A Gem of a Museum in the Heart of an Aviation Mecca

I recently updated the original Trail on this site after visiting the Thorpe Camp Museum. A really pleasant little museum, it provides a wealth of information for very little cost. Its history and that of the area, is incredible.

Thorpe camp museum sits on the original  communal site 1 on the former RAF Woodhall Spa and was acquired in 1988 by a group of volunteers (The Thorpe Camp Preservation Group) who have utilised the original buildings and pathways that would have been used by RAF personnel during their stay at Woodhall Spa. Entrance is a nominal fee and worth every penny.

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Original buildings of No. 1 communal site are now a museum.

A number of original huts and buildings display a range of letters, photos, memorabilia and other artefacts that take you through aspects of life both at Woodhall Spa and Lincolnshire life during the Second World War. Specific displays tell you about each of the four squadrons based here (97, 617, 619 (Dambusters) and 627) , the crew members, aircraft and personal stories. A memorial stands at the centre of the site reflecting their dedication.

Extensive work has been done to research the famous dams raid of 617 Squadron, how the bouncing bomb was developed, how it worked and what the aftermath of the operation was.

A small shop provides food and drink, and is a welcome break after a long journey.

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An Allan Williams Turret on the site.

A civilian section shows life ‘at home’. Weddings of the Second World War were scant affairs due to lack of money and rationing, but brides made the most of what they had; examples of these are nicely displayed. The home guard, ARPs, and domestic life are all represented in this atmospheric museum.

Many young men were sent from within the borders of Lincolnshire on major operations such as ‘Market Garden’, these too are represented through displays of uniforms, photos, letters and official documents.

Further buildings, also originals, house well stocked displays of the V1 and V2 development. The terror weapons used by Hitler to break the morale of the British people. Over 3000 of these V2s were used against targets in the UK predominately London and the South East. Models, photographs and documents again show the extent of this development.

Something I had never come across before was the idea of using arrester gear on heavy bombers where runways may have been shorter than ideal. The principle, based upon that used by the navy on their aircraft carriers, was to place one or more steel cables across the runway for a landing bomber to ‘catch’ as it landed. A small number of airfields in the UK has these, Woodhall Spa being one of them, and an original winch has been removed from the airfield and carefully refurbished. This now has pride of place in the museum. It is believed a further example remains on the airfield alongside the remains of the runway. A rather ingenious but ineffective idea, it was not widely used due to mis-landings and the increased weight that the arrested gear added to an already heavy aircraft.

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An Arrester Gear Hub that was used on RAF Woodhall.

Thorpe Camp provides a chance to see inside a Lancaster cockpit. A replica, painstakingly built includes all the detail of an original Lancaster bomber. Other parts, including turrets, dials and engines can also be found in this dedicated exhibition room.

Staff at Woodhall Spa are carrying out renovation projects and have their own workshop to do this. The process can be viewed and makes for an added interest to the visit.

As an aviation enthusiast the trip is topped off with another feature in the form of a BAC Lightning F1A (XM192) in 111 Squadron markings standing proud beside another cold war relic the Bristol Bloodhound missile.

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BAC Lightning of 111 Squadron RAF.

Using a range of original documents, photographs, letters and memorabilia, Thorpe Camp at Woodhall Spa is a delight to wander and a real insight not only into the life of this Second World War airfield but life during those hard times in general.

Thorpe Camp is part of Trail 1, and is located near to RAF Coningsby. It has its own dedicated webpage where you can find further information and details.

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