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This content is taken from the Royal Holloway, University of London & RAF Museum's online course, From World War to White Heat: the RAF in the Cold War. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds EMMETT SULLIVAN: Well done. You’ve made it to the last week of the course. Welcome to The RAF In The Cold War. Now, I’m here at RAF Cosford, and behind me is a VC10. This is one of the newest exhibits that the museum here has. In fact, when Ross Mahoney and I came across in August, this was being low loaded in peaces to the museum. One of the things you need to consider is how the RAF is represented in the public’s mind in the Cold War period.

Skip to 0 minutes and 46 seconds We started at RAF Hendon as a museum operating from 1972, so an airfield that had a long history, that was repurposed, and started to be a permanent memorial for the RAF and an interaction with the public. Now, that site was developed with the Battle of Britain Hall, the Bomber Command, now the Bomber Hall, and the development of the Milestones of Flight and the Grahame-White Factory. So overall, we’ve seen an expansion in the range of activities by the RAF to bring its history into the domain of the public. And one of the things that we do at Royal Holloway, in the first year of our undergraduate degree but also an entire master’s degree, is to deal with public history.

Skip to 1 minute and 44 seconds So this week, really, is about how the history of the RAF has reached out and has been made accessible to the public as a whole. As well as dealing with the two Royal Air Force museums and their development, we are going to spend a little bit of time dealing with the memorials which have been set up in and around London during the period of the Cold War and a little bit afterwards. And we’re going to consider what the issues from history come up when particular events, such as the Battle of Britain, such as the Strategic Bombing Campaign, are memorialised in the 21st century given the history and then the revisionist history of what took place. Now, these are living exhibits.

Skip to 2 minutes and 43 seconds You might just be able to pick up in the background the engines of a Jaguar being fired up for the engineering school that operates at the RAF Museum in Cosford. So in terms of what is displayed, the development of the museums, and also how they are arranged and, if you like, labelled is something that needs to be dealt with on an ongoing basis. RAF Cosford was repurposed to be the principal site of the RAF Museum in the north, so to speak. But more significantly, in the early part of the 20th century, we actually have a dedicated, national Cold War exhibit.

Skip to 3 minutes and 34 seconds So the main theme of this course is actually embodied in its own museum at this site, and as well as the footage you’ve seen of us dealing with elements of the Cold War in and around that museum, we’re also going to deal with the development of that museum itself. So thank you for sticking with us, and now we’re in the last week. We’re going to deal with how the RAF actually portrays its history principally through the Cold War period.


The RAF in memory

This week we take a different approach to the subject of the RAF in the Cold War and look the museums themselves. This helps us to understand how the RAF viewed itself – and the image it sought to project to the public – during the Cold War.

Moving beyond the museums, we also consider four memorials to the RAF and its crew in the Greater London area which were erected in the Cold War era or in decades following it. This allows us to look at how public memorials to the RAF were received, and consider how much time needed to pass before certain aspects of the RAF’s work could be memorialised in public.

Ross has written quite a personal essay to introduce his interviews on the development of the RAF Museums, and I am going to do the same to introduce this week’s work.

My usual refrain when I get something wrong is ‘my name is Emmett; I come from Watford; I know nothing’. A number of you will spot this as a reworking of a line of text from a Fawlty Towers episode… to avoid offence to those of Hispanic origin. As Professor Nathan Widder at Royal Holloway noted: “not very many people will admit publicly to coming from Watford”… however, that meant that Hendon was not very far away from home, and the RAF Museum was one of two museums that my mother took me to regularly as a child: when RAF Hendon was opened as a museum, I was seven. (The other museum was the Victoria and Albert in London, which I think probably spoke more to my mother’s interests.) So I attended the early months of the opening of what are now the ‘Historic Hangers’ – the original museum – the Battle of Britain Museum (1978) and the Bomber Command Museum (1983). My wife comes from Birmingham, so eventually we would add RAF Museum Cosford in the late 1990s to our visits to the Midlands. Given my asthma, terrible eyesight and colour blindness, any career in aviation or related fields was denied to me. Therefore, the option I took as an alternative…

…was to become a doctoral economist, specialising in international trade agreements. Which is how I ended up teaching History at Royal Holloway. Principally, I was responsible for misleading students on the Modern History and Politics and History and International Relations degree. When it was decided that we needed a Special Subject – a final year double unit – that would appeal to these students, ‘The Bomb – A History: Atomic Weaponry and Society in the Twentieth Century’ was born. I took the opportunity run a seminar at RAF Hendon every year around Stanley Baldwin’s 1932 statement that ‘the bomber will always get through’ and on Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ as part of the course. One year, we did a self-funded trip to RAF Cosford, who allowed us to hold a seminar on a Sunday – these were very committed students. They still are: Lauren (Week 3) is writing her dissertation on US-Japanese relations and ‘the Bomb’ 1945-54; Catherine (Week 4) is doing hers on the cultural significance of ‘The Doomsday Clock’; while Kathleen (Week 5) is looking at the cost of the nuclear arms race to the US in the 1960s. I am very fortunate to have to opportunity to teach students of their quality, and involve them in this project (we paid them, in case you were wondering). ‘The Bomb’ is not a military history course, but Ross and I looked to combine our interests in developing this free online course. I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with Dr Mahoney, and having done something of the ‘history’ of the RAF in the Cold War, we now come to the public history of the RAF.

Ross covers the museums this week. I will look at memorials to the RAF in and around London.

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This video is from the free online course:

From World War to White Heat: the RAF in the Cold War

Royal Holloway, University of London