Some elements will not work without it!
WELCOME TO THE ASSOCIATION OF ROYAL AIR FORCE FIGHTER CONTROL OFFICERS
The Opening of Bentley Priory Museum
12th September 2013
The replica Spitfire on the lawn
As members will recall we have been working to ensure that the Branch’s achievements are equitably represented in the new museum at Bentley Priory. This initiative has also given us a marvellous opportunity to promote the branch with, of course, the help of our veteran members.
The replica Filter Centre in the Priory
We have been active on a number of fronts but two are at the forefront at the moment. First, the sponsorship of stained glass windows to provide a story of the Dowding System and the history of radar in air defence. Second, we have been acting as lead support organisation for all matters pertaining to the air defence system and specifically the recreation of the Filter centre as it was in the house in February 1940. This has required quite a lot of effort on our behalf but the result has been well worth it.
The Prince of Wales next to a mannequin of Eileen
Younghusband and speaking to the real thing and
the Duchess of Cornwall speaking to Patricia
Clark who is standing behind her mannequin
The Bentley Priory Trust was initially the idea of the Battle of Britain Fighter Pilot’s Association - ‘The Few’. Air Commodore Brothers, one of The Few and – a former RAF Boulmer Station Commander, declared, shortly before he died, that “we won the battle of Britain and now we must win the battle to save the Priory.” We were not part of this early initiative but our history is inextricably linked with the Priory and we became a supporting organisation over two years ago. A central theme of our strategy to raise the profile of the branch’s achievements was to ensure that our veterans would be alongside the remaining members of The Few at the opening.
The Prince of Wales and Duchess with our veterans
The demand for places at the opening greatly exceeded the available places and we were severely constrained in the numbers we could invite. We were just not able to invite all our veteran members but we insisted that our Battle of Britain veterans should all be invited and that, given the focus on the Filter centre, all filter centre personnel who had worked at the Priory should be invited. Hence, we were able to extend invitations to ten veterans of whom nine were able to attend.
The Prince of Wales addresses the other guests
Our nine veterans gathered with ten of The Few for a light lunch at midday before being presented to the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall in the Filter centre. As with all Royal visits we had to position well in advance but we took the opportunity to introduce the President, Chairman and veterans to our new Patron Lord Dowding. The President welcomed Lord Dowding to the association and presented him with an association tie and a lapel pin.
The recreation of the Filter centre contained some full sized bronzed mannequins of whom four were WAAF personnel. Unbeknownst to the veterans we had modelled the WAAF mannequins on four of our Filter centre operators as they were 70 years ago. This presented a major photographic opportunity and the Prince of Wales and the Duchess were invited to stand behind the bronzed mannequins with two of the veterans whose likeness had been captured in the mannequins around the table. After this the Royal couple met the other seven veterans. Whilst the Duke and Duchess went on to meet the many sponsors and The Few our veterans were relocated to seats on the garden room patio to watch the opening ceremony.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Brian Burridge made an opening address and the Prince of Wales made a speech in which he made a special reference to our veterans. He unveiled a statue of Air Chief Marshal Dowding and this was followed by a fly past by a Spitfire and Hurricane. A young air cadet then read a poem by William Walker - one of The Few. This, in turn, was followed by an ensign ceremony accompanied by the Central Band of the RAF.
After the Royal couple departed, Sir Brian Burridge made a speech of thanks which was followed by the dedication of a bench in the memory of William Walker who died shortly after the Lease Signing ceremony to hand the Priory to the Trust in September 2012.
All in all it was a splendid occasion which was greatly enjoyed by all the ‘Dowding System’ veterans. It was especially gratifying to the committee that the Royal Couple spent so much time with our veterans.
Top left: the Lords Dowding, Lord Piers Dowding
pictured above the bust of his Grandfather.
Top right: our veterans seated for the opening
ceremony. Bottom left: Tim Willbond talks
with Gladys Eva and Lord Dowding.
Bottom right: The figure of Eileen Younghusband
Top left: a view of the Filter centre. Top right: The
President and Chairman pictured with Lord
Dowding. Bottom Left Lord Dowding and the
veterans. Bottom right: Priory Balcony in all its
The Association was formed in 1990, with the general aims of (i) furthering the recognition and identity of the Fighter Control Branch and (ii) unifying and sustaining a spirit of comradeship among serving and retired members of the Fighter Control Branch.
Nevertheless, the unofficial aims of the Association are to get together twice each year, meet up with old friends and have a good time!!