Trafalgar, Hastings, Uxbridge. New WW2 bunker museum shows why our town is up there in importance for Britain's military history

When you think about the locations at the heart of some of Britain's battles you might say Hastings or Trafalgar but not many would think to suggest Uxbridge.

However, those who have delved deep into the history of World War Two and the Battle of Britain would indeed place Uxbridge high on the list of importance.

To illustrate this point, all of the fighter operations during D-Day and the vast majority of operations in the Battle of Britain were controlled from here.

The story of exactly why and how Uxbridge played such an important role in the fate of our country is being told in greater detail than ever before at the new £6million exhibition at the Battle of Britain Bunker.

Funded by Hillingdon Council, the new display has just opened over the Easter weekend.

Hillingdon is Here was given a sneak preview of the centre in the lead up to the unveiling.

Outside, visitors are greeted on arrival by an enormous statue of Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Rodney Park, known as the Defender of London, for his key role during the Battle of Britain. This was originally on a plinth in Trafalgar Square but has been moved to Uxbridge on a permanent basis.

Among the most impressive sights inside is a spitfire and hurricane that have been meticulously recreated from scratch. The models hang proudly as the main centrepieces of the exhibit.

Battle of Brtiain bunker_2 (1).jpg

The new displays include original artefacts, wartime footage and oral histories. The visitor centre also has a full size replica of the original plotting table map as part of a 360 degree touch screen experience.

Hillingdon Council became custodians of the Battle of Britain Bunker in 2016, taking over responsibility from the Ministry of Defence. The council secured £1million in government funding to carry out essential repairs.

Daniel Stirland, senior curator at the bunker museum, told Hillingdon is Here: “The work that went on in the bunker in Uxbridge really did decide the outcome of the Battle of Britain and this was a key moment in World War Two. The course of the war could have been very different without the work done here.

“People in the past have said to me that in terms of the military history of our country that Uxbridge is just as important as Hastings and Trafalgar, they are not my words, but what other people have said, people with an interest in the subject.”

One of the surprising discoveries for many visitors comes in the early stages of the tour around the exhibit.

Did you know that Germain air raids began as far back as The First World War?

Photographs are displayed showing the devastating impact of a number of Zeppelin balloons that dropped their payload on British towns and cities.

Though we usually think of war time air raids as being new during World War Two, the exhibit reveals otherwise. It contains an illustrated timeline chronicling the development of the Dowding System - used to protect the UK from Nazi raids - all the way back to the First World War.

This provides a fascinating insight into how bombing technology - and the counter measures devised to combat them - developed from 1914 onwards.

Indeed, Mr Stirland said that many will be surprised that the Dowding System – named after Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, commander of RAF Fighter Command and key to the defence in the Battle of Britain – dates back to the First World War.

“Some people will certainly be surprised by this and the extent to which aerial bombing actually happened during the First World War

An air raid siren is among the interactive features on show, which can be activated through lifting a telephone handset, of the type that would have been in the original bunker.

As well as many interactive features, visitors will discover an array of amazing facts about the bunker, the air defence system, the war in general and the incredible people behind the whole operation.

Ickenham resident Lesley Nadal's father George Wright, who lived in Uxbridge for over 50 years, was among the RAF's many heroes in the war. Mrs Nadal visited the bunker and was hugely impressed with the work. Mr Wright did his initial training at Uxbridge at the beginning of the war.

She said: "My father would have been proud to see the job they have done with the exhibition. I think what they have done here is amazing, it's brilliant. The kids are going to really love all of the interactive gizmos that they have created. There's so much to see and learn about and I'll definitely be coming back with the grandchildren. The people behind this have done the RAF and everyone involved in the war effort proud, I don't think anyone will fail to be impressed by the work they have carried out."

She added: “It is so important that we don't forget a whole generation who lost their youth, if not their lives, in the war. We must not let the next generation grow up without realising the importance of the Battle of Britain.”

Helen Mills, a 93-year-old bunker veteran, attended the opening ceremony and said: "This is a tremendous exhibition and it brings it all back. The war was not going well at the time when I left school, so I joined up. I had the necessary qualities of being quick-witted and having good diction. We had to learn on the job. Heaven help you if you missed a plot when they came in thick and fast!"

Mr Stirland said Uxbridge had played an “extremely important” part in the war and that many had not learnt still of its significance because it had been top secret throughout that time.

He said: "The bunker played a crucial role in the air defence of the United Kingdom throughout the Second World War. It was so important both King George VI and Winston Churchill visited in 1940 during the Battle of Britain and were amazed by what they saw. Our new museum finally acknowledges the top secret work carried out at Uxbridge by the Royal Air Force."

The bunker exhibition is open now. For visiting information see: https://www.hillingdon.gov.uk/bunker

 

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