"The Friendly Invasion" of US Airmen in East Anglia, Cambridge; "Dambusters" in Lincolnshire & Peak District
9 days/8 nights from London
Soon to be featured in a new Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks produced HBO series "The Mighty Eighth" (follow up to "Band of Brothers" and "Pacific") based on the book "Masters of the Air" by Donald L. Miller.
This is a suggested tour itinerary for private departures, adjustable to best suit your specific wishes. Price based on how many travelers, your chosen package inclusions and your chosen level of accommodation.
This tour begins and ends in London.
This tour begins and ends in London, where there is a wealth of WWII heritage to visit independantly either before or after our Friendly Invasion tour.
There is the wonderful Imperial War Museum in Lambeth, offering unique temporary displays and permanent exhibitions featuring excellent displays on the war, particularly its vivid recreation of a blitz bomb shelter. The Churchill War Cabinet Rooms is a top choice, a secret bunker now a museum celebrating the life and legacy of Winston Churchill. Westminster Abbey features the beautiful stained glass window dedicated to the pilots of Fighter Command. Another iconic option is St Paul's Cathedral, learn about the touching story of the Home Guard protecting the Cathedral from the blitz bombs making St Pauls one of the symbols of courage for Londoners. On a Naval interest, there is the HMS Belfast ship to visit near the great Tower of London. Spoilt for choice in the capital!
The North London RAF Museum, set on the historic site of the Hendon Aerodrome, is a top option on the aviation theme; comprised of five major buildings and hangars dedicated to the history of aviation and the British Royal Air Force. There are several interactive exhibits, a Battle of Britain Hall, flight simulators and a 3D cinema in addition to the extensive aircraft collection. This museum houses over 100 aircraft including some very early designs, one of only two surviving Vickers Wellingtons, the Avro Lancaster S-Sugar, the only complete Hawker Typhoon and the only Boulton Paul Defiant remaining in the world.
There is also the possibility of a guided walking tour of London and the Blitz and even touching on James Bond and the 'birth' of British espionage if you wish. Ask us for details!
Perhps 'link up' your tour with independent time around the Farnborough International Airshow, the next public dates are tentatively 25-26 July, 2020.
Depart our London meeting point at 09:00 and head north. Our route will take us via two places of interest that will set the stage for our tour.
It was at Bletchley Park that the Germans ‘uncrackable’ Enigma Code was broken, allowing the allies to read Axis wireless traffic. The museum holds some fascinating exhibits. Seeing the Enigma machines will be an undoubted highlight. The site now boasts a Visitor Centre, restored buildings and refreshed exhibits to preserve and commemorate the tireless work of the Codebreakers. The landscape is being returned to its tranquil setting, with areas returned to lawn and the footprints of the long-gone Huts 2 and 9 marked out to remind visitors where they were. The tennis courts have also been restored to grass, as they were in late 1940 and early 1941.
Next go to the pretty riverside village of St Ives, visiting Hemingford Grey Manor, Lucy Boston’s home by special arrangement (subject to availability.) During World War II, the home was popular with airmen as a place to relax and listen to Lucy's gramophone records. The house was made famous as The House of Green Knowe, a classic series of children’s books written by Lucy. Ms Boston is also famous for her quilting techniques, many of which are on display. The upstairs hall here is a room full of atmosphere and the echoes of nearly nine centuries of family conversations and the airmen on leave. The 1929 EMG gramophone is usually still in this room for us to admire.
Later today, explore the university city of Cambridge. In this sleepy, easily-walked medieval city, enjoy a brief walking tour with your guide followed by free time. See one of the colleges and possibly students punt on the backs of the River Cam. There’s the excellent Fitzwilliam Museum and great shopping available too, as time and interest will permit. Our time in Cambridge will include The Eagle Bar, another hangout for servicemen, including The Mighty Eighth, and we can view graffiti and signatures left by them on the walls and ceiling. Here we can raise a glass in their honour.
Imperial War Museum Duxford deserves much of our time today. Set within the spacious grounds of the famous former First and Second World War airfield, IWM Duxford has been called one of the finest collections of tanks, military vehicles and naval exhibits in the country. Housed here is the 1940 Operations Room, which orchestrated the Battle of Britain, and The American Air Museum honouring US airmen who fought from UK shores. The AirSpace section tells the story of British and Commonwealth aviation, home to over 30 aircraft including an iconic Spitfire, a legendary Lancaster and the fastest-ever Concorde.
Also today, the American Cemetery, paying respect to the US soldiers and airmen who lost their lives in WWII, both those buried here and the memorial wall to over 5,000 MIAs including Joe Kennedy Jr and Big Band leader Glenn Miller. There is a mural in the chapel dedicated to “the final flight” of these brave airmen.
Our base in East Anglia these next two nights is a historic hotel in a very scenic local village. The hotel bar is The Airmen's Bar, frequented by The Mighty Eighth while they were stationed at the nearby airfields, and full of memontos and their signatures on the wall.
Overnight: Swan at Lavenham
Today we have a full day in East Anglia exploring the airfields and memorials to the RAF and the US Airmen who protected the skies during WWII.
RAF Thorpe Abbotts is home to the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum, in the original control tower and other out buildings. This place is dedicated to the US Eighth Air Force. The museum highlights documents, photographs, uniforms and service equipment, plus a recreation of the original teleprinter room. The collection includes a number of maps plus war-related artefacts from the war's effects on the soldiers and how the group eventually came to be called the "Bloody Hundredth". (Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays only May - Sept.)
Rougham Control Tower is a small, friendly Aviation Museum, dedicated to the American Airmen and women who served in the 322nd BG and the 94th BG of the USAAF Eighth Air Force during WWII. There is a traditional Sunday market held here as well, which includes farmers market with arts, crafts, home and garden items and a car boot sale. (Sundays only May - Oct.)
The Red Feather Club, 95th Museum at Horham is also on the day's agenda. The 95th Bomb Group Heritage Association has faithfully restored the air base buildings to keep alive the memory of the 95th’s role in World War II. This is a living museum and monument to the only Eighth Air Force Bomb Group to receive the Distinguished Unit Citation three times. (last Sunday of the month April - Oct or by special appointment, subject to availabilty.)
Should we manage any additional time today or tomorrow, we can explore some of the lovely ‘Suffolk Wool Towns,’ among of the best-preserved historic towns and prettiest villages in Suffolk. Step back in time to the era of the Tudors and Puritans, when the wool trade was at its peak and these towns were among the richest places in the country. Sudbury, once home to painter Thomas Gainsborough and the birthplace of Thomas Davies, whose signal to Paul Revere set off that famous ride, is one destination. We will particularly spend some time in our base town of Lavenham, often called ‘England’s Best-Preserved Medieval Village.’
Overnight: Swan at Lavenham
More explorations of East Anglia airfields and memorials today.
Still a working airfield, visit "Old Buck," Old Buckingham Airbase, the wartime base of Walter Mattau and Oscar winner Jimmy Stewart, who was the Operations Officer. Here see the 453rd Museum and Eighth Air Force Heritage Gallery. The 453rd, part of The Mighty Eighth, flew 259 missions in B-24 Liberators. They dropped 15,804 tonnes of bombs and in the process lost 58 aircraft. Most importantly 366 servicemen lost their lives serving from Old Buck. Part of the 70th Anniversary in 2013, the memorial to the 366 has been moved to a new memorial garden, with a figure 8 path to mark the Eighth Air Force.
Finally, something a bit different before heading back to base, a tour and tasting at the English Whisky Company. Here discover over 600 years of the Nelstrop family and enjoy sampling what was named "European Whisky of the Year" in 2015. A scenic spot, the distillery sits amongst a grove of cricket bat willows which run down to the gently flowing river Thet. We also have more of the Suffolk towns and villages to explore.
Overnight: Swan at Lavenham
We begin to head north, with a stop in the stunning cathedral town of Ely.
Digby and Wittering Sectors in Lincolnshire are renowned as the ‘Home of the Royal Air Force.’ The North Kesteven Airfield trail offers much to rediscover. The particular highlight today will be visiting the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight base at RAF Coningsby. This tremendous museum houses Hurricanes, Spitfires, Lancaster bombers, Chipmunks and assorted other World War II historical artifacts. It is possible to view these still-flying aircraft and watch the technicians at work.
Subject to availability, stay at Petwood Hotel in Woodhall Spa. Located in a pretty village tucked between idyllic woods and the River Witham, the hotel has been called “all Edwardian elegance and formal gardens” but our interest is the fact that it provided the officers’ mess for the 617 “Dambuster” Squadron and others. Its wartime memories are displayed around wood-paneled public spaces. You can dine where mission leader Guy Gibson (who was killed in ’44) and his fellow airmen ate and drank.
Overnight: Petwood Hotel
Today explore more of Lincolnshire’s “Aviation Trail,” the county known as “Bomber Country.” Lincolnshire’s landscape is ideal for the launch of planes and the county was home to about 50 bases during the War. Many remnants and reminders of the war years exist.There’s the Cranwell Aviation Centre, with a flight simulator, history of the RAF and personal stories of locals such as Sir James Martin, the Briton who designed the modern ejector seat. We can also see the Dambusters Memorial.
If we've time and there's an interest, we could route via the village of Scopwick, whose village cemetery honours the many Canadian bomber crews who flew from here. There's also an old cinema in the woods that still entertains local RAF pilots to this day.
Later some time in the historical city of Lincoln, offering an old Jewish area, a castle and a magnificent cathedral, recently featured in the ‘Da Vinci Code’ film. More importantly, an original of the Magna Carta is to be seen at the castle.
Today a full lesuirely day in Manchester to explore as you choose. Your guide is on hand for assistance and advice but what you do is up to you!
Manchester is a charming city with much to discover! The rich heritage featuring a fine cathedral, historic Rylands Library and author Elizabeth Gaskell's home museum. Explore the activities of the rejuvenated docklands area, now full of theatres, music venues, sports centres and museums including the Imperial War Museum North. For any football/soccer fans, perhaps a tour around Manchester United’s stadium Old Trafford will be top choice. Enjoy some amazing shopping opportunities, top high street shops as well as local boutiques, vinyl record stores and art galleries.
On theme, the Imperial War Museum North is a top choice. Located in an area that was heavily bombed in the the Blitz, the permanent exhibitions are housed in the museum's first-floor main gallery space. In the main hall, described as cavernous and dramatic, a number of large artefacts are displayed include a Russian T-34 tank, a United States Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier jet and a 13-pounder field gun which fired the British Army's first shot of WWI.
Not somewhere one would instantly think of as a tourist magnet but in the typical Lancashire cotton town of Stockport is a perfectly preserved air raid shelter/bunker. Explore this vast underground complex that has been totally, authentically refurbished so modern visitors can experience what life was like during the 40s; up to 7000 people a night survived through the dark days of the Blitz in these tunnels. The museum houses varied exhibitions include the work of the civilian services, entertainment of the era and a reconstructed ‘Anderson’ shelter.
Peak District and the magnificent Pennine Hills scenery. Here, where the dry-stone walls make criss-cross patterns of the sheep covered hills, we may find ancient folk customs such as 'well-dressing.' As time permits, we will wander the small, local villages. On our agenda is the Ladybower and Derwent reservoirs, the scene of the “Dambusters” practice runs. There are an amazing amount of fine stately homes in this area too, most notably Chatsworth Estate, the real life home of Georgina “The Duchess” of Marlborough, said to be the inspiration for Jane Austen as her “Pemberley” and often used as a setting for period films. We can't visit the Peak District and not call in here for a visit!
A rare bit of motorway driving this afternoon will bring us onto the edge of the Cotswolds, Shakespeare's hometown of Stratford Upon Avon. This evening, subject to availbility, offers the option of attending the RSC Theatre.
ON Stratford Upon Avon
This morning some time to explore the Cotswolds villages en-route to our main place of interest Blenheim Palace, Winston Churchill's birth place. This incredible treasure house was given to Winston's ancestor John, Duke of Marlborough. In addition to a general tour of the palace and gardens, see the recently restored Churchill Exhibition which takes visitors on a journey through Churchill's life.
Nearby Blenheim is the small village of Bladon, home to the Churchill family vault and the simple grave that marks Churchill's final resting place.
Return to London by this evening.
Please note: All attraction opening times are correct at time of printing this website. While we will do our utmost to include all of the properties mentioned as central visits, we reserve the right to change an attraction should it become impossible to deliver a planned visit due to changes in opening days or times beyond our control.
Please note that your final day to day itinerary may fluctuate to accommodate variable opening times/days for listed attractions, special events and places of interest. Please discuss your needs with us for an individual itinerary with rate quote.
Oft imitated, never duplicated! This is an original SGT itinerary, property of Special Group Tours and to be used only with express permission/in conjunction with SGT.
This is a suggested tour itinerary and can be modified to best you your individual wishes.
Suggested tour package includes: # of touring days with vehicle & exclusive services of your driver/guide/companion, your accommodation for # nights while on the tour including full breakfasts, all taxes and tips other than those you may wish to give your guide. Your price also can include dinners and/or entrance fees to attractions or these items can be left out of the up front package/to be paid directly for maximum flexibility. Airport transfers, accommodation pre and post tour, scheduled city day tours/attraction passes/transport passes or theatre/event tickets can be added to your package as you wish, subject to availability.
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