New Battle of Britain exhibit opens at IWM Duxford

Battle for the skies – Defiant Mk Is of No. 264 Squadron RAF based at Kirton-in-Lindsey, Lincolnshire, August 1940. Credit: B.J. Daventry, Royal Air Force official photographer

New exhibition at IWM Duxford tells the human story of the battle for Britain’s skies with personal tales and momentos from seven people who served at the pivotal fighter station.

Battle for the skies – Defiant Mk Is of No. 264 Squadron RAF based at Kirton-in-Lindsey, Lincolnshire, August 1940. Credit: B.J. Daventry, Royal Air Force official photographer
Battle for the skies – Defiant Mk Is of No. 264 Squadron RAF based at Kirton-in-Lindsey, Lincolnshire, August 1940. Credit: B.J. Daventry, Royal Air Force official photographer

A new exhibition documenting the lives of seven people who served in the RAF at Duxford during the Battle of Britain was opened yesterday.

People in the Battle of Britain marks the 75th anniversary at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, Cambridgeshire, which was a pivotal fighter station during the campaign.

The personal experiences and mementoes of David Whitley (Pilot Officer, 264 Squadron), Maria Blewitt (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force), Gordon Sinclair (310 Squadron), Guy Mayfield (Chaplain at RAF Duxford), James Coward (19 Squadron), ‘Woody’ Woodhall (RAF Duxford Station Commander) and Peter Howard-Williams (19 Squadron) form the basis of displays which bring home to human cost of the battle to save Britain from a ground invasion.

The very different stories of the men and woman featured reveal what it was like to work and serve at an RAF Fighter Station in the relentlessly demanding days of the Battle of Britain. The exhibition was officially opened yesterday by Chas and Liz Bazeley, cousins of Maria Blewitt, and Gordon Sinclair’s son, Alan, and features many objects that have not been previously seen by the public.

battle of Britain, IWM, Duxford
Chas and Liz Bazeley look at their cousin Maria Blewitt’s letter in the Duxford’s People in the Battle of Britain exhibition

Maria Blewitt was a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force at Duxford. Her letter home to her mother was written on 11 September 1940, the day the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave a speech stating:

 “…a heavy full-scale invasion of this Island is being prepared.. .it may be launched now… Therefore we must regard the next week or so as a very important period in our history.”

Maria’s letter shows how real and frightening was the threat of imminent invasion. In it, she says:

“I have just been listening to Winston. Brilliant, inspiring but just a tiddly bit frightening. He seems quite sure invasion will come within the next week or so. If not I shall be home for 48 hrs on 17…”

RAF Duxford was a critical station during the Battle of Britain: the first Spitfires flew from there; it was Douglas Bader’s base; and, home of the controversial ‘Big Wing’ flying tactic.

People in the Battle of Britain allows visitors to contemplate the lives of those who were instrumental in the air defence campaign that would turn the tide of the Second World War before they visit the Battle of Britain exhibition to view the aircraft which fought in the skies. Entry is included in general admission to IWM Duxford.

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