Friday, June 15, 2007

Imperial War Museum, Duxford

The Imperial War Museum at Duxford is part of the series of museums in Britain, dedicated to the preservation of military and war history. I have always wanted to visit. It's located several miles outside of Cambridge. But I've never actually made the trip here until now. I decided to come visit as I had some free time after TechLinks. It is my first visit to an Imperial War Museum. It is unique among the series because it is still an active air field with many of the old aircraft still flight worthy. The planes are taken out for show flights each day to recreate the noise and feel of it's heyday.

Duxford is an air field that served as an official RAF airstrip for 53 years along with it's sister field at Fowlmere. As it is right outside Cambridge, it used to be the home base for the University Air Squadron, which was founded to encourage the students to learn to fly in order to supply the RAF with sufficient reserves.

During the Battle of Britain, Duxford played a major role as it housed many squadrons including most of the foreign squadrons from Poland, Czechoslovakia and America. It also served as a test base where the latest aircraft were flown against older allied and captured enemy aircraft. I will always remember Churchill's quote: "Never was so much owed by so many to so few".

While I was there, I came across a lot of interesting aircraft. Unlike other war museums, Duxford houses mainly aeronautical exhibits. It is spread across 5 aircraft hangars and 2 exhibition halls. The aircraft are both located in the hangers and outside on the field.

While in one of the hangars, I ran into a couple of senior citizens. We were watching a video on the history of Duxford and they were reminiscing on actually witnessing the events on screen. This made me wonder about what it was like to have lived through the Blitz. And I wonder what these people think about Britain today, which has squandered much of it's power in the last few decades. I'm sure that these people would have many interesting stories to tell, if given the chance to.

There was also a special hall dedicated to the American Air Force. It is dubbed the American Air Museum. It houses all the major american aircraft of the 20th century including the BlackBird and SuperFortress. It was exciting because I've never managed to see these particular aircraft, up close, before. There aren't many places in the world where the BlackBird is available for the public to touch and feel.

Oh, in case I forgot to mention, I've always liked military aircraft. I can still remember that my dad once brought me to see an aircraft exhibition at the Sungai Besi air base. I can also recognise most of the popular military aircraft of the 20th century and recall their main features.

The last hall was dedicated to non-aircraft. It is the Land Warfare Hall, which is dedicated to land warfare. It houses the Royal Anglian Regiment Museum, Cambridgeshire Regiment Museum. It also features the Normandy Experience and the Forgotten War. With much of Britain's focus on the European theatre, the Forgotten War exhibition highlighted the main bits of the Pacific theatre. It even includes bits on Malaya, as can be seen from the picture, which highlights the official laying down of arm of the Japanese in Kuala Lumpa at the end of the war.

All in all, it was a very emotional and educational experience. For some reason, I always get emotional when visiting war museums. I just hate the idea that "war is old men talking, and young men dying". There are no winners in war and everyone loses. I guess, since I am living through fairly precarious political times, I have become particularly sensitive to the idiocy of war. I fear that today, "war is rich men talking, and poor men dying".

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