Air museum to transport visitors back to wartime

Fiona Young, Kiara Rohel and Alyson Orme from the National Museum of Flight. Picture: Paul Dodds
Fiona Young, Kiara Rohel and Alyson Orme from the National Museum of Flight. Picture: Paul Dodds
Have your say

THE smell of corned beef hash will be wafting from the trenches while kilted soldiers practice how quickly they can assemble their gas masks.

Meanwhile, their makeshift wives, girlfriends, sisters and daughters will be trying to raise their spirits on the home front by learning the jitterbug and doing their hair in “victory rolls”.

Visitors to the National Museum of Flight tomorrow will be transported back into the wartime era with – quite literally – a bang as museum staff and re-enactment groups aim to produce a thoroughly authentic experience.

From make-up demonstrations for the ladies to storytelling for the kids, the Wartime Experience event at the former wartime airbase at East Fortune has something for the whole family.

As soon as they walk in, visitors will be greeted by the sight of encampments from both World Wars, recreating dramatic scenes from the frontline.

Re-enacters from Scotland and Northern England are planning to sleep in their tents tonight so they can wake up for a breakfast of porridge on the “frontline” tomorrow morning, made by their own fair hands in the authentic trench kitchen.

Visitors will be able to watch the soldiers prepare all their own meals – corned beef hash for lunch and curry for tea – as they would have done in the trenches during wartime.

Then they can watch from the safety of the sidelines as the soldiers launch into full scale battle with the enemy.

Bryony Hope, events officer at National Museums Scotland, says the experience is designed to make people feel like they are really there, through a series of detailed authentic sights, sounds and even smells.

“The Scottish World War One re- enactment group will be in their kilts - very unsuitable battle gear but that’s what they had to wear at that time. We will also have World War Two Americans who chew gum the whole time.

“There will be World War One battle drills where they put gas masks on. This is done in quite a comical way but they are also educational. It could be quite upsetting but it’s more light-hearted and is quite a sight when you see them all lined up with their gas masks on.

“The World War Two battle is more guns and bangs as they take over one of our original blast shelters.”

Although this kind of experience is run annually at the National Museum of Flight, this year’s event has a special focus on the Home Front and the contribution women made to the war effort back on British soil.

It also shows how women and children kept their spirits up during the difficult years while their partners, fathers, brothers and grandfathers were fighting for king and country.

Female visitors may be particularly interested to hear about wartime fashions and find out how they could look good despite rationing.

Staff from Miss Dixiebelle’s vintage boutique and parlour in Bruntsfield will be on hand to put “victory rolls” in their hair and show the magic that can be achieved with very little make-up.

And vintage singing duo The Blitz Sisters - who have performed at the Edinburgh Fringe - are making a special appearance to perform a series of Vera Lynn, George Formby and Andrews Sisters numbers for visitors.

Classes and demonstrations of forties dancing, from the jitterbug to jive, will also take place. “Dancing was very popular at the time as it was very morale-boosting so we will have dance demonstrations and hits from the Blitz,” explains Bryony.

“The whole atmosphere of it will be fantastic.

“It’s a really lovely event and it’s one of my favourites because there’s something for everyone.

“The site is quite vintage anyway and when you walk in and there’s all these guys in their kilts and smells of strange stews being cooked it just comes alive.

“The Home Front side of it really appeals to me, and how people danced and sang and kept themselves amused at home while the men were away at war.”

There will be outfits, including flying jackets and goggles, available for visitors to dress up in and have their photographs taken in sepia for that authentic wartime look.

The event will also feature an aerobatic flying display from a vintage bi-plane and the chance to fly an iconic Spitfire aircraft without leaving the ground in a special Spitfire simulator.

Wartime Experience includes First and Second World War tabletop war games, talks about nursing on the frontline and a special pigeon release, acknowledging how the birds helped us win the war.

Historian Allan Burnett will also give a talk on both conflicts.

There will be craft sessions for children, including making their own board games, as youngsters had to make their own fun during the war.

Younger children will be treated to special wartime- inspired stories during the museum’s Magic Carpet session.

All of the museum hangars will be open for visitors to explore, including the military aircraft hangar housing Spitfire and Messerschmitt fighters, and the Fortunes of War exhibition, which tells the important story of East Fortune’s wartime past.

Steve McLean, general manager at the National Museum of Flight adds: “The First and Second World Wars saw East Fortune take on an important role in the defence of the nation.

“Our Wartime Experience event helps to tell this, and the country’s story by recreating many of the sights and sounds our relatives would have been familiar with in a vibrant and informative way.

“We believe this event will be an exciting event for visitors of all ages.”

• Wartime Experience runs from 10am until 5pm. Tickets cost £10.50 for adults, £8.50 for concessions and £5 for children. Under fives go free. A family ticket – covering two adults and two children – costs £27.50. Tickets can be booked online at or by calling 0300 123 6789.