ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING AND SEMINAR
26th to 27th OCTOBER 2013
at the MUSEUM of RAF FIREFIGHTING, RAF SCAMPTON
Delegates were welcomed to RAF Scampton by Wing Commander Richard Turner, the Station Commander who described Lincolnshire as an “RAF county.” There were once over fifty active stations in the county, but now only five. RAF Scampton had been opened in 1916 and was thus older than the RAF itself, having served the country through two world wars and the Cold War. It was now the home of the Red Arrows aerobatic team.
Aviation heritage was a very active theme in Lincolnshire, and Scampton played an important part in this. The station heritage centre told the story of RAF Scampton, including its famous “Dambusters” period. It was possible that the site could yet become a regional aviation heritage centre and the RAF was delighted to have Steve Shirley’s wonderful Museum of RAF Firefighting here.
SPEAKER: Warrant Officer Steve Shirley MBE, Chairman and Founder of the Museum of RAF
“History of the RAF Fire and Rescue Service”
Steve gave a full and fascinating history of the service from its origins to the present day. The Army Fire Service had originally been responsible for all military bases and, when the Royal Flying Corps was founded in 1912, the AFS provided cover at RFC sites. With the formation of the RAF in 1918, a fire vehicle was provided at every station. Formal firefighting training began at Cranwell in 1922, originally using London FB instructors, and in subsequent years, centralised training has been provided from various locations, currently Manston.
The RAF Fire Service came into being in 1943, its motto “E Flammis Atque Ruinis Salus” translating as “Salvation from Flames and Ruins.” In more recent times, the Service has played a role in national firefighters’ strikes as well as all theatres where the RAF is deployed.
Steve showed a selection of images of some of the vehicles and equipment employed over the years. Asbestos suits were prominent in many of the earlier images. Finally, Steve told the stories of two RAFFS heroes, Charles Lovell and Albert Osborne, whose brave exploits enthralled the delegates.
SPEAKER: Phil Bonner, Aviation Development Officer, Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire :
“History of Aviation Heritage in Lincolnshire”
Phil started his talk by summarising the importance of the county of Lincolnshire to military aviation. In WWI, there were a number of aircraft factories, also RFS and RNAS airfields. During the Second World War, the county had over 40 airfields, 100 squadrons and more than 80,000 personnel. The story continued through the Cold War period, when missiles and Vulcan bombers were based in Lincolnshire, up to the present time when there are five RAF stations. The RAF Academy and the Military Flying School are also in the county.
Against this background, there has been tremendous interest in aviation heritage in the area. With several small amateur heritage centres operating in the 1980s, there was an appetite to take a co-ordinated approach. A partnership of the County Council, three District Councils and ten aviation heritage centres was formed, nowadays known as Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire. HLF funding has provided two full-time posts and the combined approach is paying dividends.
SPEAKER: Phil Consadine :
“Steam fire engines and other things that keep me off the streets”
Phil offered a light-hearted talk on life in the heritage world since his retirement from the job of Facilities Officer at Coventry Transport Museum. Phil originally filled his time by driving a school bus for special needs children, but the selfish attitude of other road users eventually made him give up this worthy role.
He then acquired a narrow boat – or “floating shed” as he described it – and still sails this on the Grand Union Canal, Phil amusing us with his tales of life on the water. After a while, Phil’s specialised knowledge of Coventry-built vehicles led to the Museum bringing him back to organise special exhibitions (such as the Emergency Services Show) and to drive the Museum’s Daimler limousine formerly belonging to King George VI.
This was still not enough for Phil, so he purchased a c1909 Shand Mason steam fire engine, formerly of Stoneleigh Abbey where it still resides. His experiences with trying to remove the vertical boiler for a refit – and the improvisation required to do this – struck a chord with many listeners.
Phil revealed yet another side of himself as a 16mm cine buff, particularly archive films. Amazingly, a set of 28 films featuring the manufacture and testing of Donald Campbell’s (Coventry-built) Bluebird speed record car recently turned up in a Coventry factory building and Phil has been involved with the transfer of these to modern format, working closely with the Midland Film Archive. Sadly it was not possible to view any of these with the talk, but there is surely another presentation lurking there somewhere.
SPEAKER: Warrant Officer Steve Shirley MBE) :
“Museum of RAF Firefighting : How did we get here ?”
For his second talk of the day, Steve told his personal story of fire heritage and collecting, which began with a single model fire engine given as a present by his wife Kim when he graduated from the RAF Fire School in 1983. The model collection grew but Steve hankered after the real thing and he purchased a Dennis F108 appliance from South Yorkshire. When Steve was posted to Germany the Dennis went with him and was shown at many local events. From here, a helmet collection started and things continued to grow with more appliances and equipment being added.
On being posted to RAF Manston, Steve started the Manston Fire Museum to house his collection, which by now was known as the “unofficial Museum of the RAF Fire Service.” A later posting to Scampton enabled the transfer of what was becoming a sizeable collection. The logistics of housing, restoring and operating the sort of super-sized fire appliances used in aviation fire and rescue would be daunting to anyone other than Steve.
Although the RAF has been kind to Steve in terms of accommodation, providing hangar space and so on, unforeseen problems with buildings have caused difficulties at times, and at one stage Steve had two weeks to vacate a building.
Eventually, a redundant hangar at Scampton was allocated and the vehicle collection now has a more stable location, with the smaller objects now on display in a building alongside the RAF Scampton Heritage Centre, an ideal arrangement for visitors. The Museum also houses the British Fire Services Association’s collection of stunning competition trophies.
It is believed that the MoRAFF is now the largest private display of fire memorabilia in the country, also the biggest collection of military fire appliances in the world.
EVENING SOCIAL EVENT
Delegates and their partners were taken by bus back to RAF Scampton for a fantastic evening of MoRAFF hospitality in the Combined Mess building. After pre-dinner drinks, delegates settled into the dining room only to be surprised by the “piping-in” of a Lincolnshire Sausage, including appropriate “address” by John Whiteside, an attempt by our hosts to upstage previous haggis events by Scottish friends. The origins of the innards of both dishes are probably equally obscure !
After a superb meal laid on by RAF catering staff, delegates were entertained by Lady Helen Nall who gave us a moving talk entitled “The Courage of the Small Hours.” The gift of a metal detector led to Lady Helen finding what turned out to be a fragment of a Lancaster bomber on her farm. She decided to research this and learned that two such planes had separately crashed in the same village, Hoveringham, during World War Two. Fascinated, she dug into the backgrounds of the young airmen involved and spoke to local residents. The amazing story ends with the building of a memorial to the lost men on Lady Helen’s farmland and the flypast by the RAF Memorial Flight over the memorial, (which officially “never happened”).
The evening was not over and we then enjoyed a wonderful performance by the Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue Service Band, the flavour of which was the ”Last Night of the Proms,” complete with Land of Hope and Glory and some suitable flag-waving !
SUNDAY STUDY VISITS
On Sunday, delegates returned to RAF Scampton for tours of both the Museum of RAF Firefighting and the Scampton Heritage Museum. Bouncing bombs, Guy Gibson memorabilia and other exhibits related to the station’s history were explained with great insight and enthusiasm by the volunteer guides.
As well as conducting us around the MoRAFF small-exhibits display, Steve had organised for most of his mobile fleet to be driven outside (presumably at the crack of dawn) for photography. There are far too many vehicles to describe in detail but highlights included a Ford WOT1 Crash Tender from WW2, an Alvis Salamander and the unique “Lime Green Goddess” which was experimentally refurbished by TNT a few years back.
After availing themselves of the Museums’ souvenir shops and another excellent RAF meal, delegates reluctantly went their separate ways home before the expected hurricane weather hit the UK.