Building the memorial

In 2004 the Hunsdon Airfield Memorial Group approached Savills estate agents, who represent landowners Ropemaker Properties Ltd., for permission to build a memorial on the site of former RAF Hunsdon airfield. Ropemaker kindly agreed to our request, and so work began on planning and raising funds for the memorial. The HAMG thank both Ropemaker and Savills for their help and co-operation in the building of the memorial.

 The Mosquito Museum at Salisbury Hall generously donated the reduction gear and blade of a Mosquito, which they held from a crash site, and this was included into the memorial at Hunsdon.

 Although there is an excellent plaque on the wall of Hunsdon’s village hall, we in the HAMG wanted a memorial actually placed on the airfield to honour the squadrons and personnel who were stationed there.

 During the Second World War, RAF Hunsdon airfield was a vibrant lively place, playing its part in the biggest aerial conflict ever seen. Men and women served their armed forces in a way that can only be imagined by today’s younger generation.

 RAF Hunsdon housed service personnel from all over the UK and the Commonwealth and is best known for the low level air raid on the Gestapo prison at Amiens, France. But it is also important to remember all of the personnel from the many and varied squadrons who served upon the airfield. This includes the RAF, RAAF, RNZAF, RCAF, USAAF, SAAF, WAAF, RAF Regiment, Army, WRVS, and NAAFI.

 The following entries chronicled the planning and building of the memorial:

 Sunday 18th July 2004

We visited the Microlight flying club at Hunsdon that uses part of the airfield for it’s flying operations, It seems we have found the most likely location for our efforts. Chris Hasell, the assistant flying instructor, is very enthusiastic to have the memorial built facing the clubhouse. With a daily presence of staff and pilots attending every day, the vandalism element of any doubts we may have had concerning the location has melted away. We think it’s the ideal place, well sited and a stones throw from the site of  where the original flying control tower was and in the general area of the former technical site of RAF Hunsdon.

 Monday 25th October

Several of us were invited to a meeting of the Hunsdon Historical Society at the village hall. We went primarily to introduce ourselves to the community and to alay any fears that we,as a group of relative ‘outsiders’, have anything other than the interests of aviation history as an agenda. As stated at the meeting, we are concerned with all airfields in the area and would like the support of the people of Hunsdon in placing this memorial on the airfield.Questions were raised about how we would fund and maintain the venture.We hope that we justified our position to the meeting.

  With thanks to Glen Thompson for the invite!

 Plans on how to safely affix the reduction gear, boss and blade to the main plinth have been reached. We think the whole structure and the subject of vandal proofing have also been reached. It certainly seems that we have incorporated a high level of engineering to achieve this, but it was a necessity that had to be done.

Initial groundwork will take place over the next few weeks. Steve Foster, our tame builder, has come up with more than ideal plans for the type of shuttering needed to achieve a smooth finish to the plinth.

As for the plaque, it’s still not decided as to what type of material to use. We hoped on cast bronze, but may settle for inlaid granite or marble. This of course depends on the level of funding we hope to raise, Jim has suggested a pub quiz and a boot sale for fundraising. We hope to ‘cash’ in (excuse the pun!) on these ideas as soon as possible!

 The propeller assembly has now undergone partial corrosion treatment and  was on show at the microlight “fly in” held on Saturday September the 18th. We had a small stall displaying artefacts recovered from the airfield  and general wartime aviation archaeology items alongside a period vehicle.

 Our thanks go to the Microlight club for their sterling efforts in helping to raise nearly £200 towards the cost of a plaque, although the weather was not too good on Saturday a fair number of their members turned to for the weekend…..Thanks lads!

 Wednesday 24th November

  We all met for an informal meeting at the ‘Fox’ pub, Matching.

 Geoff received a generous cheque from the 85 Squadron association for the sum of £50. This was really welcomed, as 85 were among the more well known squadrons at Hunsdon.

 The official drawings were discussed prior to despatch with  the planning application. Final ‘mental’ adjustments were made concerning the way the prop assembly will be supported and attached to the plinth.It’s fair to say that every safeguard we can imagine has been built into the security of this important part of the structure.

 The first stages of the planned Sawbridgeworth were also discussed, along with a wry suggestion that the former USAAF airfield at Chipping Ongar is devoid of a memorial ! Could this be project number three?.

 Work on the core of the plinth will take place within the next two weeks, weather permitting.

 Thursday 10th December

 The support post for the prop was embedded into it’s footings this week courtesy of Steve Foster and John Smith. Planning permission fees have also been deducted from the groups funds leaving us poorer than before!

 Meeting at Hunsdon Microlight Club has been planned for Sunday the 12th of December to discuss outstanding issues.

Sunday 12th December

Meeting at Hunsdon Microlight Club.

We discussed the plaques and the relevent sizes to be cast in bronze. Geoff is going to make plaster of paris sample casts for the Commonwealth air force bronze plaques that will adorn the four sides of the monument. This will enable us to get a feel for the scale these need to be cast in.The main plaque, in marble, will now be set into a sloped step at the base of the main plinth.

 Fund raising issues were discussed, including holding a talk on the Dambusters at the local village hall, hopefully in conjunction with the Hunsdon Historical Society, with the proceeds going to the groups funding. Ongoing grant applications were also dealt with. Jim has had a favourable response from the Battle Of Britain Memorial Flight regarding availability for the flypast on the day.

Sunday 9th January 2005

The group met at Hunsdon Microlight Club to discuss the latest memorial developments.

Geoff brought along a template of his ‘wings’ design which will incorporate RAF,RCAF,RNZAF and RAAF emblems. Four of these polished brass plaques will bonded to black marble plinths which will be set into each side of the memorial. We all agreed that Geoff has done a great job with his design and the finished items should look very impressive.

 To raise money for the project we have organised a fundraising evening at Hunsdon Village Hall on Saturday February 19th 2005. Aviation historian and author Ron Mackay will be giving a talk on ‘Operation Jericho’, the famous raid on Amiens prison that flew from Hunsdon, and other Mosquito operations of WW2. We are hoping to have several RAF veterans in attendance. There will also be a raffle, auction, refreshments and aviation archaeology and memorabilia displays.

Doors open 7:00 pm, talk starts at 7:45 pm.

Tickets are £6. Price includes a glass of wine or soft drink.

 Sunday 23rd January

 What started out as a quick look at the village hall in preparation for the fundraising talk (19th of February 2005), turned into a small meeting to discuss urgent business. Geoff needed confirmation on the wording and size for the main plaque. This has been agreed on and will be forwarded to the manufacturer. Seating arrangements, wine, raffle, auction items, and the audio and visual requirements were finalised.

  We finished up by placing laminated posters at the memorial site and inside the microlite club. Chris Hasell has also confirmed that the microlite club will donate a flight in a microlite as part of the raffle.

 All in all a speedy morning! Next full meeting will take place in two weeks time.

 Sunday 6th February

Two weeks to go before the fundraising evening to be held at Hunsdon Village Hall takes place.We discussed issues regarding allocation of tickets, auction and the raffle prize items, and general details regarding the Hall hire, glasses, wine, tea and coffee for the public.

 The shuttering for the memorial is now in place, although it needs to be raised in line with the support post for the Mossie propeller. A six inch raised concrete base needs to be made and then the shuttering remounted at the right height.

 Jim bought along some very good items for the auction for us to look at, and Geoff bought along a excellent self-built replica of the model that was used for briefing the aircrew on Operation Jericho. The original model once held by the IWM has gone astray it seems, so Geoff’s model will no doubt come of good use!

 Arrangements for the actual unveiling day are still under discussion, temporary parking in the village and traffic management liaison with the local police are to be established, the Gun club that shoots on the airfield have been approached with regard to their shooting times for  Sunday 22nd of May. We hope for some sort of compromise between us for both events to take place. It will help us when we know the exact time the BBMF Lancaster Bomber is overhead so we can arrange times more easily.

 The four separate plaques that represent the RAF, RCAF, RNZAF and RAAF are being cast next week. Interest has been received from the Australian Embassy air attaché in paying for the RAAF plaque. The RCAF plaque has been donated by an interested family from the area who wish to remain anon. We hope sponsorship of the remaining RNZAF and the RAF plaque will follow similar lines.

 Saturday 19th February

The fundraising night, a talk by aviation historian and author Ron Mackay on ‘Operation Jericho’ with veteran guests from ex-groundcrew to Squadron leaders!

 What an absolute stunning turnout this was. The village hall at Hunsdon was packed to capacity. This exceeded our wildest dreams and was deemed a huge success by all. We would like to thank everyone who attended and supported this fundraising night.

 With the ticket sales, the raffle and the auction, the HAMG have raised £1,372.90p on this event. This puts us on track towards our grand total we must raise before the unveiling ceremony on the 22nd of May. Well done to all!

On April 9th 2005 there will be another fundraising evening at Hunsdon Village Hall.

This time Squadron Leader Tom Bennett DFM,navigator leader on 617 Dambusters Squadron,will be giving a talk on everyday life in Bomber Command.

Due to the popularity of the last event, admission will be by ticket only. These cost £7.50 and include a glass of wine and buffet. Doors open at 6.30 pm for a 7.45 start,which gives time for anyone to come along and meet our guest veterans.

 Saturday 12th March

Raised the base by 9 inches for the foundation of the main plinth.Hard to believe that over three tons of concrete have been poured already! The main plinth is expected to be cast using the specialist shuttering in the next three weeks or so. This in itself will accommodate about another three and a half tons of concrete.

Work on the propeller will take place over the Easter weekend with the main plinth being cast the week after.

Saturday 3rd April

Cast the main plinth, we had a slight problem lining up the shuttering but it’s hoped that the flaw will not show too much. Over three tons of concrete mixed and poured into the narrow top opening by hand – quite a job!

Saturday 9th April

The second and final fundraising talk was again a success. We had to limit seating for health and safety reasons, but the hall was again full.

Tom Bennett gave a wonderful talk on life in Bomber Command and truly would have talked all evening given the chance! Not often you get to hear of memories like this.

We would like to thank the Hunsdon Historical Society for their unwavering support on both of the talks, their excellent cheque for £400 was received by us with extreme gratitude.

We would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the funding for the airfield’s memorial, we have raised over three thousand pounds of which £1517 has already been spent on materials, planning,and the two talks. We certainly hope we can provide a really good dedication day for which the final planning and organisation can now go ahead at full steam!

 Sunday 10th April

Elements of the group had the pleasure to be at the Mosquito Aircrew Memorial dedication at Salisbury Hall near St Albans on Sunday morning. We wanted to attend for two reasons. Firstly to see how we could better our planning for Hunsdon’s dedication day, and secondly ,to meet a few of the Mosquito air and groundcrew to invite those who were Hunsdon based .

 This was a success as we ran into one pilot who did not know of the event but has promised to attend.

 Friday 29th April

The prop assembly was lowered onto the top of the plinth for a test fitting.Only a few minor adjustments will be necessary before final fitting.We were given an idea of how the finished memorial would look and thought it looked very impressive.Tomorrow we hope to be laying the paving slabs around the base of the plinth and pathway.

Saturday 7th May

The final paving slabs were laid around the monument. The next phase is to rectify the finish of the main plinth and the provision of the lower sloped mount for the main plaque .The flagpole was given a trial fitting, and it was great to see the RAF ensign fly at Hunsdon again. This will not be a permanent fixture at the memorial, but can be used on special occasions.

Some groundwork will be need to raise the level of grass up to the pathway. At the moment it will hamper the use of the microlight club’s gangmower. We do not think that the ground will settle in enough to be ready on the day, so this work will be undertaken after the memorial day.

The plaques and the prop assembly will not be mounted until 20th of May.

Friday 20th May

The majority of building work is now done. The prop assembly is in place and  the plaques fitted. Just a coat of paint needed on the plinth to finish it off. We’re all very pleased with the outcome of the memorial and hope it will be seen as a fitting tribute to the men and women who served at Hunsdon.

Now we can look forward to Sunday, and hope that the weather is kind to us.

 And it was!

 An absolutely brilliant day spent in the company of veterans and distinguished guests. Maurice Hammond opened the service with his P-51 ‘Janie’ and the BBMF closed the service with Lancaster PA474 ‘City Of Lincoln’ .

 All our thanks go to the many donations made by Squadron Organisations, private individuals and interested parties. Not forgetting the generous cheques from Hunsdon Historical Society, IMPS and the MVT. Our heartfelt thanks to everybody who supported us and provided financial backing in this venture.