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Bentley Priory museum to officially open in 2013
MARY Hulse smiles wryly as she describes the “dungeon” she worked in at the headquarters of Fighter Command at Bentley Priory during the Second World War.
What the 90-year-old illustrates is in stark contrast to the significant beauty of the country house in Stanmore that gives a remarkable glimpse of London on the horizon.
Bentley Priory was the ultimate office in a home where RAF Commander, Sir Hugh Dowding, directed his men in the Battle of Britain.
The decisions made behind the doors of this stately home were imperative in keeping Britain liberated and Hitler at the door.
Mrs Hulse, sat next to her husband of 63 years, John, balks at the suggestion that what she did working for intelligence during the war was anything special.
She said: “We knew what we were doing was important but I was in my twenties and all I felt was that I was doing my job.
“We were in the dungeon. Well, it was dungeon-like. I worked in intelligence working closely with four others.”
Mrs Hulse, from Pinner, was there from 1943 to the end of the war with regular visits from prime minister Winston Churchill and King George VI.
She added: “They all came down to visit. It was a war and they needed to be there. What was happening was all very, very secret.
"We had to sign a document under the official secrets act and we knew our job was vital but we got on with it and didn’t think too much about who was coming and going.”
Yesterday and today open days were held to allow the public to go on short tours to view the progress of the museum and education centre at the Grade II listed house.
In July, the airbase won a major victory after securing initial funding for the museum. The organisation planning to turn it into a commemorative museum to the Battle of Britain was given £45,000 of funding towards the project from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The decision means the RAF Bentley Priory Battle of Britain Trust can chase a further £675,400 through submitting detailed plans for the project.
The trust plans include not only the museum itself but a project to take Battle of Britain education into schools around the borough and also to have pupils come to the site for school trips.
A series of open days, starting in 2008 with the backing of the Harrow Times, has seen thousands explore its grounds.
Mrs Hulse added: “I was at first a bit horrified when I heard what they were going to do here. The idea of it all being destroyed was not worth thinking about. I think it’s exciting what they’re doing now and ultimately I’m glad it’s happening.
“We have a museum, the house and the history. We get invited all the time to events due to our links with the time but it’s important for the future to keep the stories in people’s minds.”
The Bentley Priory Battle of Britain Trust has been set up to ensure the preservation of the site. The trust was formed at the behest of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association, whose members are made up of the survivors of The Few, the survivors of the aircrew from the war.
Sir Brian Burbidge, chair of trustees for the trust, said: “There are many heritage reasons to embrace what is happening. There is the architectural importance, the social history and the royal connections.
“The house was visited by the Queen Mother also on regular occasions and now we have Prince Charles as the patron. The Battle of Britain is a great story to tell.”
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