Visiting RAF Manston History Museum


RAF Manston


Even though we have lived fairly close to it for many years, we had never got around to visiting RAF Manston until last week. Once we had, we couldn’t figure out why on earth we hadn’t visited before.

RAF Manston’s story began in 1916 when it became a Royal Naval Station. By the following year the airfield had grown considerably to include four underground hangars, an electric power station, a train line and barracks for 3,000 men.

After the First World War airmen were trained in Manston’s School of Technical Training, and the airfield’s history continued through WW2, on into the 1950s and beyond until its closure was finally announced in 1999 – the RAF leaving more than 80 years after they first arrived.

Despite the end of its relationship with the RAF, Manston is still an active airfield – albeit not to the scale it once was – and the taking off of a helicopter greeted us as we arrived.




Everyone was thrilled to get to see this majestic craft taking off. They watched its every move as it hovered, glided and finally manoeuvred itself slowly off the ground…




And watching it finally take to the skies so majestically was clearly something special to see.




RAF Manston was far smaller from the outside than we had imagined it would be. But soon we discovered that looks certainly were deceiving.




Entry fees were extremely reasonable indeed and we felt that the prices at £2 per adult and only 50 pence per child were more than reasonable – enough to provide the museum with an income to help towards its running costs without putting people off from revisiting over and over again.

The welcome and reception from staff is always something we take particular note of. The customer service can often serve to set the tone of the rest of a visit and can make or break a place so it was extremely encouraging to receive such a warm welcome from the staff at the front desk.

The museum is set over two floors and as we had the two youngest in a buggy we were quickly escorted to the ramp which would take us to the first floor.

The aircraft we passed by on the ground floor could be viewed from the higher level from the balcony.





It was fabulous to be able to see the aircrafts from another angle as opposed to just floor level.




It also made us realise just how big this place was in comparison to how it looked from the outside. Full-sized aircraft from several decades were exhibited alongside artefacts and historical reminders of years gone by both inside…




…and out…




The museum was packed with information not only on the aircraft within it, but also on the local area’s history too. We had never until now realised just how important this airfield was particularly during the wars.




While the older boys and Cait had studied the wars in some depth before, there is something quite different when actually faced with stories and letters written by the people who actually fought in them.




The reality brought home by seeing photographs of young men only just a few years older than they were proved sobering, especially while surrounded by the actual aircraft that they would have been risking their lives in every day that they battled.




Reading actual letters that they had sent home was poignant. Visiting with seven of my eight sons safely by my side, this letter that one young airman sent home to his mother made me cry:




Ration books from WW2 were displayed behind glass. Co-incidentally, the one here was from the town I was raised in over in Surrey.




Seeing the small-scale model of how RAF Manston used to look was superb! Being able to compare how it was then to now was so interesting – at least it was for Mike and I.




While it doesn’t seem all that big now, the model gave a visual insight into how big the airfield actually was and how much actually went on there.




Even the model railway could be operated with a 20 pence coin which proved fascinating for both younger…




…and older kids alike…




The children enjoyed trying to spot different aircraft models in the various displays…




…and coming up with their own favourites…




There were also a few different scenarios set out behind glass to provide an idea of how life was for people during the war…




Various weapons were on display…




As well as artefacts…




…and even bombs…




Of course, a visit to Manston wouldn’t be complete without visitors learning all about the ‘bouncing bomb’ and the heroic Dambusters – given that it was the very location that engineer Barnes Wallis had tested it from.




As you can see, Operation Chastise proved interesting across the range of ages…




Getting up close to the aircraft was a great opportunity for everyone to understand the sheer scale of some of the crafts compared to others…




…and a chance to take a glimpse inside wasn’t to be passed up either…




Needless to say, it all looked far more complicated than any of us had imagined…




The trip piqued the children’s curiosity about the two World Wars, nudging their memories to remember some of the lessons they had learned previously.




Except now, the things they had read about and were told about seemed a little more real…




The younger ones had a different perspective on the trip, of course. For them it was a chance to see lots of lovely aeroplanes. The story behind them wasn’t so understandable to their young minds.

As well as war-time planes there were also small-scale exhibits of more recent aeroplanes. Seeing a Boeing’s control panel up close was something pretty wonderful as far as Joseph was concerned!




And of course, rolling down a hill during picnic time is always pretty good fun too…




After our lunch break it was time to take a quick look around the Spitfire and Hurricane Museum opposite.


spitfire and hurricane museum kent


Entry was free for all but unlike the RAF Manston Museum, there was far less to see.




Whilst it didn’t take long to complete our visit here we all still enjoyed seeing these two iconic aircraft up close…




The visit left a strong impression on Joseph in particular…




…who really, really fell in love with them…




…and has now decided…




…that he would quite like to become a pilot.

Keeping your ticket allows you to return to the RAF Manston Museum at any time during the day meaning you can leave to enjoy a picnic outside or over at the Spitfire and Hurricane Museum’s cafe, and revisit later on the same day. And so this is what we decided to do…




And so it was time for one last look around…




…and a final farewell for now…




…before it was time to return home.




The RAF Manston History Museum is located at Manston Road, Ramsgate, Kent. More information can be found on the RAF Manston History Museum website and you can also find them on Facebook too.



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