Flt Lt Brendan O’Sullivan – Station Heritage Centre Team
The RAF Waddington Heritage Centre is staffed by a group of volunteers, which is comprised of: Service personnel, Civil Service personnel and Tour Guides, with the Tour Guides being a very knowledgeable group of Veterans or partners of Service personnel or Veterans. The collaborative nature of this diverse group of volunteers has enabled the establishing and on-going support that provides the Station Heritage Centre as a venue open to all on-station.
The Heritage Centre is housed within the ground floor area of the west-wing of the Ravens Club; indeed, the name assigned to the Ravens Club is indicative of the treasure-trove of Waddington related information and artefacts which are contained within the three main rooms of the centre. On entering the Lancaster Room, you are immediately immersed within the aviation historical nature of the venue, as at its centre are the supported structural remains of PD259, a Lancaster which had been operated by 463 Squadron in WWII. PD259 and its assigned crew of six RAAF personnel and one RAF personnel, sadly all perished when PD259 (assigned JO-G) crashed at a very remote mountainside at Kinguisse, Scotland on 27 August 1944. To commemorate the 75th Anniversary of this sad occasion, a team of station-personnel made a journey to the crash-site in order to pay their respects in August 2019, along with visiting the War-graves of the seven personnel in Glasgow and Cambridge. This single act alone is indicative of the due reverence that the remains of Lancaster PD259 generates, holding centre-stage within the Heritage Centre.
In the Lancaster Room alongside the structure of PD259, are other Lancaster and WWII period artefacts that make up the interactive exhibits, items that are particularly popular with the school students who normally make up a large proportion of the Heritage Centre visitors. The students can use the interactive exhibits, videos and the Lancaster to bring the WWII period to life. A small annex to the Lancaster Room is assigned as an area of Remembrance. This ensures that the aircraft and the crews that manned them, are remembered, though the use of commemorative books which provide a scroll of their aircraft numbers and of the crews’ names, this area alone may be small in comparison to other areas of the Heritage Centre, yet it is a very poignant place to deliberate.
The Heritage Centre is arranged so that all visitors can openly move between the three main rooms that focus on distinct periods of history: 1916 until WWII; the WWII period; and finally, RAF Waddington’s Vulcan and ISTAR operational period.
One of the most striking events displayed on the historical records around the Heritage Centre, is a Lancaster Rear-gunner who, having just landed from a lengthy mission to Berlin and thankfully safely back to Waddington, is then pictured raising a celebratory glass along with the rest of his crew to mark his 21st birthday – Cheers Sgt Cliff Fudge.
Moving from the WWII focused Lancaster Room into The Lincoln Room, is where we progress into the training hub of the Heritage Centre. This room is centred on group learning, with its main function supporting the videos and presentations that are delivered enthusiastically by our tour guides. The socially distancing compliance of this meeting room enables small group meetings currently (the rule of six) and has previously hosted a significant number of school visits. This educational training area is where the school visitors can get actively involved in learning about the heritage of RAF Waddington; the artefacts in the other rooms are the learning catalysts to engage with the students’ inquisitive minds. The depth and breadth of the information on display within the Lincoln, Lancaster and the Vulcan rooms truly enables the perpetuation of the learning cycle for all: the students, the Heritage Centre staff and the tour guides; as there is always something new to learn.
The Heritage Centre’s final room is the Vulcan room, which houses photos, artefacts and displays from the Station’s aircraft and its crews in the post-WWII era and up to the present day. In the same way that 44 Squadron was the first unit to receive the Lancaster, RAF Waddington was the first station to receive the Vulcan aircraft in January 1957, with the aircraft remaining at the heart of Waddington until the last Vulcan flight in 1984. During that period the Vulcan’s role had been predominantly associated with the nuclear deterrent tasking; however, towards its latter years, the versatility of the aircraft manifested in an Air-to-Air refuelling role which was an asset which gave a significant increased capability to the RAF, one that played a vital contribution to the Falklands War with the Black Buck raids.
Onwards to the present day, the Heritage Centre Team continue to work behind the scenes in archiving, cleaning and rehearsing their stories ready for when it is possible to host larger-scale visits again. Indeed, the Assets Manager (FS Harry Caush) and his team have never been busier, along with the Visits Co-Ord Team (FS Craig Smith & Sgt Jim Coker) with Craig still actively engaged despite being deployed. In the interim, where able, we are open for individual visits of station personnel, maintaining all CV-19 protocols. Any request to visit the Heritage Centre should be sent to the group e-mail of: WAD-Heritage centre (MULTIUSER) WAD-Heritagecentre@mod.gov.uk