Biggin Hill The Most Famous Fighter Station In The World And Its Wonderful Chapel

Jan Leeming

Shoreham 2007

Shoreham Airshow 2007
Me looking brave before taking to the air (and the wing) of the plane. Wow, it was cold !! But the whole experience was totally exhilarating.

 

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Jan's Blog

Computers and the internet are amazing things. One of my concerns with putting together this site was that it could remain current, yet with all my travelling I've often much to say, but little time to say it. Years ago when reading the news it would take me days on end to reply to the kind letters people sent. Now, with the magic of the modern age, I can keep you up to date with what I'm doing and other events in my life.

BIGGIN HILL - The most famous fighter station in the world and its wonderful chapel

Date: 22nd May 2011

BIGGIN HILL - The most famous fighter station in the world

At the winding up dinner to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of The Battle of Britain, Wing Cdr. Andy Simpson suggested that I should visit the Biggin Hill Chapel - apart from anything else Rene Mouchotte's name is emblazoned on the Oak Reredos on either side of the altar.

So at last our diaries agreed and I made another little 'pilgrimage' to Biggin Hill. Nothing could have prepared me for the wonders of this amazing little Chapel. The Nissan Hut (and those of you as ancient as I am will remember them dotted over the countryside) serving as the Chapel at Biggin remained in use until ravaged by a fire in 1946. Little was saved from the ruins except the charred Visitors' Book in which one name was still legible - Winston Churchill.

Lord Dowding laid the Foundation Stone for a new Chapel to be built on the site of an old hangar in the North Camp near the main road. The Entrance to the Chapel is marked, of course, by a replica Spitfire and Hurricane. The chapel itself is a very simple red brick building which totally belies the richness (in memorabilia) on the inside.

Where do I begin? The Chapel mirrors the layout of the old Nissan Chapel and its parquet floor is made up entirely from layers of wood from old propellers. As you know, I'm not a great admirer of modern stained glass but the twelve windows at Biggin are really beautiful. Each narrow window depicts a six-winged Seraphim holding one of the badges of the Sqadrons which took part in the Battle of Britain.. One window even has a tiny mosquito captured forever in time - placed there by the glazier who flew Mosquitoes in the war. Before you enter the Chapel, you are standing in St. Georges Hall and even more modern stained glass (the difference in cost between the 50's and the 80's would make your eyes water). The St. George window is surrounded by four scenes depicting parachute packing, aircraft servicing, rescue services and ground control - no one has been forgotten. There is a portrait of the original Chapel (minus the girders of the Nissan hut) mounted on a rotatable frame. The sad story is that the artist had been painting the portraits of three pilots - two were finished but the third remain just an outline - did he not return? Did Elva Blacker abandon the painting and, it being wartime, frugally used the other side of the canvas?

The altar cross and candlesticks are fashioned from bomb casings but polished to look like gold. The altar cloth has been professionally fashioned by, I think, the Guild of Needlewomen and it is magnificent. The kneelers are all made to the same design and look superb. The Bible on the altar is the original one, rescued from the fire and forgotten in an attic for decades but found and restored to the Chapel complete with water damage sustained during the fire.

There's the original 'Scramble Bell' and so many other artefacts - almost too many to mention. For me, apart from seeing Rene's name in gold on the Reredos, the highlight was when the very kind curator opened the case of the Book of Remembrance and reverently turned the page to August 27th 1943 - and there it was - Rene's name and that of other pilots who lost their lives on that day - all immaculately executed in the most gorgeous illuminated manuscript. I was told the book took 3 years to complete and I'm not surprised. On the Sunday most close to their demise, the names of the pilots who died are read out during the Service. The illumination was as fine as any I saw in the Cluny Museum, Paris, only last week. And no prizes for guessing where I will be on Sunday, 28th August 2011.

There are ghosts at Biggin! I was told two stories which made my hair stand on end. I will relay them to you when the narrator sends me the full stories. (Odd isn't it, that that should happen just a week after Celebrity Ghost Stories was transmitted) Having thought I'd be at the Chapel for about an hour, I couldn't believe it when I saw that four hours had elapsed in viewing both the Chapel and the Mess of the ADC - and in hearing just a few of the 'stories of Biggin Hill'.

Apparently, when Poland broke away from the Soviet Union, the Polish Airforce folk couldn't wait to come and install a brand new flag beside the altar proudly displaying their Polish colours.  All the other Squadron flags are old and faded but the Polish flat stands out in all it's fresh glory.

The Chapel is open from 11.00 - 4.00 every day and the two curators are obviously proud of and love this very very special place. Regular services are held every Sunday - as are Weddings, Funerals, Baptisms and it is multi-denominational.

I knew there was a Mouchotte Close in the old RAF Married Quarters and went across the road to the estate.  I was taking a photo of the sign when a rather irate man approached me and declared that I was on MOD property and what was I doing.  Andy had thought the whole estate had been sold into private hands.  Fortunately, as soon as I explained about my sponsorship of Rene Mouchotte, the gentleman calmed down.  And guess what, he'd got the Diaries of Rene and all the new inhabitants of the Close are offered the book to read.  So we were invited in for a cup of tea and spent a great half hour talking about Rene and comparing notes.  So my lovely day ended up superbly - Tea with a Lieutenant Colonel and his wife.

Will post photos soon. God Bless and bye for now - Jan

I cannot stress strongly enough that this Chapel is a gem and I've not mentioned even half of what you will find there. There's a superb booklet which I'm sure you could buy on line and I'll lay a bet that once you've seen the publication, you will make a pilgrimage to the Biggin Hill Chapel at the Airfield on the Bump www.robertjamesmedia.com St. George's Royal Air Force Chapel of Remembrance, Biggin Hill, Kent

BIGGIN HILL - The most famous fighter station in the world and its wonderful chapel

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