The times I have driven past Duxford War Museum and thought it would make a great day out but never got around to it. Well we finally managed in the Easter holidays and we loved it. We’ll be making more visits soon – it is so well organised, we all learned a lot and could see there is so much more to find out about.
I would advise using the planner and map ahead of your visit to decide which parts appeal the most. The website very useful and we decided on our route before our visit, planning in the all important potential toilet stops and lunch place.
If you are unable to do any pre-planning don’t worry; the leaflet given out on purchase of your ticket is very useful and includes: a map, planner, a brief description of each main exhibit and other useful information such as; where to find out about tours and the mobility assistance vehicle. I have to say the disabled facilities and assistance were impressive. No worries about finding an appropriate toilet, exhibits were well spaced, lifts were easy to find, staff very helpful, a wheelchair loan scheme and the mobility vehicle to hand. If you wanted to be idealistic then a smoother runway when pushing a wheelchair (where the joins are) and it would have been nice to access the inside of a plane as, from what we experienced, you had to be able to climb stairs to go inside but I feel nit-picky considering how easy and relatively stress free the day trip was.
So, after a friendly greeting we followed the Families with Young Children plan. Airspace was our first visit. The first room/hanger display was pretty much what we’d expected with a few planes and a basic information board. However, once inside the main display room we were surround by planes both on the ground and hanging from the ceiling and the children’s eyes lit up. As the planes and other flying machines eg helicopters and reconnaissance remote controlled planes were all displayed in a similar fashion our youngest child grew restless but it wasn’t long until we arrived at the planes which you could board via free-standing stairs and once again the children’s enthusiasm was ignited.
Approaching the upstairs displays with historical visual programmes and futuristic design ideas I thought at first we were going to be rushing through as it wouldn’t interest the children enough but was pleasantly surprised at the variety of hands-on equipment. There is a range of tasks; from adjusting the fins on the plane making it tilt and turn to completing reaction time tests. The range of activities was not just based on subject but also from very simple (having heart rate monitored) to quite complex (simulation games eg choosing a wing shape and the angle at which to take off) which was great because it meant that there was something for everyone in our party. Eventually we dragged ourselves away as we were in danger of not getting around the whole tour!
We missed out the playground as it was basic (but handy if you need your children to let off some steam) and went for lunch. The different cafes serve varying foods and we chose simple jacket potatoes. The staff were courteous and helpful, the food was quite standard for such places (including the price). A nice touch were the complimentary crème egg with their purchase – it was Easter. There are picnic benches, including a covered area that are not indicated on the map.
In the Battle of Britain hanger there was the offer of a free guided tour which we turned down due to fact that we believed our children wouldn’t maintain enough concentration but others seemed to enjoy it. The use of real war footage on television monitors, audio recordings next to some displays and recreations of scenes (such as an enemy plan shot down and being guarded) all made this area much more real to the children and our eldest was particularly interested and enthused which led to lots of questions. An especially touching moment was the recreation of an Anderson Shelter with actor’s voices playing out a typical scene. What made it very moving was that I explained to my son that his granddad would have been the about the same age as the young boy featured and the same age as my son is now. Seeing him absorb this fact, looking at his granddad, asking thoughtful questions and generally trying to empathise with the situation was truly something that all history teachers would have loved to have seen. You couldn’t ask for a better compliment to an exhibition in my opinion. I know that both my father and I were filled with pride to see the attempt to understand.
On route to our next viewing we enjoyed watching a bi-plane take off on short flights around the area with passengers on board and made a mental note to partake in such a thing in the future. The same can be said for the flight simulator!
The American Air Museum appeared to be displayed in a similar fashion to the Airspace hanger but in an award winning design which was very impressive with its long sweeping slopes and glass frontage. One of the best parts of the day, for the children at least, was in here. The set of complimentary activities was called Whizz, Bang, Wallop! There were plenty of staff/volunteers on hand to supervise the children with additional support from parents if need be. Our children loved each activity. First they folded paper to make aeroplanes (different styles with instructions were available) and aimed at a target (of which a record was kept for who had been the closest). Then they made a rocket to launch along a string, flight path (propelled by compressed air) to see if they could reach the end. Lastly, they had a choice between badge making and Airfix model making. For each activity they proudly collected a stamp on their Activities Passport and later, when at home, couldn’t wait to show any visitors what they had made with lots of detailed description of how and where.
Last but not least we arrived at the Land Warfare which had lots of vehicles on display with a ‘jungle’ themed path through it which added to the atmosphere. The children could see how warfare may have been played out and some of the pros and cons of devices. My husband particularly found the information on The Forgotten War (WW2 Far East) interesting as he was not as familiar with it and even though I was more so there was still plenty to be learnt.
The weather put paid to the tank display but, that said, there is so much to see at Duxford that we will definitely be back there soon so I’m sure we’ll see it in the future … later this year, if my children have anything to do with it!
Karen Fletcher, Guest contributor
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Follow the progress of IWM Duxford’s new exhibition, Historic Duxford, on its blog by going to iwm.org.uk
What’s On at IWM Duxford:
Flying Legends – Saturday 30 June and Sunday 1 July 2012
The Duxford Air Show – Saturday 8 and Sunday 9 September 2012
Autumn Air Show – Sunday 14 October 2012
Tickets for their air shows are now on sale. Book online at www.iwm.org.uk or call the Box Office on 01223 499353.