A Wing and a Prayer
PUBLISHED: 17:18 21 February 2013 | UPDATED: 22:17 26 February 2013
Kent's vital and historic contribution to the security of this island nation throughout past centuries will be brought into sharp focus during 2013
A Wing and a Prayer
Kents vital and historic contribution to the security of this island nation throughout past centuries will be brought into sharp focus during the coming year
The Wing will bring history to life using technology to show what it was like to be in the front line, flying over Kent day after day to keep the Nazi invasion force at bay
Work is due to start this month on a major new visitor centre at the National Memorial to the Few at Capel-le-Ferne, high on those famous White Cliffs.
While that building will remind visitors of Kents vital role in the Battle of Britain in 1940, the rest of the UK will begin to look towards the county as it prepares to commemorate its role in another, earlier, conflict.
Just a few miles along the coast from Capel-le-Ferne, in both Folkestone and Dover, plans are being drawn up for major commemorations in 2014 of the centenary of the start of the First World War, a conflagration that saw many millions of soldiers embark for France from the coastal ports and significantly fewer return.
In Folkestone there are plans to create a memorial arch at the top of the Road of Remembrance, while in Dover there are proposals for a national war memorial on the Western Heights, close to the Drop Redoubt. Set to be unveiled in August 2014, it will be dedicated to Commonwealth casualties between 1914 and 1945.
Those commemorations are likely to coincide with the completion of work on The Wing, the visitor centre being built by the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust in time for the 75th anniversary of what was arguably the most famous battle fought by this country in the whole of the last century.
The start of work on the Wing represents a major development for the Trust, which is already responsible for the existing memorial to the Allied aircrew who saved this country from invasion by seeing off the threat from the Luftwaffe in the summer and early autumn of 1940.
The site already has its central memorial a carving by Harry Gray of a seated airman looking out over the Channel and the Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall that lists the names of the less-than 3,000 men who took part in the conflict.
The Wing will add to the mix by providing an exciting, high-tech experience at a site that has become increasingly important as a place of pilgrimage following the renewal of interest in the Battle of Britain inspired by the 70th anniversary in 2010.
This will not be a museum but an experience, an audio-visual spectacle that will use new technology in an attempt to bring to life something of what the aircrews experienced in 1940, explains Trust Chairman Richard Hunting, CBE.
The Wing will attempt to give visitors some idea of what it was like to wake each morning and know that at any moment you could be scrambled to take on the might of the Luftwaffe and defend this tiny island against the Nazis.
The Trust has already managed to raise more than half the 2.8m cost of building and fitting out The Wing and is confident that with the support of local people and businesses it will be able to raise the rest of the cash and hit the planned completion date of autumn 2014 in advance of an official opening in 2015.
Finishing our tribute to the heroes of the Battle of Britain in a year that commemorates 100 years since the start of the First World War will add an extra poignancy to our project, added Richard.
The Wing has found a wealth of support in veterans such as Trust Life Vice-President and Battle of Britain Hurricane pilot Wing Commander Bob Foster DFC AE.
He explains: Veterans spent a lot of time during the 70th anniversary in 2010 talking about the Battle and helping to make it real for people, especially for youngsters who werent around at the time.
That cant happen for ever, however. We are all in our nineties and at some point there will be no one around to tell the story. That brings a danger that the Battle of Britain will simply slide into the history books, and we believe it is too important a part of the history of this country for that to be allowed to happen.
Bob adds: The aim of The Wing is to provide an experience that will bring the history to life by using technology to show something of what it was like to be in the front line, flying over Kent day after day to keep the Nazi invasion force at bay.
The veterans are determined to do what they can to make sure The Wing is completed in time for an official opening during the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
Just as Kent was in the forefront of the Battle in 1940, the Trust is keen to make sure that local companies benefit from the construction of The Wing.
Folkestone-based architectural practice Godden Allen Lawn came up with the unique design for the building, which is based on R J Mitchells iconic Spitfire wing, and with tenders due to be assessed and contracts signed this spring, the Trust wants local firms to play a large part in building and fitting out the visitor centre.
GET IN TOUCH
To get in touch with the Trust, which is a registered charity, contact the secretary, Group Captain Patrick Tootal OBE DL at PO Box 337, West Malling ME6 9AA, 01732 870809 or firstname.lastname@example.org.