From 1942-1945 the private golf club at Bushey Hall just outside Watford, London was headquarters for the USAAF 8th Air Force Fighter Command.
Today the original site is home to the Lincolnsfield Children’s Centre – a place that offers day or residential trips to Primary school age children to help them learn about life in the Second World War. On the last Sunday of every month this fabulous centre filled with artefacts is open to the public.
For almost two years now we have been volunteers on these open days at ‘The Forties Experience’, enjoying our monthly escape from the modern world.
The 1940s House
Based in one of the headquarters original nissan huts is ‘The 1940’s House’. Rooms such as the bedroom, kitchen and living room have been faithfully recreated using donated items and artefacts. Visitors (as well as ourselves) are captivated by the authenticity – you truly feel as though you have gone back to the wartime era.
Nothing in the museum is behind glass or out of bounds. Visitors can walk around all of the rooms freely and there is even a dedicated ‘playroom’ with original games, clothes and even a typewriter for guests (young and old) to touch and play with!
Every month as we approach the museum, driving down the old, pot holed road, passing buildings that were once part of this important base we have a real sense of leaving the present day behind.
‘Volunteering’ – by Lara
I feel a definite and distinct weight lifting from my shoulders as I enter the site – almost seeing the history come to life around me. Many of us feel the same way about the place – the sense of history is palpable.
Volunteering gives me a regular opportunity to wear original 1940s clothing (from my rapidly expanding collection) as well as practice the 1940s hairstyles that I love. Everything from the shoes to the perfume that I wear is designed to evoke the era – and nothing makes me happier than when visitors comment on how much I remind them of their mothers or grandmothers!
On arrival each month, as I leave my car and walk across the ‘base’ I feel as though the present day doesn’t exist – I feel as though I’ve entered the 1940s, such is the atmosphere of the site.
The day begins with a tea (or for me a Camp Coffee) in the NAAFI to sign in for the day and catch up with the other volunteers, many of whom were children in the Second World War and have so many memories of their own to share. My chosen outfit will generally be scrutinised (and hopefully approved) by one of our most fastidious volunteers Ann, and then it’s off to the 1940s house ready to greet visitors.
As a history teacher with a passion for this era I have lots to discuss with our visitors, particularly younger ones who are visiting to help with school projects and who can be shown some of the interesting features in the various rooms.
But one of the true joys is chatting with the older visitors as they share their memories of the 1940s and 1950s. My keen interest in the ordinary fashion and beauty of the time means I am often quizzing them on their mothers perfumes, make-up and beauty routines – jotting things down and researching when I get home!
The bedroom dressing table at the museum often spurs memories… the Coty Airspun Powder, the bottle of 4711, as well as numerous other beauty products that have been kindly donated.
‘Volunteering’ – by Emma
My friendship with Lara has certainly opened up a new world for me. She really is the 1940s gal!
I’ve been interested in aspects of World War II since I was a child, but my knowledge has really been limited to books and films.
Visiting the museum for the first time with her was fascinating, and volunteering has offered me a real opportunity to learn about life on the home front, in a replicated home, where you can wander freely and immerse yourself in it all. And I’m lucky to have the most perfect friend to answer all my questions!
I think of myself as more of an eternal visitor than a volunteer, always learning something new and picking up ideas, but I’m quite happy to sit and knit and chat to the visitors or play around with the dressing table and act like I actually live there. Occasionally you may even find me serving in the NAAFI.
For me the museum is a constant learning curve and I love stepping back in time and catching up with the other volunteers.
You can imagine as a pair we can certainly liven the place up with our photo shenanigans and playing house. We do love to immerse ourselves in it all!
What’s to see…
As a visitor (and we both visited quite regularly before volunteering) there is so much to see and experience. Highlights other than the 1940s House include the Blitz experience, military museum, 1940s school room and a Victory garden complete with its own Anderson shelter that the braver visitors can climb down into! As well as regular exhibits there are often reenactors and musicians playing in the Officers club – and no visit is complete without a slice of cake and a cuppa in the NAAFI.
Perhaps our favourite part is the 1940s living room where Emma can sometimes be found knitting (for the forces!) and the sound of Vera Lynn and Glenn Miller come from the gramophone (well, it’s a CD player hidden near the gramophone – can’t waste the needles!)
In this room the table is set for tea and the utility sofa and armchair by the fire create the cosy atmosphere of times gone by.
We are not the only ones that love this room – so many visitors find it brings back memories of either their own, parents or grandparents living rooms. It’s definitely our favourite place to play!
There is so much more to the museum and so many more rooms, exhibits and features to explore. You’ll have to come and see for yourself!
All details of open days are on the museum’s facebook page – click on the link below
You can also follow on Instagram : Forties Experience Instagram
Until next time
The VT’s xx
P.s. If you are planning a visit, please let us know – we’d love to have a natter over a cuppa!