Model maker's sterling work reaches lofty new heights
PUBLISHED: 10:00 06 April 2013
© Archant Norfolk 2013
As a schoolboy in North Creake, near Fakenham, Tony Nelson was often disciplined for gazing out of the window at the many aircraft flying over his head from the nearby RAF base.
His daydreams later inspired a life-long passion for model-making which has lasted 60 years and seen him make 26 large scale military models.
His masterpiece and possibly the final part of the collection – Stirling MK III LJ525 Ex-R Jolly Roger – was brought to the former RAF North Creake airfield on Thursday.
It is a one sixth scale model of the aircraft which flew 60 missions from RAF North Creake and it was the first time a Stirling, of any type, has been on the airfield since 1947.
The model, which will feature on The Antiques Roadshow on BBC One next month, has taken Mr Nelson 7,000 hours to build over the course of 15 years. Mr Nelson, 70, from Great Bircham, a retired lorry driver, said he has spent well over 35,000 hours on all of his models.
They make up Norfolk’s Model Air Force Collection, which Mr Nelson formed in 1970 and exhibits all over the country.
He said: “I’ve pretty much lived in my shed making models for the last 60 years.
“I’m happy with what I’ve achieved, but I think this Stirling Bomber is my best one. It’s taken a lot of work, and has been tiring, so I think it might well be my last one as well.”
The Stirling has a five-metre wing span and weighs 95lbs. Eight litres of paint were used to paint its six layers.
It has been constructed from balsa wood, plywood and spruce.
It will be flown next year in a large circle on thin steel cables attached to Mr Nelson and a friend to control its in-flight functions.
Mr Nelson believes it could possibly be the largest and heaviest model aircraft of this type in the world.
The model features intricate details in the cockpit.
The pilot’s controls and flight instruments are all in there, the navigator’s station has scale pencils, compass and slide rule, the wireless station has scale headphones and the flight engineer is equipped with a mass of small dials and switches.
The gun turrets have many rounds of scale .303 bullets made from cocktail sticks. The model was filmed for the Antiques Roadshow at RAF Marham last year and was valued by the show’s experts.
Mr Nelson chose not to reveal their estimation, saying he would prefer to let people discover it by watching the programme, on BBC One on May 26 at 8pm, but said, “For the first time in my life I was speechless.”
But Mr Nelson said the money is not important to him and he wants the model to be kept with the rest of the collection in a place that is appropriate and correct.
He said: “I’ve kept the models in my own lorry and driven them around to various shows and exhibitions.
“Now that I’m looking to pack it in, I think it might be time for them to go into an aviation museum or somewhere similar.”
The Stirling Bomber, which the model is based on, was flown by the 199 Squadron, which served at RAF North Creake between 1944 and 1945 and was involved with radio jamming equipment to confuse German radar.
Mr Nelson said: “This model was built as a memorial to all who served at the RAF North Creake airfield and to all who served in the RAF Bomber Command from 1939 until 1945, especially to the 55,573 who flew from these shores never to return.
“That is why it is important to me that this model and the rest of the collection are kept somewhere appropriate.”
The collection will be sent to France for the 70th anniversary of D-Day in June next year.
Ferry operator DFDS Seaways, in Dover, has already agreed to transport it over the English Channel in Mr Nelson’s lorry.
The French president of the D-Day Normandy Academy has viewed the collection during a visit to the UK.
Mr Nelson said: “It’s possible that the collection may stay in France, but I’m open to suggestions.” The starboard side of the Stirling currently bears the markings of an aircraft from the 75 Squadron, Royal New Zealand Air Force, which was based at RAF Mepal in Cambridgeshire in 1943. The model has been exhibited there and Mr Nelson said some veterans were in tears when they saw it. The Stirling model has also provoked many memories for Fakenham haulier Jack Richards, who was an engine fitter on Stirlings with the 75 Squadron at Mepal in 1943. The model has been displayed on occasions at Mr Richards’ popular lorry museum in Fakenham, part of which is a memorial to the 75 Squadron.
Mr Richards visited the former RAF North Creake airfield on Thursday to inspect the model.
He was joined by Susan Williamson, from Dersingham, whose father Geoffrey Mitchell was a mid upper gunner on LJ525 at RAF North Creake, Geoffrey Bullen, from Hunstanton, who used to fly Stirlings in the second world war at RAF Rivenhall in Essex and Teddy Maufe, a farmer on the former RAF North Creake airfield and a great fan of Stirling aircraft.
Mr Maufe’s parents farmed on the airfield during the war years.
He said: “This model is absolutely brilliant and this is the first time a Stirling, in any form, has been at RAF North Creake since 1947.
“So many brave people worked here and never came back. This model is a great tribute to them.”
Mr Bullen, 90, said: “Tony has done a wonderful job. The model is so accurate. When I saw it, I wanted to climb into it.”
Anyone who wants to suggest an appropriate home for the collection can call Mr Nelson on 01485 578756.