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66 Squadron
Sergeant F N Robertson in front of Spitfires of No. 66 Squadron on the snow-covered airfield during the harsh winter of 1939-1940. Image by permission of IWM.

Sergeant F N Robertson and Spitfires of No. 66 Squadron at Duxford in the harsh winter of 1939/1940.

As the festive season is upon us, we thought it would be a good time to look back at how Christmas was celebrated at Duxford during the Second World War.

On Christmas Day 1939, Duxford was part of the international radio link-up that preceded the king’s broadcast to Britain and the Empire. For security reasons the station was not named. ‘Squadron Leader George’ described the scene in the airmen’s mess, where ‘…the Commanding Officer himself is also lending a hand at carving the turkeys’. Then, the programme cut to a greeting from the air, as a pilot wished the listening world ‘a very merry Christmas to you all – and happy landings’ from his Spitfire. Only a select few knew that this segment had in fact been pre-recorded, as the weather on 25 December made flying impossible.

By Christmas Day 1940, in common with most of the RAF, the Duxford-based Squadrons had seen some intense fighting. Traditions were maintained, however. The station’s Operations Record Book (ORB) shows that ‘The sergeants were entertained in the Officers’ Mess at 1200 Noon after which the Officers and Sergeants visited the men’s mess and acted as waiters’ – a common RAF custom.

Little is written in the ORBs of Christmas 1941, but it was an extremely busy time for the station, with nine different flying units in residence. Christmas 1942, a time when Duxford was undergoing a change of role, similarly does not merit much attention in the station daily diary.

By December 1943, the United States Army Air Force had settled in, and on Christmas Eve a party was organised at the Guildhall in nearby Cambridge. The 78th Fighter Group’s ‘Thunderbolt’ dance band provided the music, and the whole celebration was broadcast on radio in the United States. On Christmas Day, the 78th hosted a party for local children, a tradition which they continued the following year, the group’s third festive season in succession spent overseas.

But the men of the 78th didn’t lose their Christmas spirit once the decorations came down. As the Duxford diary states, ‘Seven children who had lost one or both parents during the war were ‘adopted’ by Duxford units. The $400 for each child paid for school and two meals a day for four years’.

Merry Christmas from the Duxford team to everyone who follows the Historic Duxford blog!

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On 4 May 1939 the press were invited to Duxford to see the new Spitfire. It was the latest fighter aircraft to be introduced in the RAF and went on to become one of the most iconic aeroplanes of the Second World War.

Nos. 19 and 66 squadrons were present on the day, but the press were asked not to release these details by the Air Ministry for security reasons. Twelve Spitfires from 19 squadron performed an air drill and Squadron Leader Cozens gave an individual demonstration.

To really give the press an idea of the capabilities of the Spitfire in the air, journalists were taken up in five Blenheims to be the target in a mock attack! Flight magazine reported that the Spitfire was ‘truly a poem of speed and precision’.

On 4 May 2011, the scene in this photo was almost recreated. The press came and took photos of two Spitfires that had been brought out of the hangar to mark the occasion. School children and visitors were able to get up close to the aircraft and photograph them, just as the press had done 72 years before.

BBC Radio Cambridgeshire also covered this anniversary and interviewed our very own Carl Warner. Have a listen to the breakfast show for 5 May. The interview features after about 1 hour 23 minutes.

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