The One is Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, The Few are the aircrew from the Battle of Britain, and The Many are the team behind them. At the new Bentley Priory Museum, based at the former headquarters of Fighter Command in a north London mansion, veterans of World War Two now have a new place in which to tell their humbling stories.
Heroes of the 1940 battle and lady veterans, recounting tales of their time as Fighter Controllers in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, met The Prince of Wales, who is a patron of the museum, and The Duchess of Cornwall at the opening event.
“We, the few remaining veterans, now in our 90s, still have vivid memories of carrying out the vital work of the secret Dowding System during the Battle of Britain,” said Patricia Clark, a filterer during the conflict, recalling the tactical strategy devised by Dowding to galvanise the potential of a force with limited numbers but almost limitless skill and resolve.
“It is rewarding for us to know that this this museum is ready to tell future generations the full story behind the victory that saved the free world.
'It is really exciting to see Bentley Priory so wonderfully restored after all these years.”
A salvage operation has been needed. In 2005, against the wishes of The Few, it was announced that the Priory – which they see as a spiritual home – would be sold for redevelopment.
The Prince’s Regeneration Trust formed a partnership with the developers, welcoming the veterans' desire to create a sustainable centre which would inspire visitors.
“Today marks the culmination of eight long years of hard work,” reflected Air Chief Marshal Sir Brian Burridge, the Chairman of the Trustees, urging the public to help bridge a final funding gap of £250,000.
“We have created an exciting and highly relevant museum and learning centre which will serve as a symbol of the huge significance of the Battle of Britain and of the determination and sacrifice of those involved.
“Throughout the project to save this iconic building - and to quote Churchill - ‘the odds were great; our margins small; the stakes infinite.’”
Wing Commander Bob Foster, who leads the Battle of Britain Fighter Association, called the venue “fantastic”.
“Along with my fellow veterans, I felt it was so important to preserve Bentley Priory because of its enormous symbolic and strategic significance,” he said.
“Today is a day of celebration and I know the Museum has a fine future ahead of it.”
- Visit the museum’s donation page to contribute.
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