The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre’s opening event for 2014 was a poignant commemoration of one of World War Two’s most infamous operations – the Nuremburg raid by Royal Air Force Bomber Command on the night of 30/31 March 1944. Greg Marsh writes for GAR.
Huw’s account of the raid was published recently so I don’t want to overlap the details contained in his excellent article, suffice to say please give it a read if you haven’t done so. What I will add is that the raid was almost responsible for the creation of the museum, as Christopher Panton, the brother of founders Fred and Harold, was a Halifax airman who was lost that fateful night. His death was the impetus for the creation of the centre, which remains a fitting memorial to not just Christopher, but all Bomber Command crews who died during the war.
Centrepiece of the event was due to be a lecture on the raid by the renowned author Martin Middlebrook, who wrote a most comprehensive account of the mission and is widely considered a expert on all things related.
Sadly, Martin was unable to attend due to a family illness, so he specifically asked Flight Lieutenant Mike Chatterton to take his place. Mike is ex-RAF and flew such types as the Nimrod in service, as well as the Lancaster with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. It was through this that a connection with East Kirkby was made, as he became one of the first pilots to taxy resident Lancaster B.1 NX611 ‘Just Jane’. Mike also has an emotional connection to the Nuremburg raid as his father was a Lancaster pilot involved. Unlike Christopher Panton, he survived both the raid, and subsequently, the war.
Mike’s presentation was a worthy effort, particularly as he only had a couple of weeks’ notice in which to prepare! Unfortunately, the sound system was rather muffled throughout the opening minutes, meaning it was difficult to hear if you were sat at the back of the audience and a number of visitors were seen leaving the hangar during this time. Thankfully, this did improve as the talk progressed.
Of course, ‘Just Jane’ herself played a prominent part in the event, it being the official unveiling of hew new squadron codes in honour of Fred and Harold Panton.
A pair of afternoon taxy runs was complemented to a rare night time taxy at 7pm. This was the only opportunity to savour this magical occasion this year, besides the November fireworks event. It took on extra poignancy too, being so close to the 70th anniversary. My mind couldn’t help but reflect on the squadrons of Lancasters and Halifaxes that left airfields all across England that evening, and the incredible cacophony it produced.
An imaginative tribute the museum also laid on was the Nuremburg Cross laid out by the Control Tower. This saw a large wooden cross laid on the ground, with each aircraft represented by a piece of paper bearing the names of each crew who participated that night. Accompanying these, were glow sticks to represent each individual; yellow indicated they lived, red meant they died… A truly powerful memorial.
Bringing the night to an explosive conclusion was a stunning recreation of a night airfield attack. East Kirkby was subjected to several intruder raids during hostilities, not least on 4 March 1945, when a Junkers 88 discreetly followed a squadron of Lancasters back to base. Utilising appropriate sound effects, reinactors and a barrage of impressive pyrotechnics and fireworks, it’s safe to say that this was the closest simulation one can possibly achieve without actually being there!
This kind of imaginative event has become the hallmark of East Kirkby and I eagerly anticipate the remaining events throughout 2014. Next up is the Lanc, Tanks and Military Vehicles on the Saturday and Bank Holiday Monday of Easter weekend, 19 and 21 April. Highlights will be live firing demonstrations from an M36 Jackson tank destroyer (firing blanks, of course!) and a display by Richard Lake’s Spitfire Mk.XVIe TD248 from Humberside Airport.
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