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Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar lashes back over claims it snubbed RAF Gravesend in Battle of Britain tribute

Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar has lashed back at suggestions that it snubbed war hero pilots after it omitted RAF Gravesend from a Battle of Britain tribute.

A flyover marking the “Hardest Day”, a raid on RAF bases in south east England during the Second World War, will leave out the former military airfield, now the site of Cascades leisure centre, when it takes place today.

The “Hardest Day” was August 18, 1940 and, as part of the Battle of Britain’s 75th anniversary, Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar and Biggin Hill Airport has organised a flyover of Hurricane and Spitfire planes.

A Spitfire aircraft preparing to take off at RAF Gravesend
A Spitfire aircraft preparing to take off at RAF Gravesend

It will be split into three flights covering each area featured in the former theatre of operations.

Historians and heritage enthusiasts from Gravesend Airport Heritage Project (GAHP) said leaving Gravesend out was offensive to the brave RAF servicemen and women who were based there.

Robin Brooks, press officer for the Heritage Hangar, said: “I don’t think it’s anything like a snub, that’s absolutely ridiculous. This is a tribute to The Few.

“We have sent John Tate all the air navigation orders that we have but we can’t fly over the actual site of Gravesend airport because of all the buildings there. We can’t fly over a built up area. But we will fly as close as we can to Gravesend.”

Biggin Hill Airport (Pic by Wiki Commons)
Biggin Hill Airport (Pic by Wiki Commons)

Led by John Tate, GAHP set up a petition, garnering 215 signatures, pleaded with Biggin Hill and wrote numerous posts on social media but were unfortunately unable to provoke change.

Mr Tate said: “I think we can say quite safely that there will be no contact between us and Biggin Hill anymore.

"They have published the route and as far as I can see it will actually go across from Cobham to Istead Rise and head off towards New Barn and go to Biggin Hill from there. "The closest to Gravesend it will be is one-mile south of the A2.”

The original route would have seen aircraft set off from Biggin Hill Airport, which played a key role in the Battle of Britain, and fly over former RAF airfields at Detling, West Malling and Gravesend.

The men of the 501 squadron who were based at RAF Gravesend during the "Hardest Day"
The men of the 501 squadron who were based at RAF Gravesend during the "Hardest Day"

The “Hardest Day” was given its name because it was thought to be the hardest fought conflict during the Battle of Britain and involved the German Luftwaffe flying 850 sorties, involving 3,200 airmen, as they raided RAF airfields. The RAF defended its bases by sending out 926 sorties involving 600 crew.

There were 10 British fatalities from the day, while 94 Germans died, and among the dead were two pilots from 501 Squadron based at RAF Gravesend, Plt Off J.W Bland and Flt Lt G.E.B Stoney. Both the men are commemorated on a memorial plaque at the entrance to Cascades in Thong Lane.

Mr Tate he sad he would not be able to appreciate the flyover but instead he would focus on commemorating the anniversary itself.

Mr Tate said: “It’s a shame, they [Biggin Hill] have made various statements on social media but haven’t allowed any answers to what they have said.

“They keep coming back to problems regarding flying over built up areas but we’ve since proved that it would be possible to do something without flying over those areas, you just have to head down to the East of the airport.

“What it comes down to is cost, they don’t want to pay anymore than they already have.”

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