Battle of Britain Curator's Choice: The Noble Hurricane, Tangmere Military Aviation Museum

David Coxon interviewed by Richard Moss | 20 July 2010
a photograph of a man standing before a relic aeroplane

In his own words: David Coxon, Curator at Tangmere Military Aviation Museum in West Sussex, talks about the remains of a Hawker Hurricane flown by a young pilot who lost his life in a dogfight above Brighton during the summer of 1940...

"These are the remains of a real Battle of Britain Hurricane which was shot down on August 30 1940. It was flown by Sergeant Dennis Noble, a 20-year-old who had only been at Tangmere for about three weeks.

He came to Tangmere on August 3, having learned to fly in the Royal Airforce Voluntary Reserve just before the war, and did quite a bit of his flying at Redhill in the weekends and summer holidays. After being called up when the war started in September 1939, he was taught to fly a Hurricane, but he hadn't many hours under his belt.

When he came to Tangmere he wouldn't have known anybody and I imagine he would have been quite lonely. We know he saw action on August 16 1940 when he took off to fight the major raid on Tangmere – he survived that, but sadly on August 30 he was shot down over Brighton by a Messerschmitt 109.

The aircraft crashed into the ground in Hove and was recovered about 15 years ago by our head of maintenance Keith Arnold. Like everyone here, Keith is a volunteer and he has always had a great interest in aviation archaeology. He's very highly thought of, as it's very difficult to get permission to dig into what are essentially war graves.

a photograph of a partially reconstructed aeroplane relic

Image: Richard Moss

We have reconstructed part of the plane – put it on a framework – with the parts where they would be on a Battle of Britain Hurricane. There are certain ribs you can see that give you an idea of how the Hurricane was constructed, which was from wood and linen predominantly. This was unlike a Spitfire, which was an all-metal aeroplane.

Also on display is Sergeant Noble's logbook, compiled and kept up-to-date until the last entry, which reads: 'killed in action, 30th August 1940'.

There are also fragments of his clothing and the Sutton harness for the parachute that he was wearing. We also have his parachute, which is displayed above the plane. It would have been sitting in a pack underneath him, but he wasn't able to use it on that day because he was killed in his aeroplane.

He was a sergeant pilot and we can see his wings. He would have been very proud, as his family would have been, of his wings, which showed he was a fighter pilot.

a photo of a display case with a logbook, photograph of a young RAF airman and other effects

The poignant personal effects of Sergeant Dennis Noble, together with his logbook. Image: Richard Moss

Sergeant Noble came from Retford in Nottinghamshire and part of him, or perhaps none of him, was buried there in 1940. In those days after the aircraft crashed there would have been a big crater, and it was basically filled in and they carried on – there was no time to do more than that. Keith Arnold was aware that his body would still be in the aircraft and a coroner was present that day. He was reburied in Retford.

We have a photograph that shows him with 43 Squadron at a dispersal hut at Tangmere. He's the one in the background, standing and just looking out of the doorway with the pilots in front of him. He'd have been very insecure and unconfident of his own abilities and, as I said, he'd probably have been quite lonely, as the pilots didn't really like to get to know each other too well because they knew they could lose their friends readily.

Today at the crash site there is a relatively new block of flats called Noble Court, named after him."

Watch David Coxon speak about the Noble Hurricane at Tangmere Military Aviation Museum:

Keep up to speed with the latest news about the Battle of Britain 70th anniversary at www.culture24.org.uk/battle-of-britain.

2010 is Year of the Museum in the South East, discover a museum at www.culture24.org.uk/southeast and find out about the Beautiful South campaign at www.visitsoutheastengland.com.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
Related listings (42)
See all related listings »
Related resources (64)
See all related resources »