IWM Duxford marks 100 years with DX17 – an art installation that tells a century of memories
2017 marks the centenary of Imperial War Museums (IWM) and 100 years since work began to create RAF Duxford, and the museum that now resides at the once bustling RAF base in Cambridgeshire is marking the occasion by unveiling its first ever contemporary art installation.
Created by artist Nick Ryan, DX17 takes its name from the former RAF base’s name in Morse code and is inspired by themes of flight and innovation. It’s similar in size to a Spitfire, but futuristic and aerodynamic in form.
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Presented in a dramatic, darkened space to provide an immersive experience for visitors, the sculpture emits 100 bright lights that represent one hundred discoverable ‘memories’ from the history of the Duxford site.
Visitors can use hand held devices to scan the surface of the dramatic sculpture and transform the 100 points of light into individual stories from a history beginning in the First World War, through to the Battle of Britain, the Cold War and up to the major museum and working historic airfield of today.
Here are six of the people and their stories:
‘Woody’ Woodhall was Duxford’s Station Commander during the Battle of Britain. He encouraged the men and women who served there to “carry on”, even when it seemed that the odds were against the RAF. Woody was also responsible for directing Duxford’s fighters into combat from the Operations Room. Several of the pilots thought that he was the most skilled fighter controller in the RAF.
Listen to Woody Woodhall’s tribute to the Battle of Britain pilots:
Sylvia Salmon served in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force during the Second World War, rising through the ranks to Sergeant and enjoying her time at RAF Duxford most of all. Having been instructed by her Aunt to join the army, the recruiting office near Piccadilly in London said they were “full” and so she joined the RAF as one of its first members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). One of the first 50 members to be posted to Duxford, she arrived in October 1939 and stayed until 1942, where she worked in the Officers’ Mess during the Battle of Britain.
She recalled that one day, Douglas Bader walked in and announced “they’d shot down 68 today”, with no one realising the significance until it was announced on BBC News the next day that the Battle of Britain was over. Sylvia was offered a commission at the age of 18 but couldn’t afford it. Instead, she was sent on a Mess Stewards’ course at RAF Halton and from there was posted to Bomber Command. On her death, her family scattered her ashes on Duxford Airfield, after she said some of her happiest days had been at Duxford.
Listen to Sylvia’s memories of the Battle of Britain at Duxford:
Gordon Sinclair joined 19 Squadron at RAF Duxford on 27 November 1937. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 25 June 1940 and in late June became ‘A’ Flight Commander of 310 (Czech) Squadron, which became operational on 17 August. Gordon Sinclair was awarded the Czech Military Cross on 24 December 1940.
Listen to Gordon remember his time as a pilot during the Battle of France:
Doreen signed up for a four year term in the Women’s Royal Air Force in 1953 and served at Duxford where she did clerical and administrative work. She met her husband, Larry, at Duxford, when he was there doing his National Service. Doreen had to get written permission from the senior WRAF officer and her parents to marry Larry and had to forsake her four year term, as rules at the time stated women could not carry on in service once married. As a result, Doreen ended up only serving for two years.
Listen to Doreen remember Betty’s cafe at Duxford:
Sir Richard Johns
Sir Richard Johns was a fighter pilot with No.64 Squadron at RAF Duxford during the early 1960s. A squadron commander in the 1970s and a station commander during the 1980s, he became Chief of the Air Staff and retired as a senior Royal Air Force commander. Duxford was Sir Richard’s first posting following training.
“It was an extremely, I suppose, comfortable life,” he remembers. “It was so much fun, that is my overriding impression. I loved the flying and so on because that was what I joined the air force to do but there was a super bunch of people living in the mess.”
Duxford was a relatively small station with just two squadrons on it: “I don’t know what the manpower was there, probably one thousand at the absolute most,” he says, “it was very much a family affair… it was a very, very happy station.”
Listen to Sir Richard remember cold cockpits and bacon and eggs:
Sir Christopher Roads
Christopher Roads joined the Imperial War Museum in 1962 originally as the Keeper of Records, and was soon promoted to Deputy by the Director-General Dr Noble Frankland. By the time Roads left in 1979, IWM had been transformed. He lived in Cambridgeshire and had seen Duxford in the headlines because of its Battle of Britain history, which encouraged him to oppose the Home Office’s plans to convert RAF Duxford into a police training school or prison.
His incessant pushing eventually convinced the council to convert a quarter of one of the hangars into an air museum and thus, between 1969 and 1971, IWM Duxford was born. Roads took the museum’s future into his own hands by finding aircraft to go on display at Duxford, which would open to the public on a daily basis in June 1976.
Listen to Sir Christopher remember the genesis of the museum:
DX17 is open to visitors from Friday June 16 until September 30 and is included in the entry price.
IWM Duxford is Europe’s largest air museum with over 300 aircraft and objects on display. Get up close to Spitfires and Hurricanes; see a portion of the original Wright Brother plane; walk through Concorde, feel dwarfed by the size of a B-52 and stand in awe of Europe’s only SR-71…