Army Honours Heritage Volunteer
A tireless volunteer has been honoured for her dedication to preserving Wattisham’s history as the station’s museum was reopened after refurbishment and a restored Hawker Hunter fighter unveiled.
Maggie Aggiss, Chair of the Wattisham Airfield Heritage Group, was presented with a Commander’s Commendation by Wattisham Stn Cdr Col Neale Moss OBE and David Ruffley MP.
The presentation honoured Mrs Aggiss’ 20 year long involvement with the heritage group. It was made as Mr Ruffley, MP for Bury St Edmunds, reopened the station museum and the Hawker Hunter, one of the RAF’s Black Arrows display team which used to be based at Wattisham.
Col Moss said: “Wattisham has a long and proud history as a base for the RAF and USAAF, and is now home to the British Army’s Apache attack helicopters. Maggie Aggiss deserves recognition as the driving force in recording and preserving Wattisham’s history. She has been instrumental in establishing the station museum in 1992, creating a memorial dedicated to those who have lost their lives while serving here and overseeing the restoration of Hunter XG194.”
Mrs Aggiss said: “I am delighted and overwhelmed to receive the Commander’s Commendation in recognition of the work I have carried out for Wattisham’s proud heritage, which is very important to enthusiasts, veterans, serving personnel and the local community alike. I would like to thank my Heritage group members who have worked so hard to restore the Hunter and fit out the Museum.”
The heritage group’s next project is the restoration of Phantom XT914, which was one of the last RAF planes to fly out of Wattisham and is returning to the base after standing as a gate guardian at RAF Brampton, Cambs. (see adjacent article)
During his visit to Wattisham, Mr Ruffley also looked round an Apache and spoke to the soldiers who fly and maintain it, as well as touring the base’s welfare facilities and speaking with the families of deployed service personnel.
Col Moss said: “It was a pleasure to host Mr Ruffley and I hope that he has gone away better informed about Wattisham, its role and capabilities.”
Wattisham Heritage Museum re-opened to public visitors in April and thereafter on the first Sunday of every month until 7th October. Visits can only be made by appointment, for more information visit www.wattishamairfieldmuseum.org
Hawker Hunter XG194
The aircraft was delivered to the RAF on October 3rd 1956. Flown by Air Cdre Roger Topp, OC 111 Sqn, she was the lead aircraft in the Black Arrows Display Team when they performed a 22 aircraft loop at Farnborough Air show in July 1958.
When the aircraft was grounded it was modified to resemble a Russian Mig fighter and put on the edge of RAF North Luffenham runway as a target.
The aircraft was acquired by Wattisham Airfield Heritage Group in 2009 and work has continued since to restore it. The aircraft has been named Blackjack in honour of Air Cdre Topp and will eventually wear the livery of the Black Arrows.
A Brief History of Wattisham Flying Station:
The construction of Wattisham Airfield was started in 1937 during the RAF’s significant expansion in the late 1930s, with the Blenheim bombers of 107 and 110 Squadrons taking up residence in 1939. These squadrons flew the first bombing raid of World War II, only hours after war was declared on 3rd September 1939.
RAF Wattisham was transferred to the USAAF’s 8th Air Force in 1942. 434th, 435th and 436th Sqns were based at Wattisham, flying P38 Lightnings and P51 Mustang.
After the war the RAF took back Wattisham, with the Meteor jet fighters of 257 and 263 Squadrons arriving in 1950. Squadrons flying Hunter, Javelin and Lightning aircraft were based at the station. The Black Arrows display team, one of the predecessors of today’s Red Arrows, flew their Hunters from Wattisham in the 1950s.
The last RAF squadrons to operate from Wattisham were Nos 56 and 74, who flew the Phantom from 1976. Wattisham closed as an RAF Station in July 1993 and was transferred to the Army.