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Spring 2013

Despite huge investment in publicity by bodies promoting tourism, forecasts of an increased flow of visitors to the Eastern Counties on the back of the Diamond Jubilee and London Games did not materialise - at least, not in the Waveney Valley. These celebrations and spectacles, plus some prolonged poor weather, also interrupted the usual domestic holiday traffic and, for the first time, we experienced a drop in our customary circa 40,000 visitors during 2012.  Consequently, we also suffered a reduction in income which we could ill-afford since we do not charge admission.  We enter this our 40th year, however, with an optimistic view and feel confident that the norm will return as our events calendar starts to fill up.

During the year, donated artefacts continued to arrive at a fast pace - usually anything from an aero engine to a uniform button - and we were very grateful to receive the generous gift of a Boeing Stearman PT-27 Kaydet from Paul Bennett and Bob Sage of Black Barn Aviation at Tibenham - the well-known restorers of the type.  The totally dismantled aircraft is based around the fuselage of RAF/RCAF  FJ801 (later USAAF 42-15662) and it is gradually taking shape in our Restoration Area.  Trips to Tibenham usually produce time-expired components we can use when found to be missing, but some small items will be made by members.   The damaged wings have been repaired and are now stored for fabric at some future point; they came from two other aircraft that have been restored at Tibenham in past years.  When completed and space allows, the aircraft will be a static exhibit; the engine is a non-runner.  Our rare WWII Civil Air Patrol veteran of Base 17 at Riverhead, Long Island - the oldest Fairchild F.24 C8F - also came as a donation from Tibenham some years ago.

The Trustees of the Imperial War Museum were also generous in gifting the replica Colditz Glider (BGA4757) that had been on loan to us for a number of years, a dismantled Austin Champ (85BE29), and a 1942 Morris Mk1 Light Reconnaissance Car (No.982/4751176). This will be repainted as an RAF Regiment airfield defence vehicle. We have a photograph of such a vehicle on Bungay/Flixton airfield when the 446 BG USAAF was resident but we haven’t pinned down the background history to this as yet. The interior equipment will eventually be sourced and armament added.  Whilst we have a BREN light machine gun for the turret, the Boys Anti-Tank Rifle is now rare so one is being replicated.  Apparently, this vehicle was brought back to the UK from Portugal and may have served with the Portuguese Army; certainly some interior modifications indicate different weapons were fitted at some stage  The Champ needs a lot of work before full assembly but is progressing well and will likely end up painted with airborne markings.  We also purchased the MiG-15bis (Czech S-103) that had been on loan to us from the IWM.  We do not often accept items on loan but were pleased to collect a 1,000kg Hermann bomb from storage in Norfolk - it had been dropped on Great Yarmouth during WWII and failed to explode.

Wing Commander Ken Wallis, our President since 1976, will celebrate his 97th birthday in April.  Ken continues to attend functions and entertain occasional visitor groups to his hangar collection at Reymerston Hall but the two “Little Nellie” autogyros from the James Bond film “You Only Live Twice” are elsewhere.  G-ARZB - the one he flew in the film - is on loan to the National Motorcar Museum at Beaulieu for its James Bond Exhibition, whereas the identical studio example (actually G-AVDH) in which Sean Connery sat (to be stirred but not shaken by a large fan to emulate being airborne) is displayed at Flixton, alongside his replica of the family Wallbro Monoplane of 1910.  Ken’s formidable collection of World Records and other honours continue, with the Award of Honour from the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators last October, and another is due from the Royal Aero Club in April.

Owning an 8-acre rural site produces all sorts of pressures and requirements, especially trying to keep appearances high in poor weather but our members did an excellent job in all conditions.  Our raised boardwalk to the river Waveney - The Adair Walk - is always a popular diversion but has to be managed to help support the diverse flora and fauna which live in this area of a Willow plantation.  The avenue of memorial trees planted by relatives of past visitors and members along the Walk adds to the attraction.

Interest in our exhibits and displays produces a regular flow of enquiries and research requests from far and wide.  We do our very best to help and answer all manner of questions that often go beyond the collection itself.  Our web pages on subjects such as Joe Kennedy, Operation Anvil and RAF Decoy Crews receive a good deal of interest.  The art of deception continues to this day in armed conflicts around the world, and new ways of deceiving the eyes of the enemy are still sought.  I have to wonder if future developments might include the projection of holographic images or similar, rather than the need to construct replicas or employ other trickery; perhaps the means already exist beyond episodes of Star Trek!  The growing deployment of unmanned “vehicles” of various types and sizes certainly produce impressive results without endangering the lives of the operators.

Whilst adult visitors are very likely to find something of interest in our very broad collection of aircraft and smaller artefacts, children can easily get bored and distracted.  We don’t have a large budget for educational or fun items but do allocate resources to creating hands-on equipment for them to sit in and use their imagination, attempt to solve problems, or show their pilot skills.  Admittedly, if it can be pulled, twisted or bent then it needs to be very robust as a 5-year old seems more able to cause terminal damage than an adult!  “Flights” in the Link Trainers are very popular when a member is on hand to operate them, and floor-based units fitted with flightsim programs provide static alternatives for those with dickey tummies. 

We have also constructed a similar unit for the convenience of wheelchair users.  Smaller items demonstrate such things as the principles of flight and a steady hand to land a helicopter, whilst a Sycamore cockpit can also offer a start-up sequence with turning rotors.  Outdoors, members have now built a small ASR launch to set alongside a similar scale wooden aircraft to sit and play in.    

Much effort has gone into digitising several banks of photographs and presenting them on screens with a “rolling archive” for visitors to watch.  We have achieved this inexpensively so far in respect of the 446 BG and 56 FG, RAF Coltishall, and Ipswich Airport where our 1937 Boulton & Paul Hangar came from in 2000.  We are now looking at doing the same with our Boulton & Paul Norwich archive, other local WWI aircraft manufacturers and Pulham airships. This would create some much needed space for display cases to house some new WWI artefacts, and an exhibition recording the Berlin Airlift.  The 65th anniversary of this event will be celebrated in August at Flixton in conjunction with the British Berlin Airlift Association and the London-based company Legasee, which has been undertaking research with veterans so that a sound archive can be created.  Donated artefacts will be incorporated in a permanent display at Flixton.

Since the 1940s, the buildings of the Ditchingham Maltings on the edge of Bungay have contained a small relic of WWII not known about by many people.  Our Curator (Huby Fairhead), however, has maintained a watchful eye on things over the years, especially when developers showed fresh interest in the site.  Occupation in WWII, from July 1944 to January 1945 as Station Q-104, was by the 2212th Quartermaster Truck Co. Aviation of the 1578th QM Battalion Mobile Aviation with Medical, Combat Support Wing.  Personnel amused themselves by etching their personal details into brickwork of an exterior wall.  Thanks to the generous cooperation of the developer (P J Livesey), the bricks were carefully removed and are now mounted in a display on view in our 446 BG collection building, and contact is in hand with families of some of those named.  A BBC television documentary was filmed at Flixton and featured in the “Inside Out” regional programme during early March.

In the 446 BG building, several large cabinets have also been made by members.  Objects were cleaned and fresh captions created for display, along with some interesting additions from storage.  All of this has greatly improved the visitor’s experience, and follows similar lengthy activities in the buildings housing our Royal Observer Corps and RAF Bomber Command collections.  Our RAF Air-Sea Rescue collection also received some new large-scale high-speed launch models.  All areas feature in our range of school visit programmes.

I mentioned earlier that we are now into our 40th year, and some of our members were there on day one.  The early 1970s were very much a different kettle of fish to now and so much less dominated by Health & Safety and other “restrictions”.  Services were cheaper or willingly provided for free, aircraft could be purchased for a few hundred pounds, and delivery was often provided by the military as an “exercise”.   Our Valetta was delivered from Norwich by a RAF Chinook helicopter - I hate to think the cost these days even if it could be arranged, which I doubt.  The RAF Museum was just opening and Duxford emerging I recall, so preserving the nation’s aviation heritage was mostly in the hands of small groups of enthusiasts up and down the country, having to dig deep into their own pockets to fund the purchase, transportation and restoration of aircraft.  Sometimes such groups are criticised because their facilities were/are limited but it must never be forgotten that without their hard work and personal sacrifices we would have lost many examples of aircraft types, and some very rare ones.  This story is similar to that of steam enthusiasts who managed to save many unique locomotives from Woodham’s scrapyard in Barry after the Beeching axe fell in the 1960s; officialdom failed to care about preserving sufficient examples of our rail transport history and, again, it was down to private individuals to do the job without much help.

The lack of sufficient covered display facilities affects virtually all aviation museums, although much has been done to improve the situation in recent years through grants.  Unlike many museums, aviation and others, our members bit the bullet back in the 1980s and purchased our 8-acre site so we have greater security and freedom than most.  The picturesque Waveney Valley is not a perfect location in some ways for our home, but we have expanded considerably - especially during the last 20 years - and there is still some room for new buildings.  With a river behind us, a wood on one side, and a designated flood plain on another, however, we are restricted and will reach capacity at some point.  Ironically, the need to provide car-parking space for visitors prevents greater use of the remaining open land for more display buildings.

What of Flixton itself?  Our site is within this small village and parish, once famous as the family home of the Tasburghs, followed by the Adairs in 1753.  Sadly, their Flixton Hall no longer exists but some of the mid-18th Century weapons from its impressive armoury reside in Williamsburg, Virginia, having been sold by General Sir Allan Adair Bt in the early 1950s when disposing of the Hall and contents.  Although a long-existing church is mentioned in the Domesday survey of 1086, little of the original remains as St Mary’s Church was largely reconstructed in the 1800s but is worthy of a visit.  Gravestones commence from 1266 and several members of both families are buried there. Close-by, archaeological excavations at Flixton Park Quarry have been going on for several years and recently a new publication on an early Anglo-Saxon settlement and burial finds - possibly from the time of the Lords known as the Wuffins in the 6th Century - was announced and published by Suffolk County Council.                                 

The popular Buck Inn adjacent to our site was once owned by Alan Breeze the well-known singer with the Billy Cotton Band and visitors of a certain age often express fond memories of the radio broadcasts.  Bungay, 2 miles to the East, is a thriving and historic market town.

To the West we have the Bressingham Steam collection near Diss, and the East Anglian Transport Museum in the opposite direction towards the coast so the area is a mecca for transport buffs.  It abounds with all manner of other attractions and leads directly to the inland waterways of the Broads.  Sadly, little is left of the old airfield, all of which is now privately-owned land but we maintain a memorial there to 446 BG personnel.

I close on a sad note.  Our established Archivist Paddy Potter died peacefully on the 18th March having suffered a heart attack two weeks earlier.  We also lost Dr Ray Seel a helper in the Archive a few weeks back.  For a volunteer organisation, the loss of friends and the skills of enthusiastic colleagues are always hard to accept.

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