Coltishall's RAF treasures revealed

From the apparently mundane to the historically priceless, scores of pieces of RAF Coltishall memorabilia went on show yesterday when an extension was officially opened at an established and much-loved Norfolk museum.

From the apparently mundane to the historically priceless, scores of pieces of RAF Coltishall memorabilia went on show yesterday when an extension was officially opened at an established and much-loved Norfolk museum.

RAF Coltishall has had a close association with RAF Neatishead for several decades, so when a site was needed to house the carefully- gathered collection, Neatishead's air-defence radar museum was an obvious choice.

Top brass mingled with veterans, the two last station commanders from RAF Coltishall, the base's drawdown team and invited guests as the RAF Coltishall Memorial Rooms were given the official seal of approval.

The timing was particularly poignant, with the last few RAF faces due to leave the Battle of Britain airbase this week for the final time. An RAF detachment which has operated at the base since closure on November 30 is bowing out.

From barrack-block signs, through old maps, photographs and press cuttings, to silverware and original paintings and cartoons created by serving personnel, the collection is very much the work of two key men - Warrant Officer John Welton and RAF Coltishall's base historian Mick Jennings.

One of the prized possessions is Douglas Bader's bunny, a slightly battered fluffy green rabbit which once accompanied the flying ace as “co-pilot” in his MG sports car.

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There are plenty of items with less-immediate significance but which will bring back memories of a base regarded with huge fondness, both in the RAF and the community.

The collection, with its sizeable archive, will also act as a valuable research tool to anyone looking into the history of RAF Coltishall or the personnel who served there.

Air Commodore Kevin Pellatt, the museum's chairman of trustees, said: “We are really pleased to have been able to make space for these rooms.

“This is an important memorial and represents the very close association between the bases at Coltishall and Neatishead.”

Sqn Ldr Jason Hughes, the 40th and last station commander at Coltishall, praised the “sheer hard work” of those involved, especially Mr Welton and Mr Jennings.

“The RAF is not always so good at looking after some of the more historical items and some could have ended up in the skip and consigned to landfill.

“A lot of effort has been put into this and it shows,” he said.

Sqn Ldr Hughes was helped by his predecessor, Wing Cdr Paul Robins, to unveil a plaque to mark the occasion.

Mr Jennings was visibly touched by the plaque, which outlined his efforts in the project.

“John Welton and I became known as Steptoe and Son because of the way we gathered items together,” he said.

“There may have been a little bit of skulduggery involved as well but with the support of a dedicated group of people we have managed to put together something of which I am very proud.”

The museum is open on Tuesday and Thursday, 10am to 5pm, from April to October; on the second Saturday of the month all year and on bank holiday Mondays.

Group visits can be arranged outside these times. Call 01692 631485.