The museum, which was founded in 1972, was based at two sites before coming to Hawkinge, a former RAF station, nine years ago. Since then most of the museum volunteers' time has been spent restoring the various derelict buildings on the site, which was the nearest RAF station to enemy-occupied France and very close, in terms of flying-time minutes, from the Luftwaffe fighter airfields in the Pas-de-Calais. The French coastline can be seen from the airfield: one fighter pilot based at Hawkinge remembers seeing German troops practising climbing the French cliffs in preparation for the invasion of Britain. The airfield also sustained heavy long-range cross-Channel shelling from the German batteries dotted along the French coast.
About 20,000 people annually visit the museum, which comprises four buildings and a pill-box. One of the two original 91 Squadron scramble huts still exists: this is where pilots congregated, waiting for the signal to rush to their aeroplanes. The Armoury now contains an almost complete collection of aircraft armaments from the Battle of Britain, including Browning .303 machine guns. The flight-control building draws considerable attention: it is filled with items, such as Rolls-Royce Merlin and Daimler-Benz aero-engines, from 350 aircraft shot down in the battle; many were either donated or excavated.
The Dowding Memorial Hangar - named after Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh (later Lord) Dowding, who lead the RAF Fighter Command at the time - contains full-size replicas of a Spitfire and other, more scarce, exhibits such as a Beaverette, a 1940 armoured car used for airfield defence.
The museum is open from Easter until the end of October. For further information, contact: Kent Battle of Britain Museum, Aerodrome Road, Hawkinge Airfield, Folkestone, Kent TN12 9AG, telephone 0303 893140.
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