Historic Duxford: Imperial War Museum Duxford tells the long story of an airfield

By Richard Moss | 18 March 2013
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  • Archived article

New Permanent Exhibition: Historic Duxford, opening at Imperial War Museum Duxford on March 28 2013.


a photo of a recreated office interior
The Watch Office, the forerunner to the Control Tower, as it might have been during the late 1930s.© IWM
Imperial War Museum Duxford is turning the spotlight onto itself for its latest permanent exhibition as it explores the long history of the airfield and the men and women who served there from the First World War to the Cold War.

Historic Duxford
features a new history trail allowing people to explore the site and a new exhibition (the first since the 2007 opening of the Airspace hangar) which has been developed in the historic 1930s watch tower with personal objects, stories and interactives explaining the site’s changing role.

It’s an important narrative, which staff have been collating and working on for over twenty years.

From its creation in the latter stages of the First World War through the interwar years and the Douglas Bader and Battle of Britain period of World War Two the base evolved constantly. Today it is the most intact airfield of the World War Two period.

Bader’s cap and dress jacket are sfeatured in the new exhibition together with film of him talking about his experiences at RAF Duxford, rare 1930s home-shot film of him off-duty and the personal memories of his RAF colleagues.

Later in the war Duxford became an American bomber base for the famous daylight raids over Germany before the Cold War period saw it expand to accommodate jet aircraft and the intake of National Service personnel. Thousands of men and women did their National Service at RAF Duxford before the station’s eventual closure in 1961.

The IWM began using part of the site for storage in 1969 before opening its first out-of-London museum there in 1976. Today it is the largest military aviation museum in Britain with 200-plus aircraft, seven permanent display halls and several listed buildings including World War One vintage hangars.

It is also the site for several yearly airshows - reprising a role it fulfilled in the 1930s when it regularly showcased the RAF's capabilities to press and public alike.

Steve Woolford, Head of Interpretation and Collections, said the new exhibition will give visitors “an insight into the heart of this historic site, telling RAF Duxford’s own story".

“We’ve been working for many years to research the stories of the men and women who passed through the gates at RAF Duxford. This gives us the incredible depth and intensity of personal stories that we now tell."

Visitors can hear and see some of these fascinating insights in sound and film. The exhibition also investigates their jobs, living conditions and how they spent their leisure time with the help of interactives and personal objects.

Complementing the Historic Duxford exhibition, a heritage trail around the historic site features eight interactive posts with audio memories from veterans.

“In Historic Duxford, we’re able to show why Duxford is so important historically,” added Woolford, “and also to help visitors to look at our historic site with fresh eyes.”

  • Opens to visitors on Thursday March 28. Included in general admission. Visitors aged 15 and under enjoy free admission.

More pictures: 

a photo of an interior museum display with interactives mixed into display cabinets
© IWM

a photo of a man looking at a display cabinet
RAF Duxford Cold War veteran Les Millgate looking his own flying helmet on display in the exhibition. Copyright IWM

a photo of a museum gallery with displays and interactives
© IWM

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