The RAF ensign was lowered for the last time at RAF Bentley Priory today, Friday 30 May 2008, marking the final chapter for one of the RAF’s most historic Stations. Bentley Priory, located near Stanmore in Middlesex, is famous for its significant role in British history with Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding having commanded RAF Fighter Command from the site during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940. Today’s ceremony was an opportunity for the Station to show its gratitude to Service and civilian personnel serving their and their families, along with contractors, local dignitaries and other stakeholders for their support to RAF Bentley Priory over the years. Squadron Leader Phil Reid is Bentley Priory’s last Station Commander: "Today is a sad occasion, as it is to lose any RAF station. But we are looking to the future, and as there is no longer an operational requirement for Bentley Priory we need to rationalise in order to meet the defence needs of today.
"Of course the RAF will retain a footprint here which will allow us to recognise the achievements of the past while also allowing the public to have access to this historic site in the future.
"It must be remembered too that the receipts from the disposal of the Bentley priory site will go into the development of RAF Northolt as part of Project Model which in turn will enable the RAF to move forward in the 21st century.
A stained glass window at Bentley Priory commemorates the Royal Air Force role during the Second World War "We’ve invited a lot of our key stakeholders here today as well as those who have helped to take this project forward, the families of some of those serving here, a number of veterans along with members of the public. This ceremony does mark the end of an era, but we are going to continue celebrating the RAF’s presence here well into the future along with the legacy of those who served here throughout its history."
Whilst there is no longer an enduring, operational use for RAF Bentley Priory, the Ministry of Defence has recognised that the heritage associated with the site should be preserved in a sustainable manner. Indeed the Bentley Priory Mansion House was historically significant before it served as an RAF Station and has Grade II listed status and its surrounding Italian gardens registered as a historic park and garden.
Consequently the MOD has been seeking a solution for the Priory building itself by engaging with all interested parties including the Local Planning Authority, English Heritage, the RAF Museum, the Prince’s Regeneration Trust and the Battle of Britain Bentley Priory Trust (The Trust).
A detailed planning application was submitted to the London Borough of Harrow on 18 April 2008, a planning application which includes plans for the Trust to operate a commemorative educational facility at Bentley Priory, open to the public. The historic rooms of the Priory Building are planned to educate future generations about the significance of the Battle of Britain. The museum will be dedicated to the memory of those who fought in the Battle, as well preserving the RAF heritage at the site.
Recently many of the treasures which had been kept at the site were archived with new homes found for a range of artefacts including silver cups, bronze busts, rare paintings and a priceless Battle of Britain lace panel. Archivist Flight Lieutenant Gareth Edwards said:
"The panel is priceless. We cannot sell it because it’s a national treasure."
Around 1,000 silver cups were painstakingly recorded by Flt Lt Edwards but none will be sold: "We gave them to individual sports associations and they will be reused. They were not of a high value but of tremendous historic value."
Veteran aircrews from the Battle of Britain said their final goodbyes to their former headquarters in July last year. A Hurricane from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight flew over RAF Bentley Priory during the closure ceremony before a dinner and celebration of both the role of the building and those who worked in it in preventing Hitler’s planned air invasion of Britain in 1940.
Source: The Royal Air Force (RAF)
Picture provided and copyrighted by The Royal Air Force (RAF)
For further information about The Royal Air Force (RAF), click here