Fighter command heritage centre to open at former air base

Merv Cousens, left, chairman of the RAF Station Coltishall Heritage Trust; Tom Hempsall, centre, exh

Merv Cousens, left, chairman of the RAF Station Coltishall Heritage Trust; Tom Hempsall, centre, exhibition manager; and John Welton, MBE, secretary; at the new Heritage Centre they have created with artifacts about the fighter base. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

The rich heritage of one of Norfolk's most important air force bases is to be celebrated at a new centre.

A team of volunteers is working to transform a guardroom building at the former RAF Coltishall - which is now Scottow Enterprise Park - into a heritage and learning centre, to be opened as soon as lockdown restrictions allow.

Merv Cousens, back right, chairman of the RAF Station Coltishall Heritage Trust; Tom Hempsall, left,

Merv Cousens, back right, chairman of the RAF Station Coltishall Heritage Trust; Tom Hempsall, left, exhibition manager; and John Welton, MBE, secretary; at the new Heritage Centre they have created with artifacts about the fighter base. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

Mervyn Cousens, chairman of the RAF Station Coltishall Heritage Trust, said the centre was a long time coming.

Mr Cousens, 64, from Coltishall, said: "We wanted to do something to highlight the importance of everything that has gone on here, and keep it alive for generations to come. 

 "We're almost ready to go and we're planning to open June 23. We're in talks about getting some more static displays, like another aeroplane or two. It all depends on what the council and the neighbours want to do."

A Lightning aircraft's control column in the new RAF Coltishall Heritage Centre. Picture: DENISE BRA

A Lightning aircraft's control column in the new RAF Coltishall Heritage Centre. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021


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The trust is leasing building No. 40 at the site on what it hopes will be a long-term arrangement. The enterprise park is owned by Norfolk County Council and leased to Hethel Innovation, which in turn leases parts of the site to tenants including the heritage trust.

RAF Coltishall became a fighter station in 1940, the year after it was built, and during the Second World War it was home to more than 80 fighter squadrons. It hosted pilots including the ace Douglas Bader as well as Polish and Czech units, and during the Cold War it was home to Lightning and Jaguar jets. The base was closed in 2006.

A Jaguar aircraft's undercarriage nose door in the new RAF Coltishall Heritage Centre. Picture: DENI

A Jaguar aircraft's undercarriage nose door in the new RAF Coltishall Heritage Centre. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

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Mr Cousens said Norfolk was unique in that it had three RAF command stations - fighter command at Coltishall, bomber command at RAF Marham and coastal command at Bircham Newton. He said: "Once we've got ourselves open we'll be able to link up and maybe make a heritage trail for people who do want to learn the facts of what happened."

Mr Cousens said the base had been part of many other chapters in Norfolk's history, including playing a pivotal role in the response to the 1953 North Sea floods, and hosting several royal visits. 

The cell door in the new RAF Coltishall Heritage Centre which was once the guardroom. Picture: DENIS

The cell door in the new RAF Coltishall Heritage Centre which was once the guardroom. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

He said there were thousands of people - both servicemen and women and civilians - who had been involved with Coltishall over the years, and the new centre was sure to draw many visitors to Norfolk. 

He said: "It was such a big part of so many people's lives. For so many it was the one place they really loved. It's like a golden thread that goes through anybody who has been here."

The new RAF Coltishall Heritage Centre in what was the old guardroom. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The new RAF Coltishall Heritage Centre in what was the old guardroom. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

The sign at the new RAF Coltishall Heritage Centre. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The sign at the new RAF Coltishall Heritage Centre. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

Merv Cousens, left, chairman of the RAF Station Coltishall Heritage Trust; Tom Hempsall, centre, exh

Merv Cousens, left, chairman of the RAF Station Coltishall Heritage Trust; Tom Hempsall, centre, exhibition manager; and John Welton, MBE, secretary; at the new Heritage Centre they have created with artifacts about the fighter base. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

Quilts made by the wives of the first Gulf War Jaguar airmen, on show in the new RAF Coltishall Heri

Quilts made by the wives of the first Gulf War Jaguar airmen, on show in the new RAF Coltishall Heritage Centre. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

The top button on a WAAF wartime uniform which is actually a Polish button, in the new RAF Coltishal

The top button on a WAAF wartime uniform which is actually a Polish button, in the new RAF Coltishall Heritage Centre. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

A Lightning aircraft pilot's pressurised suit in the new RAF Coltishall Heritage Centre. Picture: DE

A Lightning aircraft pilot's pressurised suit in the new RAF Coltishall Heritage Centre. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021


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