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News Archive for March, 2008

A Great Escape

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

Over the Easter period, the Museum was very pleased to find a RAF veteran with a very interesting past pay a visit. Warrant Officer Ralph Targett served as an Observer with No.221 Squadron in the Mediterranean, and in mid-1942 during a detachment to Malta came under the command of the legendary RAF reconnaissance pilot Adrian Warburton. Having survived being shot down once, it was in September 1942 that Ralph and the crew of his Wellington aircraft were shot down over the sea off Sicily and luckily were picked up albeit as prisoners of the Italians.


Imprisoned in Camp PG59 at Servigliano to the south of Ancona for about a year, it was after Italy surrendered in September 1943, that Ralph took his opportunity to escape. As one of the many Allied Prisoners of War who managed to flee from captivity, Ralph headed into the mountains to join up with Italian partisans that were resisting the occupying German troops. Some months later during 1944, Ralph managed to reach the advancing Allied forces and was subsequently returned home.


As is a Museum tradition, Ralph was kindly asked to sign the ‘Bomber Boys’ propeller blade, which he obligingly did. There is also a propeller blade in the Museum for ‘Fighter Boys’ to sign.


Great Escaper


For anyone intending to visit the Museum and you have a relative who was a wartime RAF ‘flyer’, then do bring them along if at all possible to see the Museum and to sign the propeller blades.

Open For Winter!

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

On Easter Sunday 23rd March 2008, the Shoreham Aircraft Museum opened its doors to herald the start of the 20th anniversary celebrations since it was founded. ‘Typical’ British weather tried to upset things with a last hurrah from the winter season with icy cold temperatures and a good dusting of snow. Fears that the weather would cause visitor numbers to be low proved unfounded, as happily very many Museum ‘Friends’ and members of the public both young and old turned out to visit Shoreham to keep the Museum and Tearoom busy on Easter Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday.


Museum visitors


Despite the freezing conditions, the usual warm atmosphere of the Museum kept spirits high, and comments from visitors ranged from:-


The exhibits look great and are very informative.”


I will definitely re-visit when the weather is warmer, and will bring friends too.”


The steaming hot mug of tea and the jam-filled scone were delightful and welcome.”


Thank you for the plastic bags to put over my muddy wellies!”


It’s fingers crossed for a pleasantly warm and sunny year ahead – on Sunday’s at least!


Spring snow

In Remembrance of Frank Nutkins

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

A sad loss on the eve of the Museum’s 20th anniversary

Frank Nutkins, 1924-2007

As the Museum gears up to celebrate its 20th anniversary, one co-founder will be sadly missing.
Born in 1924, the young Frank Walter Nutkins grew up in the family home at Plumstead in Southeast London where he cultivated a talent for drawing, and in 1940 with the Battle of Britain raging in the skies above his home he would often watch the dogfights from a vantage point up on Shooter’s Hill. When he wasn’t spectating, he would depict the fierce air battles on paper and despite the excitement generated by the sound of roaring engines, the rattle of machine gun fire, the thump of cannon and the boom of the anti-aircraft guns, Frank was witness to the sharp reality of that summer when he saw aircraft fall from the sky.
With the coming of age, duty called and Frank joined the RAF as a Wireless Operator/Air-gunner and he carried out some of his training in the Middle East, where the gunnery practice didn’t always meet with favour from the local natives who became very adept at running from what can be best described as wayward shots!
Frontline operational service came when Frank was posted to ‘2nd TAF’ or the Second Tactical Air Force operating in the skies across Western Europe. Serving as a crewmember in North American Mitchell twin-engine bombers with No.180 Squadron, he served through 1945 to the end of the war attaining the rank of Warrant Officer.

Warrant Officer Frank Nutkins

Post-war, Frank carved for himself a career in the print industry and settled into family life. A combined interest with his son Geoff in aviation art and archaeology, especially from the Battle of Britain period, eventually led to the present day Shoreham Aircraft Museum. For many visitors to the Museum, it was the sight of being greeted by Frank that will remain an abiding memory, and sadly there isn’t the room to recount the many happy times and huge laughs surrounding Frank
Thus it was a terribly sad day in December 2007 when after a short illness, Frank passed away in hospital. The Museum and all its members lost a dear friend. His funeral and thanksgiving service took place at the RAF Chapel at Biggin Hill on Friday 28th December where Frank received a fitting RAF send off in an Ensign draped coffin upon which was placed a commemorative RAF sword. With an Air Training Corps Guard of Honour, a final tribute in the shape of a Supermarine Spitfire from Duxford flown by Air Marshal Cliff Spink performed a series of low fly-bys over the Chapel to dip a wing in salute to one of its own.

A Mystery Stick-top

Friday, March 14th, 2008

Biggin Hill yields a remarkable find – but from which Me109 did it come from?


This might sound like the stuff dreams are made of for collectors of Battle of Britain relics, but about 30 years ago a young 8 year old girl and resident of Biggin Hill was out playing with friends in woods near the former RAF aerodrome. The youngsters had a metal detector with them and after finding the usual bottle tops and other metal scraps, they suddenly had a high pitched note wail from their detector.
Digging into the loose soil, the young girl soon hit upon something unlike anything she had seen before. She gleefully headed back home to show off her find, but never really discovered what it was she had found except that it was probably from an old aircraft. The strange find ended up being boxed and largely forgotten in the loft of the family home.
During a visit to the Museum in 2007 this same young girl now a little more grown up, recognised something in a display very similar to what she had unearthed all those years ago. Told that it was the broken off stick-top from a control column, Museum staff were delighted recently to kindly receive the stick-top found at Biggin Hill 30 years ago for display in the Museum. But that is only the start to the story.
The stick-top was readily identified to be from a Messerschmitt Me109E. It hadn’t been sawn off from the control column, but had ‘snapped’ off with some force as a result of a devastating crash. In consideration of where the stick-top was unearthed, and as far as is known, there were four Me109’s that crashed in the vicinity of RAF Biggin Hill during the period of the Battle of Britain, and in date order these were:-

30th August 1940:- Two Me109’s from II Gruppe, Jagdgeschwader 54 flown by Leutnant R. Ziegler and Oberleutnant H. Rath collided over Biggin Hill. Ziegler baled out and his aircraft crashed at Oxted, and Rath also baled out as his aircraft broke up, which then came down in the area to the south-west of the aerodrome. [The Wealden Aviation Archaeological Group excavated an aircraft in 1976 that was possibly Rath’s Me109.]

9th September 1940
:- Feldwebel Martin Honisch of 1 Staffel, Jagdgeschwader 53 was shot down and baled out. His aircraft crashed at Cherry Tree Farm [near the Old Jail Inn] to the south-east of the airfield. [Some relics from this Me109 were donated by an RAF Fitter serving at Biggin Hill in 1940 to the Kent Battle of Britain Museum at Hawkinge.]

15th September 1940:- Oberleutnant Julius Haase, the Staffelkapitän of 3 Staffel, Jagdgeschwader 53 was shot down and baled out, but his parachute failed him. His aircraft came down in Mollards Wood to the south of the runway. [Recovery of this Me109 took place in 1969, and the DB601 engine and other relics were recovered and are believed to be ‘stored’ at Halstead.]

2nd October 1940:- Oberleutnant Siegfried Stronk of 8 Staffel, Jagdgeschwader 53 was killed when he crashed after combat into a house on Sutherland Avenue in Biggin Hill to the south of the aerodrome. [A wing radiator from this Me109 is at the Hawkinge Museum.]

Investigation and continued research is on-going to try and confirm from which Me109 crash the stick-top came from.

If you have any Battle of Britain related items you would be willing to loan or donate for display to the Museum, then please do get in touch. Kindly see the ‘Contact’ page.