Military History Tours On Tour - RAAF in the UK 3 July 2010
A 9:00 start due to the good breakfast at the White hart hotel in Salisbury designated 3 star is much better than that with fantastic service and meals. We are looking forward to dinner tonight. We had a different day today visiting quite a bit of history. From a WWII fighter airfield to a Commonwealth Grave site with 144 Australians interred then onto the wonderful reception at the Army Aviation museum. The airfield we found and visited is at Zeals in Wiltshire where we were able to walk on the hardstand and revetments where a Spitfire squadron operated from during the Battle of Britain. The Australian Fighter pilot we had with us, Ron Magrath, was able to describe to us the strategic importance of an airfield in this location that was far enough from the coast to be able to avert being surprised yet able to scramble and meet enemy bombers at height as they hit the coast.
This location could also cover London or Bristol at a moments notice. Alan Lyons left a card with the owners of the property, formerly the Control Tower. We were contacted later in the day by the owners who were not at home during our visit. They were delighted that we had visited and hoped to see us next time we tour. We left Zeals and headed through the back roads of Wiltshire passing through some very quaint villages with the thatched roof cottages and general English country atmosphere.
Reaching one of these villages, Sutton Veny, we visited the Commonwealth War Grave that is there in the grounds of the parish church. There are 144 Australians buried here and a lot of grave stone have the date of death of 1919 as a result of the flu epidemic that hit the world. A short ceremony was held at the grave of Matron walker of the RAAMC who obviously succumbed whilst attending her charges. In this area during the war many Australians were trained and where 1 AGH was located. Inside the church is a small chapel dedicated to the Australians who were operating the area and up until a few years ago each ANZAC day was a live radio broadcast. We met the contractors from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission who are dedicated to the task of maintaining the four sites under their control. Their enthusiasm in what they were doing was obvious to us all.
Last but not least was a visit to RAF Middle Wallop where the Army Aviation Museum was located. On our way we passed Stone Henge and the burial mounds associated with it. We were well received by the staff, had lunch in the Apache Restaurant, ushered into their theatre to watch a film about their history and current role and then went into their wonderful museum. This museum, which is on the site of the former RAF base from where 456 Squadron operated their Mosquitos, concentrated on the Army side of flying, particularly rotary wing (helicopters) and WWII gliders as used at Arnem.
We boarded our coach and returned to Salisbury where time was available for a short walk around this beautiful town, including the famous cathedral which was painted by Constable.