The Battle of Britain Museum, situated on the former World War II airfield of RAF Hawkinge, lies among the beautiful lush green of the Kent countryside some four miles inland from the white cliffs of Dover. Housed in some of the original hangars and buildings are many exhibits and artefacts from the period of the Battle of Britain.
In an office in the old control tower, Dave Brocklehurst thankfully sat down at his desk, raised a battered mug and swallowed a mouthful of steaming hot tea. Dave always made a point of trying to welcome all of the many visitors who daily visited the museum, and together with organising and helping the museum volunteers with the many of jobs waiting to be done, he was a busy man. Many considered the museum the formative collection of artefacts and papers on the Battle of Britain in the country. Dave was fulfilling a lifelong ambition as he had always been interested in aircraft and had met many of the pilots who had taken part on both sides of the Battle of Britain. The few survivors left he counted as good friends. Mike Llewellyn M.B.E had founded the museum in the early eighties and it was now run as a trust, with Dave one of the trustees who had also been awarded an MBE in 2013, in recognition of his tremendous efforts in continuing to preserve the memories of the famous ‘Few’. No less than eleven former Battle of Britain pilots had put his name forward to Her Majesty the Queen for consideration of the award.
Dave supped more tea as he looked around the room for something to do. Casting his eye over the floor covered knee high in places with files, artefacts and memorabilia, he noticed the old, dirty briefcase under the window recovered from the Hurricane crash site. Dave had forgotten about it after the excitement of finding the Knight’s Cross medal in the wreckage. However, he now thought it was just a good luck charm given to the Hurricane pilot by a shot-down German pilot.
He got up and walking across the room around the obstacles and picked it up. The briefcase had dried out in the room’s warmth and he brushed the covering of clay off into a bin with his hand. Back at the desk, Dave cleared a space among more files and relics on the top and put it down.
Sitting back in his chair, he opened a drawer and took out a can of WD40 releasing fluid, spraying it over the seized catches and then tried to free them with a pair of pliers. The catches resisted at first and then yielded. Dave opened the briefcase and peered in at the contents. He saw some articles of clothing that had disintegrated into a rotten, smelly bundle and pulling them out put them into a plastic bag to one side. Considering the briefcase had been underground for over seventy years the next item, a plastic wallet containing maps and documents looked remarkably well preserved. He opened the wallet and took out a folded map.
Noting the heading South East England and London, RAF Series Two 1939 printed on the top, he saw what appeared to be some marks and small handwritten notes at the bottom between the folds. Deciding not to damage the map by attempting to separate the folds which were stuck together from the damp, Dave leaned over and put the map on a shelf above a hot radiator to dry out. He turned back to the briefcase and took out a list of RAF radio codes together with an operating manual for an IFF Mk III system. Sitting back in his chair in surprise, he gave a low whistle in realising that this confirmed the radar transponder the team had found in the Hurricane as being the later type, which had not been operational in that period of the war. Dave thought the unit must have been a prototype they had been testing at the time and would have been secret.
Looking back into the case, he saw a small leather case, took it out, opened the lid and found a miniature camera still in pristine condition inside. Dave had read enough spy thrillers to know that this was the ultimate espionage camera, a Minox Riga camera. His interest grew as he noted that the film inside was used and reached over to turn on his desktop and waited for it to open. He reminded himself again that he must get round to freeing up some memory from the thousands of files stored on it. The Google page appeared and he entered the name of the camera and noted that one Walter Zapp, a German, had designed it and gone it had gone into production in 1938, just before the start of the war. Scrolling down the page, he saw that the size of the film was tiny, just some eight by eleven millimetres. Dave wondered what a German spy camera was doing in an RAF pilot’s possession and even more intriguing, what was on the exposed film? And where on earth could he get it developed in this, the new digital age.