The Berlin Airlift
"What happens to Berlin, happens to Germany; what happens to Germany, happens to Europe"
Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov
Legasee’s project to capture memories of those involved with the Berlin Airlift introduced us to some wonderful characters – veterans including an Air Cadet, Engine Fitter, Navigator, Pilot and Intelligence Officer, over 50 men and women who were involved in the air and on the ground.
"It was a contest... I’m a cold war warrior, I was in at the beginning, I came out before it ended, but it had reached the stage where it wasn’t going to be a war." Wing Commander Tom Holland, Pilot, 230 Squadron, Sunderland Flying Boats.
The Berlin Airlift followed the surrender of Nazi Germany and the end of the World War II. With Berlin divided into East and West, and the Soviet Zone creating a blockade preventing supplies getting to the Western troops and people of the city, the Allied Forces had to find inventive ways to reach them. Through Legasee’s research and interviews, we were able to capture a real picture of what it was like to fly supplies over the territory as well as live in these difficult circumstances.
"The Berlin airlift is such an important feature of the tensions that were evident in Germany after the war. Yes, they may be written about in textbooks and in exam syllabuses, however, there is no better form of understanding than listening to the very people who were there". Sean O’Neill, Headmaster, Bungay High School
Focussing our work in East Anglia, we collaborated with Bungay High School, and the Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum at Flixton, creating GCSE learning materials and a permanent exhibition. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, we have created a lasting reminder of the events as well as exciting and accessible learning materials for KS4 teachers.
The interviews of the Veterans are also available to view in our online video archive.
LearningLegasee partnered with the Bungay High School in Suffolk. Meeting every Tuesday during term-time, a group of students developed their skills in research and journalism to prepare them to meet and interview two groups of Veterans.
The first session, attended by a dozen veterans from the British Berlin Airlift Association (BBAA) was held at the Duxford Museum. This was followed by an afternoon at the Flixton Aviation Museum interviewing a smaller group of local Veterans with specific connections to airbases in East Anglia.
"This important area has long been overshadowed by other events. Now at last information has been collected, preserved and made available in a form that is both thought-provoking and accessible to young people". Andy Barker, Head of History, Bungay High School
A series of creative, educational resources accompany the project. These colourful and engaging lesson plans enable students to explore the impact of the Cold War from it’s earliest days. Briefing notes, discussion points and eye-witness personal testimony challenge students to consider:
Was Churchill right to say that ‘he who controls Berlin controls Europe?
How to sustain life in a city of 2.1 million people
What life was like at the world’s busiest airport
The Airlift’s impacts in post war europe
Was the Airlift the first battle of the cold war or a humanitarian act?
Headmaster of Bungay High School, Sean O’Neil‘I believe the recording and archiving of oral history is one of the most powerful resources for our students. It is vital that we do not lose these personal and insightful experiences that really give a context to events. Legasee and schools like ours will not let the memories or stories disappear.’
Colin Cottle - Vice Chair - The Berlin Airlift Association‘The students had obviously studied the subject well before the event, and had many questions to ask, so I think the finished project should do them credit.’
PublicityFrom the launch of the project, Legasee received considerable press coverage.
Highlights included a stint on Radio 4’s ‘Making History Project where the question of whether the Berlin Airlift was the first battle of the cold war or a humanitarian act was discussed by a panel of historians, veterans and Legasee’s Trustee Martin Bisiker.
Local press interest was intense with a number of radio interviews and numerous regional newspaper articles.
"A hugely valuable archive for future years. History is too often about huge events written from the point of view of politicians and military leaders. This project is to hear the testimony of the ordinary man, told as he wants to tell it"
Volunteer, Duxford Airlift Day
ExhibitionLegasee worked in partnership with the Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum collecting numerous artefacts, photographs, letters and documents which are now displayed in a permanent exhibition at the museum’s Flixton site.
To mark the 65th anniversary of the start of the Berlin Airlift, over 80 Veterans and their families joined Legasee at the museum, alongside volunteers who had worked on the project and students from Bungay High School
The museum celebrates the history of aviation in the Eastern Counties including the region’s role in the largest humanitarian airlift in history. You can find our more and plan your visit at www.aviationmuseum.net
Ian Hancock, Chairman - Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum:
‘The museum is pleased to have been part of this project and to have been given the opportunity to create a permanent exhibition of artefacts and memorabilia. Visitors will now be able to learn about Operation Plainfare - considered by many to be one of the greatest humanitarian aid programmes of the last century.’