Museum up against the clock to buy part of US war history

Dunkeswell Memorial Museum needs to raise �100,000 before the end of the summer.

HISTORIANS in Dunkeswell are up against the clock in a mission to relocate a museum to a former US Navy administration block on the village’s airbase.

Dunkeswell Memorial Museum needs to raise �100,000 in just three months to buy the huge complex of World War Two buildings, which is set in 10 acres of grounds.

The Grade II listed buildings were used exclusively by the US Navy’s Fleet Air Wing 7 group, but museum trustees say they could be used as a permanent memorial to the thousands who served at Dunkeswell during the war and, in particular, the 183 servicemen who went on to die in combat.

If the cash can be raised, the museum will move out of an industrial unit on the Flightway Business Park and into the administration block’s former briefing room.

“We have been trying to get the site from the Ministry of Defence since 1983,” said Shirley Sharland, who helps to run the museum.

“However, it had to be handed back to the original landowners. They are willing to sell it to us and we are desperate to get it.

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“There are 24 rooms in the main section of the complex. The tallest building was used as the command centre, but we would like to transfer the museum to the briefing room because it was the last room members of Fleet Air Wing 7 would have seen before they went on missions.”

Mrs Sharland added: “The buildings are of great historical importance because they formed part of the only US Navy airbase on British soil during the war.”

Among those to set out from the briefing room was Joseph P Kennedy Jnr, the elder brother of the assassinated US president John F Kennedy.

Joseph and his co-pilot, Wilford J Willy, set out from the airbase on a secret mission, but were killed in British airspace when their Liberator plane exploded on August 12, 1944.

Photographs of the men, taken while they were stationed at the airbase, are on display in the museum, along with pieces of wreckage from their plane.

More than 5,000 service personnel were based at Dunkeswell during the Second World War. A major military hospital complex was based on the airfield and included a separate, specialist burns unit.

Dunkeswell Memorial Museum was founded by Mrs Sharland’s son, David, 15 years ago – when he was just 11.

His interest in the airfield blossomed after he found a live, 50 calibre bullet on the side of the runway.

The museum attracts visitors from across the globe, but donations have fallen sharply following the recession.

l You can donate to the museum’s appeal by sending cheques to Dunkeswell Memorial Museum, Flightway Business Park, Seabee Place, Unit C4, Dunkeswell EX14 4PG.