOL, (they were later court-martialled and made scrub cooking pots!), our coach arrived to take us all to Cambridge, our base for the weekend.
I think it’s the case that none of the party had been to Cambridge before, and all were agreed that it is a wonderful town to visit. The centre is filled with beautiful historic buildings, and one can’t turn a corner without coming across a museum or art gallery. Particularly recommended are the Museum of Earth Sciences, which houses a number of Charles Darwin’s scientific instruments and journals, and the Museum of Natural History, which has an impressive display of fossils.
Day One was free, and many of the party took the opportunity to go on a walking tour of Cambridge. Cambridge itself is lovely and compact, very walkable, and the two largest Colleges; King’s College and Queens’ College, are impressive buildings indeed.
Amongst the sights on the tour was the room used by Isaac Newton when he was both a student and Fellow, outside of which is a tree grown from a cutting from the famous apple tree under which he sat when he hit upon his theory of gravity, and the Erasmus Tower; housing the living quarters used by Erasmus of Rotterdam when he was a lecturer at Cambridge. By the way, Erasmus in his journal described the girls of Cambridge as being of the ‘very kissable sort’, an opinion with which I heartily concur!
We met back up that evening for a meal and a few drinks, and to compare stories about the day. Some members had gotten to sit in on a rehearsal by the Queen’s College Choir, and another had gone to a Monteverdi opera. We repaired to the Anchor Bar for a meal and light refreshments, as the saying has it.
The Anchor was high on my to-do list, as it is a very special place for Pink Floyd fans. The tragic Syd Barrett used to play a residency there in his pre-Floyd days, and was a regular visitor in later years.
Day Two began with the trip to RAF Duxford. Duxford housed the southernmost-squadron of 12 Group during the Battle of Britain, was commanded for a time by the famous amputee-ace Douglas Bader, and housed the RAF’s first ever squadron of spitfires. It is now an IWM Museum, housing an extensive and impressive array of USAAF and RAF-related displays, as well as an equally impressive land-warfare collection. Each year it hosts the Flying Legends airshow, billed as the largest collection of flying warbirds in Europe, and perhaps the world.
The airshow itself didn’t start till the afternoon, so we spent the morning enjoying the static displays. The show boasted astaggering array of aircraft, including nearly a dozen spitfires, a Messerschmitt Bf109, Brewster Buffalo, Corsair, Hurricane, Jungmeister, Seafuries and many, many more. Walking along the flightline and seeing a row of spitfires arrayed in the glorious sunshine was a sight to send shivers down the spine. The many enthusiasts who had dressed in vintage gear added to the sense of occasion.
The base has four large hangers, each housing an extensive array of displays. The US hanger includes a B52 bomber, SR71 Spyplane and P51 Mustang. The British hanger boasts a Concorde jet, Lancaster bomber and Fairey Sworsdfish among its many exhibits.
Not to be outdone, the land Warfare Museum has an array of land-based displays, including a Chieftan Tank, WW2 Russian T34, German Panzer Mk. III and a Matilda in
desert colours. A quick lunch in the afternoon and we were ready for the airshow.
As always the show began with a formation of Spitfires. There can hardly be a more evocative, graceful and beautiful aircraft in existence
today, and the sight of half a dozen of them being put through their paces raised goose bumps. No picture can capture the atavistic thrill of hearing half a dozen Rolls Royce Merlin and Griffon engines thunder overhead, as the Spits swooped low over the spectators.
The other aircraft were put through their paces as their turn came. The throaty Corsair sounded like a freight train on acid, while the mighty Skyraiders, (the largest single engined plane ever built), shook fillings loose on low passes!
Later it was the turn of the B17 Flying Fortress, one of only two flying examples left. Seen in real life it is a surprisingly agile plane for its size.
Fans of US aircraft had much to engage them. The Corsair was followed byGrumman Bearcat, surely one of the ugliest planes ever built, but a real bruiser. In the hands of a skilful pilot, (and this one certainly was), it proved capable of an impressive display of aerobatics. But one of the highlights was surely the flight of no fewer than seven Mustangs. The high pitched whistle of the supercharger as the planes flew overhead was deafening.
But for me the absolute highlight was the flight of the Polikarpov I-16. This unimpressive looking plane occupies a unique place in warbird history, being as it is the first cantilever-wing monoplane fighter ever produced. Seeing it fly again, and hearing the metallic rattle of its huge radial engine, (which sounded like it was about to explode at any moment), one had a definite sense of seeing a piece of history fly past.
By six o’clock it was sadly all over. The coach collected us, and after a quick freshen-up we were off to the pub. This time it was the Eagle Bar, which in addition to being a very pleasant pub selling very pleasant beer, is famous as being the site chosen by Watson and Crick to announce their discovery of the structure of DNA, one of the most important scientific discoveries ever. The pair reasoned that this would be where most of their colleagues would be on the relevant afternoon, and so decided; where better to makeour announcement?
Sunday was another free day, and so once again we went off exploring Cambridge. Many took the opportunity to catch sights they had missed the day before, or follow up on recommendations made by other members of the group. Some brave souls even tried a bit of punting on the Cam, though none seemed in a rush to repeat the experience! All too soon however the trip was over, and it was off in the coach for Luton airport once again, for an uneventful flight home to Galway.
The consensus was that this had been a thoroughly successful and enjoyable trip, and it would be remiss of me to end without offering a big thanks to all those who participated and made it such an enjoyable weekend, but also to offer a special thank you to the man who organised the whole trip; Dick O’Hanlon. Dick was unfortunately forced to pull out of the trip itself, but his advance planning and organisation was such that the trip proceeded without a hitch despite this.
Thanks to everyone for a great weekend, and we’re already looking forward to next year’s trip!
Many more photos from the trip are availble in our photo gallery; click here to view the album.