The Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre has been inviting people to visit and tell their stories of their connection with the RAF as part of this national event, run by the RAF Museum.
We were a little late with what became our ‘day’; the national event took place at the beginning of November over one weekend, clashing with our Open Day, but we weren’t deterred. Wiltshire has such a longstanding connection to the RAF, Salisbury Plain being the centre of pioneering aviation from its early beginnings; we felt we really wanted to take part. Luckily the RAF Museum at Hendon agreed, and our RAF Big Stories ‘Day’ took place on Saturday 30 November.
Joining us were two brilliant and specially recruited volunteers who quickly learnt how to use the RAF Museum’s oral history app to record 16 stories from 11 willing participants! The stories were varied and all interesting in their own way, some from the RAF staff themselves; others from living relatives. Those from RAF Lyneham included a navigator’s experience of the Berlin Airlift during 1948-9 when he got covered in coal dust from the goods being despatched, to the return of hostage Jackie Mann in 1993, and working in the maintenance crew during WWII and getting caught out in the blackout cycling from Chippenham to the airfield. Stories from overseas included intelligence training in India and the tortoise who became the mascot of the 20th Squadron in Singapore in 1964, who travelled on the plane with them and became a valued member of the team!
It was a real privilege to hear the stories and enjoy the company of our RAF Big Stories participants, and they told us they enjoyed having some interested people to hear them tell their tales. All the stories will be added to the RAF’s Stories website https://www.rafstories.org The app for recording a story is also available on the site for anyone to download and use. We hope to receive a copy of the recordings to store at the History Centre too, and some of the items the participants brought with them we were able to copy and will add to our collections.
The accompanying display of local studies books, photographs and prints plus archive material drew in over 20 people who enjoyed chatting to each other whilst enjoying looking at the items on show. These included plans of Wiltshire aerodromes, a Christmas menu card with signatures plus programme of entertainments dated 1943, letters regarding problems with mud on the roads and road closures during the building of airfields in WWII and ‘Sparks’ the newsletter of RAF Yatesbury. Books included the recent ‘RAF Wroughton and Wroughton at Work in Pictures’ by the Wroughton History Group and ‘46 Miles: a Journey of Repatriation and Humbling Respect’ about the RAF Lyneham repatriations through the town, alongside the classic text on Wiltshire airfields, Rod Priddle’s ‘Wings over Wiltshire’ to name just a few.
We also included one of our recent Creative Wiltshire lottery funded acquisitions, the limited-edition print ‘Cold War Warrior’ by David Bent. A Swindon based artist, David specialises in aviation art and has the enviable job of being the personal artist for the Red Arrows, joining them all over the world to record their story. He also designed the commemorative logo for the RAF’s 100 year celebration in 2018.
We always love any opportunity to show visitors the amazing breadth and variety of our collections here at the History Centre, which even amazes us at times! Please feel free to recommend us as a place to visit for people to learn more about the RAF in Wiltshire; we’d be happy to help them with their search.