Duxford’s People in the Battle of Britain at IWM Duxford

A new exhibition telling stories of the people who served

Opens to the public on Friday 21 August

Marking the 75th Anniversary, Duxford’s People in the Battle of Britain is a new exhibition which presents the personal experiences and mementoes of seven people who served at RAF Duxford, a pivotal fighter station during the Battle of Britain.

The people represented in the exhibition are 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).*

The exhibition was officially opened today by Chas and Liz Bazeley, cousins of Maria Blewitt and Gordon Sinclair’s son, Alan.

Maria Blewitt was a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force at Duxford. Her letter home to her mother, which features in the exhibition, was written by Maria on 11 September 1940, the day that 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 17th…”

Gordon Sinclair joined 19 Squadron at RAF Duxford on 27 November 1937. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 25 June 1940 and in late June became ‘A’ Flight Commander of 310 (Czech) Squadron, which became operational on 17 August. Gordon Sinclair was awarded the Czech Military Cross on 24 December 1940.

The exhibition also contains transcriptions from the diary of Guy Mayfield, Duxford’s Chaplain during the Battle of Britain. It was to him that pilots would turn when they were feeling the immense pressures of the battle. One diary entry reads:

“19 Squadron were night flying after dinner… [Pilot Officer Horace Trenchard] crashed while we were there…he had crashed at Whittlesford…he was killed at once. Peter appeared with a beer and questions following on Trenchard’s death. It was a relief to be able to talk realistically to him, not about Trenchard, but about the things which we keep concealed for the most part beneath the surface. What happens when you die? Is it wrong to be frightened of dying? How should you live if you are twenty and will be dead by the end of the summer?”

James Coward’s Pilot’s Flying Log Book, in which he recorded every flight he made with beautiful drawings, also features in the exhibition, turned to the page upon which he has drawn an illustration of the flight on which he was shot down and wounded.

Many of these objects on display in the exhibition have not been previously seen by the public.

Alan Sinclair said: “It is wonderful that these personal items are on display. It seems slightly ironic that the last time I saw it [Gordon Sinclair’s flying suit] he was sitting on a lawnmower wearing it.”

Chas Bazeley said: “It is wonderful to see what Maria was involved in during the war and it’s wonderful to know that she has been chosen as the only woman amongst all those handsome chaps. She would be delighted.”

RAF Duxford was pivotal in the Battle of Britain. The first Spitfires flew from Duxford. Douglas Bader was based at RAF Duxford and it was the home of the controversial ‘Big Wing’ flying tactic. It is through the very different personal stories of the men and woman featured in the new Duxford’s People in the Battle of Britain exhibition that we discover what it was like to work and serve at an RAF Fighter Station in the relentlessly demanding days of the Battle of Britain.

Duxford’s People in the Battle of Britain is a contemplative exhibition in which visitors can learn about people who were instrumental at RAF Duxford, before they visit the Battle of Britain Exhibition to view the aircraft that fought the battle from the skies.

Entry is included in general admission to IWM Duxford.


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