On the 4th April 2012, I visited the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre and took a taxy ride on Lancaster NX611, better known as ‘Just Jane.’ That visit changed my life. My dad had been a Lancaster flight engineer, who had died at the age of just fifty five, and this was the first time since I was a child that I had looked at anything linked to his war service. It reignited an interest that had waned many years earlier, and sparked a determination to find out more about his association with that iconic aircraft.
Over the following six years, I traced the families of all my dad’s crew, four of them in New Zealand and two in the U.K., and developed relationships with people linked to their stories in Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and France. I also uncovered a series of tragedies that was scarcely believable, and so remarkable were their stories that I was persuaded to turn them into a book. In 2016, “The Mallon Crew” was published, described in the Aircrew Book Review of 2017 as “a son’s honest and pragmatic tribute to his father and his crew”.
The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre is a family run museum, and was set up over twenty years ago as a living memorial to the more than 55,000 men and women of Bomber Command who lost their lives during WW2. As well as its Lancaster Bomber and a number of other significant aircraft, it has a collection of wartime vehicles, including an original Crew Bus, the only one of its kind in existence.
The Centre is based on the old wartime airfield of R.A.F. East Kirkby, in Lincolnshire, with its original 1940's Control Tower and a hangar built on the original wartime hangar base. Although the focus is on R.A.F. Bomber Command, its exhibits and displays span many areas, such as ‘The Home Front’ and ‘Escape and Evasion’. These give a wide perspective on wartime Britain and the challenges faced by civilians and service personnel during the Second World War.
The owners’ ambition is to fully rebuild the site to a complete wartime airfield, “preserving the memory of Bomber Command for many years to come”.
The Centre is privately owned, and was set up by two farming brothers, Fred and Harold Panton, originally as a tribute to their eldest brother Christopher, who was shot down and killed on a bombing raid over Nuremberg on 30th/31st March, 1944. Their hope is that "If one person goes away with a better knowledge of Bomber Command, their losses and what they gave for our country, we are one step closer to repaying our debt to them."
After the war, the brothers wanted to visit Christopher's grave in Germany, but their father refused, as he wanted 'nothing more to do with the war'. Eventually, in the 1970's, Mr Panton asked Fred go to Germany, and bring home a photograph of Chris's grave. This reignited Fred's interest in the war, and when NX611 came up for sale, the brothers were determined to purchase it. It took more than ten years, but it was eventually brought to the land they owned near East Kirkby, which included the site of the old airfield. They had planned to keep it only for their private collection, but the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre was opened in 1988, with NX611 and the Control Tower its centre pieces.
As well as its Avro Lancaster, which is currently being restored to an airworthy condition, and an extensive range of artefacts and memorabilia, the Centre also prides itself on the following ‘flying legends’:
Mosquito NF11 HJ711. Owned by Tony Agar but based at the museum, this is a truly fascinating restoration of a de Havilland Mosquito NF.11. The restoration is also unique as it's the only existing version of this variant in the world.
Douglas Dakota N473DC. Restored to 87th Squadron, USAAF, D-Day colours.
Percival P.31 Proctor Mk IV NP294. Built in 1944, and originally used as a three seat radio trainer during World War 2, this is a long term restoration project by the Lincolnshire Aircraft Preservation Society. The aircraft will eventually go on display in the main hangar, alongside Avro Lancaster NX611 and Hampden AE436.
Handley Page Hampden AE 436. Another long-term restoration project, this is one of the few remaining examples of one of the bombers that played such a vital part in the bombing campaign in the early years of the war.
There is a shop, containing a wide range of books, including “The Mallon Crew” of course, as well as items such as tea towels, DVDs and memorabilia. You can also purchase events tickets, and even Lancaster taxy rides.
There are excellent catering facilities.
The Centre organises numerous special events, including flying displays, re-enactments, Spitfire and ME109 dogfights, firework displays, concerts, dances, a car rally, motorcycle meetings, and there is an impressive Air Show every August.
One of the most popular items, particularly amongst those, like me, who had a loved one who flew in a Lancaster, is the opportunity to look inside the aircraft, take up the position of your choice, and experience the thrill of being inside as the four Merlin engines start up, and the aircraft taxies across the tarmac and onto the airfield. This is so popular, that you may have to book many months ahead, but just standing near the Lancaster as the engines start up is a thrilling and unforgettable experience.
The Centre believes that “education is the key to keeping the memories of the men and women of Bomber Command alive, and making sure the ultimate sacrifice of so many will never be forgotten”.
WW2 is on the school curriculum for Key Stage 3 children, and ‘The Home Front Exhibition’ covers most of the areas they will need, with exhibits on rationing, air raid shelters, evacuation, the Home Guard and the Land Army. There are resource packs available for school visits, containing items about life during WW2. There is also a teachers’ pack to accompany the Home Front resources, which can be downloaded from the website.
Address: Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, East Kirkby, Spilsby, Lincs, PE23 4DE
Telephone: 44 (0)1790 763207
Getting there: The easiest way to get to the Centre is by car, as public transport in rural Lincolnshire is poor. If you wish to travel by public transport, the closest railway stations are Boston, Skegness and Thorpe Culvert. There is also a station at Lincoln, with a return bus running hourly from Lincoln to Skegness, stopping at Spilsby, the nearest reasonably sized town, about 5 miles away. Although there is a bus stop outside the Centre's gate, you would need to book a ‘CallConnect’ bus to stop there.
Opening times: The Centre is open all year, Monday to Saturday. 9.30 am - 5.00 pm from Easter to end of October (last admission 4.00), and 10.00 am – 4.00 pm November to Easter (last admission 3.00). It is closed over Christmas and New Year.
Cost of admission: Adults £9.00, Seniors & armed forces £8.00, Children (6 – 15) £3.00, under 5s free, Family (inc. 2 children) £21.00, additional children £2.00 each.
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Victor Jay is a retired teacher from Lincolnshire, U.K, but now resides in North Yorkshire.
His father was a flight engineer during World War II inspiring his passion for aviation.