Bentley Priory

Posted on Tues, 3 September 2013 by Alyson Thomas
Posted in: Medal News
Bentley Priory Repaying the debt

NEARLY 18 months ago MEDAL NEWS ran an editorial Comment asking readers to help with the development of the museum at Bentley Priory, home of Fighter Command during World War II and the “spiritual home”, if you will, of “The Few”—those brave airmen who fought in the Battle of Britain and saved this green and pleasant land from the threat of Nazi invasion. The RAF’s dominance of the skies over the southern coast of England ensured that the German High Command shelved any plans to crush the last main resistance in Western Europe, a decision that led to them turning their attentions east—and when they did so the whole tide of the war changed.

Bentley Priory was sold off by the Government in 2005 as part of a defence budget spending review and was bought by Barratt Developments to be turned into luxury apartments. However, despite the impression many of us may have of “developers”, Barratt were not without heart and, realising the significance of the building, agreed not only to give over much of the building as a museum (they are providing a “serviced shell”), but also gave an endowment of £3 million towards the cost of maintaining the building in the future. This generous gesture was not, however, enough to actually set up the museum and it meant that the Bentley Priory Battle of Britain Trust had to find a further £2.4 million. Some of this was raised via the National Lottery. However, a charity appeal was set up and MEDAL NEWS “adopted” it as our worthy cause as we felt it was something that perhaps would not get the coverage of larger charities related to the military. Melissa John, who featured in our December/January issue this past year, took on the cause and, via adverts in MEDAL NEWS invited our readers to buy badges, made by Cleave and Company and commissioned by Melissa to ensure there was no cost to the Trust. She also agreed to take a stand at the Britannia medal fair and organised a charity auction in conjunction with Spink. As a consequence she has helped raise hundreds of thousands of pounds towards the new museum. Now her hard work has paid off and we are delighted to announce that this month sees the opening of Bentley Priory. Both we at MEDAL NEWS and the Bentley Priory Battle of Britain Trust would like to say a huge “thank you” to everyone who helped in getting this project off the ground, whether they bought a £200 badge, a £30 badge or just donated what they could—every penny was gratefully received. Of course, you know what I’m going to say now don’t you? Yes, that’s right: please don’t stop giving! The Trust will always be glad of funds so please don’t think that now the museum is open, that’s that. There will still be a great deal of expenditure needed and so please do keep on giving—as Winston Churchill said: “never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few” and we truly believe it is time to repay some of that debt, knowing that we can never pay it off in full. As ever, the details about Bentley Priory can be found within the magazine, this month on pages 32 and 33.

I hope you will forgive me for plugging Bentley Priory as much as I do within these pages, but as I said back in the original “Comment” in March last year, I truly believe this to be a worthy cause. The impact that “The Few” had on the war can never be underestimated and it is vitally important, as they now fade away, to keep their memory alive for future generations. Only by learning about the past can we be sure not to repeat its mistakes, and telling those who come after what those who went before did to preserve the way of life they now enjoy is a key part of that. In today’s cosy world of the EU and the “global village”, it will be easy to dismiss what our grandfathers had to go through in the skies over Europe and on its battlefields as just something that happened in the distant past. As those grandfathers die off and there are fewer people to tell us just what they went through, it is places like Bentley Priory that are left to tell their story, and it is a story that must continue to be told across the years. However, I am not going to use this “Comment” solely to tell you what I have tried to say many times in the past year and a half, but rather I will bring the subject back to medals by saying that after the museum opens in mid-September (it should be open for Battle of Britain Day on September 15—watch our website and Twitter feed for more details), you really should pay a visit (it’s located between Harrow and Edgware), as I understand there are going to be some cracking medal groups on display and even if you’re not an RAF collector you cannot fail to appreciate some of the awards and decorations given to some of this country’s finest fliers (not forgetting the many Czechs, Poles and others who flew in the Battle of Britain too). I hope to give you more details of exactly what is on display next month. For further details about the museum or for directions, etc., visit www.bentleypriory.org and please, don’t stop giving!

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