A state-of-the-art visitor centre which tells the incredible story of top secret plotting to defeat the German airforce in the Battle of Britain opened its doors to the public over the bank holiday weekend.
Coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Air Force on Easter Sunday, Hillingdon Council's Battle of Britain exhibition and visitor centre in Wren Avenue, Uxbridge , was opened on Friday (March 30).
The museum showcases the original underground Battle of Britain bunker which was the centre of No. 11 Fighter Group operations during the crucial air battle of July to October 1940, and from where aircraft were scrambled to defend London and the south east of England from Luftwaffe air attacks
It was here that Winston Churchill was thought to have first uttered the legendary phrase: "Never in the history of mankind has so much been owed by so many to so few."
Located at the former RAF Uxbridge base which closed in 2010, the visitor centre - funded by the council to the tune of £6m - tells the story of the bunker's crucial role in history for the first time.
The reconstructed bunker, 76 steps down from the new museum, features the iconic map table where flightpaths of aircraft could be plotted and attacks charted with counters by a workforce which was 85% women.
The new displays include full-size replica aircraft, original artefacts, wartime footage and oral histories.
There is also a replica of the original plotting table map as part of a 360-degree touch screen experience, which can be enjoyed by those who cannot take the tour down into the bunker to view the original.
Hillingdon Council took over guardianship of the bunker in 2016 from the Ministry of Defence and secured £1m of government funding to help restore it.
Previously tours of the bunker were sporadic, but there are now five each day led by professional guides.
Current council leader Ray Puddifoot said: "Hillingdon Council is proud of the borough's RAF heritage and we regard it as both an honour and a privilege to now be custodians of the Battle of Britain Bunker which was, a few years ago, in danger of closure.
"It is an amazing building in both design and content and I would like to thank council staff and all of those involved in the design, construction and fitting out of this tribute to what was, undoubtedly, one of this nation's finest hours.
"We should never forget that our brave British pilots fought alongside those from other nations - notably Poland, New Zealand, Canada and Czechoslovakia - and that their success, and indeed their lives, were often in the hands of the ground staff underground in the No. 11 Fighter Group Operations Room here on this site in Uxbridge - 85% of whom were women."
The centre was officially opened on March 16 with a civic ceremony attended by Mr Puddifoot and Uxbridge & South Ruislip MP Boris Johnson , along with RAF and WAAF veterans - some of whom actually served in the bunker during the war.
Senior curator, Daniel Stirland, said: "The bunker played a crucial role in the air defence of the United Kingdom throughout the Second World War .
"It was so important that both King George VI and Winston Churchill visited in 1940 during the Battle of Britain and were amazed by what they saw.
"Our new museum finally acknowledges the top secret work carried out at Uxbridge by the Royal Air Force."
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Speaking about the new visitor attraction, Boris Johnson said: "This is an absolute triumph for Hillingdon Council.
"I am just bowled over by the beautiful job they have done and it far exceeds my expectations. It's a new facility for the borough and a great new visitor destination for London."
The bunker forms the centre of the new 40-acre Dowding Park, named after Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding who ran Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain and chose RAF Uxbridge to co-ordinate operations.
It is surrounded by new homes, a school and new business units as well as the visitor centre, to form a new residential/cultural park.
The centenary of the RAF itself will be marked by special events and activities across the UK from April to the end of November 2018.
The centrepiece will take place on July 10, with a centenary service in Westminster Abbey, followed by a parade in The Mall and spectacular flypast over Buckingham Palace.
A special centenary relay race which will see an RAF baton stopping at 100 locations across the UK made a stop at the bunker on Sunday.
For more on the bunker and the visitor centre, go to www.hillingdon.gov.uk/bunker .
For details of events for the RAF centenary, visit www.raf.mod.uk/raf100 .
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