Monday, 10 September 2012

Battle of Britain

It took us one hour and 40 minutes to get there: just two tube lines, a bus ride and 10 minutes walk under the unusual September sunshine. There, Hillingdon Station, Uxbridge. Where no man has gone before, West-wise, or at least not me. 

Again, an extremely quiet and residential area. In one of those London suburbs that don't look like London anymore and makes you think of big family cars and kids playing outside. Everything looked very California nicey-nicey neighbour. 

Until we saw a massive telecommunications antenna, like the one in Lost

And then a pretty scary anti-climb spiked fence.

That didn't look like a residential area anymore, but a military one. 

And indeed, we had arrive at the RAF Uxbridge base (where T. E. Lawrence a.k.a Lawrence of Arabia trained himself after joining the RAF)

Our exact destination: Battle of Britain Bunker: where fighter aircraft operations were controlled from during the War, but mostly during the Battle of Britain and on D-Day

Opened as a one-off as part of the Heritage Open Days. It is normally open to the public but requires booking in advance. 

This was actually the first time for them to open their doors freely in stead of by appointment.

Summer + open doors = queues.

So we waited for more than one hour to get it.

For those aviation fanatics, a Spitfire on display

Fortunately the staff outside and inside the bunker were exceptionally friendly, so they chat a bit with us while waiting. The ice cream van outside the place also helped a bit. 

Compared to Paddock in Wembley, this was totally civilised, probably because it has been well maintained and in use until 2010. No leakages, no cover shoes and emergency exits.

Completely restored and full of memorabilia

A couple of memorabilia rooms and an introductory video that we carefully skipped, we entered THE ROOM of the No. 11 Group's Squadrons.

The room in which the strategy took place. The map, the position of the aircraft formations and their status with numbered blocks.



Old school.

There was a sector clock but I forgot to take a picture of it. 

And my favourite part of the room: the aircraft status bard: for each squadron there was a column (common for all of them). From the telecoms pit, the status could be updated by lighting the activity with a colour coded light: Ordered to land, Landed and Refuelling...

Reminded me of a giant Mastermind

In spite of the utterly necessary ventilation in a bunker, I guess the presence of a very normal fan was compulsory for those crucial hours of strategy and decisions, with heavy atmospheres of stress and clouds of thick cigars.

The view from the telecoms pit. Down there, two ladies. One in charge of receiving the messages, and the other one updating those status messages onto the panels.

For acid splashes

Flush affected part liberally.

For eye injuries - continue flushing with plain water.

To ensure adequate supply and that the bottle is clean and free from dust: - INSPECT MONTHLY.

I found this right next to the telephone switches. The only source of acid in a room like that I would imagine that would come from batteries from certain devices. Otherwise, it got me a bit clueless.

I guess this is the equivalent of the eye-washer in a chemical lab. Or literally a base to neutralise the acid. 

I love old switches.

Colditz sign.

One of my favourite items for display:

RAF Aircrew Survival Kit (1939-1945)

Tin contains a rubber water bag, sugar tablets, matches, water purification sachet, chewing gum (???), thread, chocolate and two escape compasses.

And the first thing that came to my mind at that moment was Bear Grylls and how he wouldn't need any of that (although he was trained in the British Army and served in the UK Special Forces). 

Heliograph mirror (1939 - 1945).

Metal mirror used for navigation. 

I had no idea of what it was, so I googled it. Basically, it is a mirror to make signals for flying aircrafts and be rescued. Interesting. Also, to be used a simple mirror.  

First aid packet from the US Government. Interesting to see how Johnson & Johnson logo on the plan gauze bandage packaging hasn't chance at all since the War. 

And a Special Ration: Type B from the RAF. 

Tin of ampoules of morphine. They come handy sometimes.

Room 7c.

A A (Anti Aircraft) Liaison office.

I found a cool dog-head walking stick in a corner. Not sure what it was doing there...

VERY basic controls (don't have to be a genius).

Controls for Non Essential Circuits // Controls for Street Lightin

On // Off

Apparently manufactured by Ferguson Pailin, a mancunian Switchgear manufacturer.

And probably the most insignificant detail from the bunker, amongst all the memorabilia in display: a vent lever: I would take it for granted in previous occasions, but since my visit to Paddock, I learnt about the importance of the ventilation and the air ducts inside the bunker. 

This panel would lifted up or down, depending on the need to close or open the vent. By closing the vents, it would prevent dust from the exterior (in case of bombing nearby). Also, it would isolate the room in case of very confidential conversations, to avoid conducting the sound through them. The need to open them was also essential, especially to get rid of the thick smoke of all the cigars and cigarettes smoked in there.

I loved to find one. 

 Paratrooper's gear. Nice and thick sheep skin / aviator jacket and trousers. 

I don't really remember much about this suit. But found it funny, yet useful the central zipper. 

From above, big windows with viewings to the famous strategy map. And loads and loads of telephones. Different lines, different sources.

A red telephone always means bad news, doesn't it?

Just in case...

The offices can be seen above

A bit of entertainment for the gents...

A Gent's Air Raid Siren. Made in Britain; in fact, Leicester. Emitter of one of those sound I hope never listening to. 

German version from Berlin...

 Speakers for internal communication within the bunker


Gold Flake's Honey Dew tobacco from W.D. & H.O. Willis. Apparently, Indian Tobacco.

And a quite big room dedicated to the women on the Air Force... the WAAFs

Here some ladies hair grips and some stockings (1940s)

WRAF Knickers from the 60s... same amount of fabric in nowadays knickers huh?

The WAAFs invented the up-cycling. What to do with all those used parachutes form the War? Easy, let's make some nightdresses; because at the end of the day, it is silk, and silk is mega. Nice.

Keep mum. She's not so dumb!!
Careless talk costs lives.

Typical war British Propaganda. Essentially, don't take the 'dumb blond' for granted. Just don't talk secrets in front of her, she could pass sensitive information so the enemy. 

Totally different experience from Paddock. Not worse, not best. Paddock was more about being a VERY secret place, almost never used: decaying, derelict, damp and extremely exciting. Battle of Britain was more like a civilised museum, full of memorabilia for War enthusiasts. Nevertheless, very informative, and very interesting for those interested on what happened those days. And actually, the fact that it has been restored helps to imagine a day in those crucial days of the WW2. 

Definitely another (far away) gem in London. 

I am glad to keep being able to learn more about this city.

Because at the end of the day, it is all about the stories...

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