Nearly hidden away because of a housing estate built on the former airfield ay RAF Hawkinge is a jewel of aviation history known at the Kent Battle of Britain Museum.
Whilst now a very impressive museums, it had very humble origins. It was in 1969 when Mike Llewellyn, a ardent collector of Battle of Britain artefacts who was running out of space for his collection at home. He was given the opportunity to display the collection in a chicken shed, at Langley Court, Kent, which was run by former Battle of Britain pilot Brian Hitchins. The extra space resulted in rapid acquisition of more Battle of Britain artefacts and soon more space was required. The move came in 1972 when Lord Massereene of Chilham offered a hall at his Chilham Castle for the collection to be displayed. Here the embyro museum was manned by Mike, the museums Curator, and a team of volunteers. By the early 1980’s the collection had rapidly expanded to include artefacts from some 300 RAF and Luftwaffe aircraft which had been shot down during the course of the Battle of Britain as well as memorabilia, uniforms, photographs, documents and weapons. Soon the collection had now outgrown the space available to it at the Castle and a new location was sought to allow further expansion.
In 1980, new premises were acquired; a 3 acre site at the former WW2 RAF airfield at Hawkinge, where 313 (Czechoslovak) Sqn was deployed for a short time in 1944, and the collection was housed in original airfield buildings which bore visible signs of cannon shell holes from strafing Me109s – and still visible today!. The new Hawkinge site opened in 1982 and enabled more of the museums collection to be displayed with the inclusion of aircraft as well. Within the Museums grounds are now displayed three Hawker Hurricane’s which were former gate guard replicas.
In 1968 some scenes from the film ‘The Battle of Britain’ were filmed at the airfield, whilst many original Spitfires and Hurricanes where used for aerials filming, there were also replica’s used for ground scenes. The museum acquired some of these replica’s and two Hurricanes, two Spitfires, three Me109’s and scale models of HeIII’s can be seen on display in the museum.
Much of the former airfield is now redeveloped for residential housing and virtually surrounds the Museum. Despite this the Museum, now a registered charity, is a jewel of historical aviation information and is the most comprehensive collection of Battle of Britain artefacts to be displayed anywhere in the world.
In addition to the original RAF buildings on the site, an original Romney hut – now the Lord Dowding hangar – was acquired in 1986 and in 1993 generous donations enabled the modern Stuart-Buttle Memorial Hangar to be added. A Nissen hut, used on the original wartime airfield as the ‘B’ Flights pilots dispersal hut, was acquired and re-sited in the museums grounds holding a V1 rocket.
Currently the Museum holds aircraft, vehicles, weapons, flying equipment, prints, memorabilia and relics from over 700 crashed aircraft from the Battle of Britain, a battle in which 88 Czechoslovak pilots flew, nine of whom were to be killed. On display in the Armoury is the world’s largest collection of original Battle of Britain uniforms and flying equipment.
Even now, so many years after that iconic battle was fought, new items for display are regularly being donated to the Museum from relatives around the world, of pilots or aircrew who had flown in the Battle or new artefacts being discovered. In February 2015, was a Boulton-Paul Defiant which stands in-line with Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires, making it the only display of its kind worldwide. In August 2016 the Museum acquired its 14th Merlin engine for display, it had belonged to the Hurricane P2760, of 501 Sqn and had been shot down on 15 September 1940 whilst flown by P/O E. A. J. G van den Hove d’Ertsenrijck.
Each year the museum is attracting more visitors, many of whom are from around the world, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand as well as from the Czech and Slovak Republic’s elsewhere from Europe and even Germany. Many of the visitors have a family connection to a Battle of Britain pilot. The museum prides itself in that it strives to present a ‘balanced’ representation of the battle not restrict itself to just the Allied pilots. The artefacts from Luftwaffe and Italian aircraft and airmen that fought in that conflict are also displayed, the current mix of artefacts approximately 45% Allied and 55% Axis.
Some 2938 Allied pilots flew in the Battle of Britain, of whom 88 were Czechoslovak some of whom have articfacts in the Museum. Of particular interest for visitors from the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic is the display of some of the remains of Hurricane Mk I, V7437, in which Sgt Josef Koukal was badly burnt when he was shot down on 7 September 1940. His aircraft crashed on farmland at Capel Fleet, Harty Marshes on the Isle of Sheppey. Kent and was recovered, buried some 10 metres deep, in 1972. Later that year he came from Czechoslovakia to England to see the remains of his aircraft at the Museum. On his return to his homeland he was subjected to StB interrogation which precluded any return visits to the UK.
Other Czechoslovak artefacts include items from František Hradil’s Spitfire P7545, Josef František, a combat report from Bohumír Fürst, Raimund Půda also visited the Museum to see remains of his Hurricane V6619, František Mareš’s Spitfire, Václav Bergman’s Hurricane P3960, Josef Hubáček’s Hurricane R4087, as well as from Vilém Göth and Josef Jaške. Artefacts for Gordon Sinclair and John Boulton, who where British instructors to 310 Sqn at Duxford, are also displayed in the Museum.
Sadly Mike Llewellyn MBE passed away in October 2013 but his pioneering work continues with Dave Brocklehurst MBE taken on the mantel of the Museum’s Chairman and Curator. Both Mike and Dave being honoured with the MBE, nominated by various Battle of Britain pilots, in recognition for their work with the Museum.
The Museum has a shop and cafeteria on site. The shop, apart from being well-stocked also has numerous displays of photographs taken from when the Battle of Britain film was being made at Hawkinge airfield.
|Address:||Aerodrome Road, Hawkinge, Nr. Folkestone, Kent CT18 7AG.|
|GPS Location:||51°06’47.8″N 1°09’06.6″E|
|2017 Opening Times:||March, April, May & October: 10:00 to 16:00
June to September 10:00 to 17:00
Last entry time 1 hour before closing.
Please note that regretfully, on the grounds of both security and copyright, the Museum does not permit cameras, video recorders or any other types of recording equipment (including electronic notebooks and mobile telephones) in the Museum.
Due to security issues and a theft from the museum in 2002 no bags, except handbags, are allowed in the museum. Valuable items and cameras that may be at risk if stored in a motor vehicle can be deposited securely at the museum ticket office and collected upon your departure. Likewise motorcycle crash helmets, bags and clothing can also be securely deposited on arrival.
The assistance of David Brocklehurst MBE, Chairman of the Museum, with this article is very much appreciate.
Article last updated: 4 June 2017.