From what I can remember, I must have been in my early teens when I last visited Duxford with my grandparents.

My grandfather is an ex.RAF bomber pilot, who flew Lancasters in WW2 and was awarded a DFC for his efforts returning home from bombing Peenemunde. In my teens, I enjoyed Duxford, but more in the sense that it was as good a way as any to pass a day, rather than somewhere I’d especially wanted to visit.

Returning 25 or so years later, I found it far more compelling. In the meantime, it has developed from an old WW2 airfield with some interesting artefacts into a vast, fascinating and highly polished museum – yet still retaining many of its old WW2 features.

Visiting with a couple of mates, we literally just took a tour round the site, visiting each of the main hangars, photographing loads of planes, tanks, helicopters and missiles. We barely stopped to take in much detail, but still took around 5 hours to see everything.

The new Airspace display is particularly impressive.

As was the American Air Museum.

Then again, I loved the collection of tanks and other vehicles in the Land Warfare Hall.

Come to think of it, I loved every single bit of it! After we finished our tour, I could quite happily have spent the remaining 3 hours until the museum closed taking in a lot more detail, but my legs simply couldn’t cope, so I had to leave it for another day.

The real high point for me though was the Lancaster. OK, so she’s not airworthy, but standing over the top of the cockpit looking down on her sheer mass, I was frankly staggered that they ever managed to fly. Even more staggering was that my grandfather managed to pull near aerobatics in one whilst evading German fighters.

When I last visited with him, I guess I never really took in how amazingly lucky I was to be visiting with a real life ex.pilot – never mind one who, had he not made it home, would never have introduced my parents to one another. Revisiting without him, adulthood has taught me the respect and admiration I now realise he deserves for such an amazing feat and makes me thankful to his old Lancaster (sadly scrapped after notching up 100+ missions) without which I wouldn’t be here now.

I now think I might have to join the Friends of Duxford, which gives you the right to free entry, so that I can visit again during the winter months when I’ve got less desire to go out exploring in the cold.

In an ideal world, I’d love to become a volunteer there but, having given it some serious thought, it’s clear that I simply don’t have the free time or energy for the job.

I would however urge anyone who hasn’t paid a visit to do so. It’s not cheap, but worth every penny and I was quite impressed to see that they let children under 15 in for free – which is a great way to help ensure as many of the younger generation as possible get to see and realise what our country went through in the far from distant past.

Wandering around the place, I looked at a few of the older visitors and wondered how many of them had experienced the war years – then had the sudden realisation that, whilst the war is still a living memory, it’s one that’s held by a rapidly diminishing minority.

One of my strongest memories from my youth is of a teacher at middle school explaining how her parents had a book entitled “Lest we forget”, detailing what went on within the camps in Europe during the war years. Sadly, I doubt children today get such a compelling explanation of what the war really meant. Hats off to Duxford for helping to ensure that at least some of them come to understand – and for reminding older people like me just how precious some of our own family memories are.

More pictures….

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