“249 Hurricane” Returns to Guard Airfield
On Sunday 18 May 2008, the skies above North Weald Airfield once again echoed to the sound of Hurricane and Spitfire aircraft. The Second World War aircraft were part of the Spirit of North Weald Airfield Open day and Fly-in, a unique event commemorating both the 90th Anniversary of the birth of the RAF and the unveiling of the North Weald Gate Guardian Project; a full sized replica of a Hawker Hurricane of the markings of the RAF’s 56 Squadron, as flown by 249 pilot Tom Neil during the Battle of Britain in September 1940.
The unveiling of the North Weald Gate Guardian Project
Standard Bearers and Pipers and airfield veterans provided the backdrop to the ceremony as Wing Commander Tom 'Ginger' Neil DFC [who flew the real aircraft, V7313, still in its 56 squadron marking] unveiled a commemoration plaque before a huge crowd of onlookers.
Tom with Battle of Britain ground crew veterans of 56 and 222 squadrons, and Spitfire display pilot Peter Teichman
During the day, visitors were able to enjoy a large selection of aircraft from the Airfield’s historic aircraft collections; as well as a a flypast and display by a Hurricane, Spitfire and Dakota of the RAF Memorial Flight, a RAF re-enactment group, veteran cars, WWII military vehicles, children's rides and amusements.
The fund raising event was made possible by the hard work, co-operation and fundraising of Epping Forest District Council, North Weald Parish Council, North Weald Flying Services and Hughmark International as well as many other local organisations. The Hurricane Gate Guardian Project is managed by Epping Forest District Council's Airfield Operations Manager Darren Goodey together with local resident and airfield historian Arthur Moreton.
Extract from speech by Arthur Moreton at unveiling:
“German attacks on the airfields of south-east England continued into early September and the aerial battles that took place in the skies over Essex were particularly brutal.
So brutal that 56 Squadron lost 11 aircraft in just five days of fighting and No 151 was reduced to just ten serviceable machines. The loss of pilots on 31st August being so high, that both squadrons became non-operational and were withdrawn to reform. Their replacement squadrons were 249 [who took over the Hurricanes left behind by 56], 46 and 25 – who had little time to get used to their new surroundings before plunging into action
On 3 September, just as the fighters were taking off, the Luftwaffe again bombed North Weald. The damage was substantial with aircraft, hangars, living quarters, the operations room and other station buildings destroyed – leaving 5 people dead and 39 injured.
Hurricane V7313, flown by a young pilot officer of 249 squadron but still in the markings of 56 squadron ; returning to his badly damaged but still operational airfield after battling in the skies over Essex wrote” far below the whole airfield was hidden beneath a huge grey brown pall of smoke and dust. They’d bombed us! The airfield! The blighters had bombed our airfield!”
The same young pilot flew this aircraft many times, before it was shot down in combat while being flown by another 249 pilot on 12th October. He is credited with destroying more than six enemy aircraft while at North Weald and was awarded the first of his two Distinguished Flying Crosses on October 8th 1940..
Now, Wing Commander Tom “Ginger” Neil, DFC and bar, AFC, AE. RAF retired, he is with us today and I would ask him to unveil the commemoration plaque that will be displayed alongside the aircraft when it is sited at the airfield main gate in September.”
'Spirit of North Weald' Gate Guardian in place
The Spirit of North Weald has now been mounted on a pedestal, in a dramatic pose, close to the post war control tower and just inside the Airfield entrance security gate. The steel work was handled by David Young of Hanger 39, assisted by UK Lift and Haul and airfield operations team members John Ramage and Colin Lanson. On 19th April 2009 the Gate Guardian was dedicated, along with plaques recording the names of the sponsors. The ceremony was performed by Rev. Rayner Harris MBE. Once again Tom Neil took part in the ceremony. He was assisted by Wng. Cdr. John Beazley and wartime ground crew John Gill and ‘Dixie’ Heron. A colour party from the recently reformed 56 Squadron was also present.