Chocks away - Bottisham Airfield Museum is ready to relaunch
Summoning up the spirit of the Second World War, Bottisham Airfield Museum is set to reopen after a major project to restore the original buildings to their 1940s glory.
The museum was opened in 2009 to commemorate the wartime role of the airfield and it is the only UK museum dedicated to the Royal Air Force, United States 8th Army Air Force and Belgian Air Force.
Jason Webb has been involved since 2001 when he created a website about the airfield. The museum was founded eight years later when an opportunity arose to use one of the original buildings that were home to the air crews. A move towards greater permanency followed in 2014 with the purchase of the site, and thousands of hours of volunteer time and expertise have created a bigger, better museum.
Jason says: “We built a Nissen hut in 2016 and decided to refurbish the buildings - they had asbestos roofs and cracks in the walls so we needed to make them usable for the public. David Rayner has been the premier funder - without his help this wouldn’t have happened.”
Mr Rayner, whose family own Scotsdales garden centres, says: "We have some wonderful volunteers - some of them are over 70. I'm over 90 and I'm old enough to be their father...
"The plan is to show what it was like when it was an operational aerodrome. When I was about 14, I used to go there and they'd let us go on the aeroplanes. Then they decided children shouldn't be on an airfield, which you can understand.
"Twenty-one aircraft would take off in a squadron - sometimes they would all come back. Sometimes there would be 18 or 19 and the others would be gone."
Originally opened in 1940 as a satellite of RAF Waterbeach, Bottisham was built as a grass airfield and was initially used by the Cambridge-based Tiger Moths of No 22 Elementary Flying Training School as a relief landing ground.
“In 1940 the Tiger Moths from Marshalls were moved here,” says Jason. “The RAF were here until 1943 formulating the tactics that were used on D-Day for the invasion of Normandy. The Americans came here and they had an important role in protecting the D-Day landings. And in late 1944 and 1945, Belgian pilots were trained here.”
The airfield closed in May 1946 and the museum aims to collect, restore, conserve and display items relevant to its history, including material relating to the Home Front.
“It is a very interesting section of local history but a lot of people could drive by and not realise the significance of the airfield,” says Jason. “A lot of schoolchildren study World War Two in their curriculum but won’t know about the history on their doorstep.”
He says the museum has already been in talks with schools and it also aims to widen its appeal by holding regular community events.
Volunteer Richard Nimmo’s favourite part of the museum is a mural from the village that he helped to preserve in the 1980s - it spent some time in Norfolk before the museum was established and it is now back home in Bottisham.
“We call it the flying tractor,” he says, adding that it was based on an advert for spark plugs. “It’s a cartoon of a tractor with wings, a hillbilly-type guy and a baby turning the propeller. A lot of people are in awe when they see it. I’m really glad it made it home.”
The museum is expected to open on Wednesdays and Sundays from early September. More details will be available at bottishamairfieldmuseum.org.uk and on the museum’s Facebook page.
“It has been a long journey and we finally have a permanent home,” concludes Jason.