Tangmere Military Museum Curator David Coxon reveals the poignant story behind the relic remains of a Hurricane fighter aircraft shot down during the Battle of Britain
These are the remains of a real Battle of Britain Hurricane, which was shot down on August 30 1940. It was flown by Sergeant Dennis Noble, a 20-year-old who had only been at Tangmere for about three weeks.
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He came to Tangmere on August 3, having learned to fly in the Royal Airforce Voluntary Reserve just before the war. He had done quite a bit of his flying at Redhill in the weekends and summer holidays. After being called up in September 1939 he was taught to fly a Hurricane, but he hadn’t many hours under his belt.
When he came to Tangmere he wouldn’t have known anybody and I imagine he would have been quite lonely. We know he saw action on August 16 1940 when he took off to fight the major raid on the base – he survived that, but sadly on August 30 he was shot down over Brighton by a Messerschmidt 109.
The aircraft crashed into the ground in Hove and was recovered about 15 years ago by our head of maintenance Keith Arnold. Like everyone here, Keith is a volunteer and he has always had a great interest in aviation archaeology. He’s very highly thought of, as it’s very difficult to get permission to dig into what are essentially war graves.
“Sergeant Noble’s logbook – the last entry reads: ‘killed in action, 30th August 1940’.”
We have reconstructed part of the plane – put it on a framework – with the parts where they would be on a Battle of Britain Hurricane. There are certain ribs you can see that give you an idea of how the Hurricane was constructed, which was from wood and linen predominantly. This was unlike a Spitfire, which was an all-metal aeroplane.
Also on display is Sergeant Noble’s logbook, compiled and kept up-to-date until the last entry, which reads: ‘killed in action, 30th August 1940’.
There are also fragments of his clothing and the Sutton harness for the parachute that he was wearing. We also have his parachute, which is displayed above the plane. It would have been sitting in a pack underneath him, but he wasn’t able to use it on that day because he was killed in his aeroplane.
He was a sergeant pilot and you can see his wings on display. He would have been very proud, as his family would have been, of his wings, which showed he was a fighter pilot.
Sergeant Noble came from Retford in Nottinghamshire and part of him, or perhaps none of him, was buried there in 1940. In those days after the aircraft crashed there would have been a big crater, and it was basically filled in and they carried on – there was often no time to do more than that. Keith Arnold was aware that his body would still be in the aircraft and a coroner was present that day. His remains were reburied in Retford.
We have a photograph that shows Sergeant Noble with 43 Squadron at a dispersal hut at Tangmere. He’s the one in the background, standing and just looking out of the doorway with the pilots in front of him.
He may well have been very insecure and possibly even unconfident of his own abilities and quite lonely, as the pilots didn’t really like to get to know each other too well because they knew they could lose their friends readily.
Today at the crash site there is a relatively new block of flats called Noble Court, named after him.
Tangmere Military Aviation Museum
Chichester, West Sussex
The Museum was opened in 1982 with exhibits depicting 70 years of military aviation in Sussex, with special emphasis on the RAF at Tangmere and the air war over southern England from 1939 to 1945. The Museum has an intimate atmosphere lacking in many other museums of this kind; perhaps…