As most of you guessed, we haven’t really become convinced of an ancient Egyptian connection to IWM Duxford. We took advantage of April Fools’ Day to highlight a little piece of IWM Duxford’s hidden history. There really is a scarab beetle etched into the ground in front of Hangar 2: Flying Aircraft, but it didn’t originate in Africa 2,000 years ago.
The hangar that used to stand here belonged to No. 64 Squadron, and their badge features a scarab beetle. This is because the squadron spent some time in Egypt in the 1930s. They were based here from 1951 to 1961, flying Gloster Meteors, then Javelins.
The beetle was placed here by squadron personnel to show just whose territory this was!
I included a few clues in the previous post – did you spot them? It’s not really ‘64’ feet from the scarab to the hangar entrance, and the reason I included the phrase ‘firm of purpose’ is because this is a translation of the squadron motto – “Tenax propositi”.
However, it is possible to argue that the scarab is here because of a meteor – a Gloster Meteor, to be precise…
This photograph of Duxford was taken from the east, near where the M11 motorway is now. It shows the airfield soon after it was built. Many of these buildings survive today.
Duxford was built to a standard layout. Buildings were planned within two main groups: the technical group, and the domestic group. At Duxford these sets of buildings were separated by the Royston to Newmarket road.
The domestic buildings were on the north side of the road. They provided accommodation for some 850 men and women. Buildings included a hostel for the airwomen of the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF), and messes and quarters for officers, sergeants and airmen. The photograph below shows a mix of the different sorts of personnel stationed here!
The technical group of buildings was on the south of the road. These structures housed all of the services needed to keep the station running, the repair shops, aircraft sheds (hangars) and training buildings. Below, you can Duxford band in 1918, posing in front of one of the hangar doors.
Several temporary hangars, made of wood and canvas, were also constructed in 1918. They were known as Bessonneau, or Type H hangars. They housed many of the aircraft based here.
Air shows have been happening at Duxford since the 1920s. This photo is of Empire Air Day, 1937. Thousands of people flocked to Duxford, just as they do for our air shows now.
On Empire Air Day visitors were taken on tours of the site. They were also treated to flying displays of the latest RAF aircraft. These included aerobatic training displays, an air fight and even a blind flying demonstration. In the photo you can see Avro Tutors parked on the flight walk, just as you see the aircraft lined up at an air show today. Also open for inspection by the public were the station sick quarters, workshops, canteen and games room, dining room and kitchen.
Today, the air shows still hold the same fascination and excitement for visitors, as they did for visitors over 80 years ago. The aircraft though, can be a little different! The development of faster and more advanced aircraft such as the Hurricane and Spitfire and then the later jet aircraft all feature in the shows now held at Duxford. I think visitors to the 1937 Empire Air Day would be astonished at the range, speed and capabilities of the aircraft on show today.
This photo is also great if you like “people watching”. Have a really close look at some on the individuals on the ground. What are they doing? What are they looking at? What things do you like to do and see when you go to an air show?
The north side of the site here at Duxford is where people lived, ate, slept and socialised. It is separated from the technical side by the A505.
Now most of the buildings are occupied by museum departments and other companies but the feel of the place is amazing!
Did you know there was a cinema there which is still kitted out with stage, screen and seats (although not the originals)? Like all RAF station cinemas, it is called the ‘Astra Cinema’. This is taken from the RAF motto “Per Ardua ad Astra” which can be translated in different ways, but in relation to the RAF is often reported as: “Through Struggles to the Stars”.
The building that housed the cinema was also used as a gymnasium and church. It was built in 1940 and extended in 1941. An annexe, to house the projection equipment for the cinema, was added in 1955. In more recent years, many staff remember it as being a rather grand location for meetings and presentations!
If you want to see this intriguing place for yourself then you can book on an ‘Unseen Duxford – North Side tour’. It is well worth a visit and the guides that conduct the visits have some great stories to tell!
If you use the block of toilets between 3: Air and Sea and 4: Battle of Britain, be aware that it started life with a very different purpose in mind! Research indicates that this building was where all the batteries used on the station were cared for, maintained and charged. Just thought you would like to know…
Sarah pointed out some time ago how often dogs appear in photographs of Duxford. Dogs and other animals were a key part of station life.
There are lots of accounts and photographs of pets and mascots at Duxford: the unnamed First World War donkey (below), the Station Commander’s horse, Flash the Alsatian (above), Rangy the Spaniel and No. 609 Squadron’s famous mascot “William de Goat” to name a few.