Preserving the rich history of RAF Marham
Filled with incredible artefacts and driven by a passionate team of volunteers, Marham’s astounding Aviation Heritage Centre celebrates the fascinating historical legacy of Norfolk’s last RAF airbase
At the start of the First World War in 1914, there were only seven aerodromes in the whole country, though by 1918 this number had soared to over 300.
By the time World War Two gained full force, Norfolk alone was home to over 50 RAF bases - ranging from decoy airfields to strategic stations used by allied squadrons from all over Europe. Each one had a profound effect on our history and culture and, though most gradually faded from existence when peace was restored, Marham remains one of the RAF’s Main Operating Bases. Now home of the F-35 Lightning (a fifth-generation stealth fighter), it’s an inspiring piece of the past that’s continuing to shape the future – so it feels only right to appreciate the station’s remarkable history.
Hosting an extensive collection of astounding artefacts, fascinating photographs, and an archive of over 12,000 items, The RAF Marham Aviation Heritage Centre proudly preserves and presents the story of the Royal Air Force in Marham, East Anglia, and beyond.
Filled with wonderfully detailed displays, it showcases the station’s extraordinary past though pictures, words, and objects - providing powerful insights into operational life at RAF Marham and reflecting the personal triumphs and tragedies of the valiant airmen who served there. Run by a passionate team of Service and Civilian volunteers, it’s a unique local treasure and a stunning tribute to the loyalty of Marham personnel.
The Heritage centre was born out of the original Station History Room, which was set up in the 1980s in the old Operations Block to display historical artefacts and memorabilia. However, being within the bounds of the station, the facility was rarely open to the public – and it closed altogether when Marham became the RAF’s main base for Tornado aircraft and space was in short supply.
Fortunately, the dedicated team involved with the collection boxed everything up and began searching for a new location to display the rich history of the base. In 2013 a former church outside the station boundary became available and, led by curator Steve Roberts, the team put together a convincing case and secured use of the building.
“We’ve designed the centre to tell a timeline of history, so visitors can walk around the displays and discover the journey of RAF Marham from 1916 to present day,” says Steve. “Many of our volunteers served at the base so feel passionate about its past – and we each have our own areas of expertise. As veterans we can tell the story with an element of confidence, as we’ve been part of it, and there’s a great deal of experience between us. People enjoy coming here because they can listen to true accounts told with spirit and enthusiasm, and our volunteers love nothing more than stepping back in time to share memories of the world they once lived in.”
The centre has an ever-growing archive of data, artefacts, and memorabilia which have been carefully put together to paint a picture of RAF Marham through the decades. There’s so much to take in - from uniforms, missiles, and a mighty WE177 nuclear bomb exhibit to marvellous displays of equipment and historical artefacts.
“We’re lucky to receive precious donations from veterans and their families, and every day we’re open brings new insights and information,” says Ken Delve, an aviation historian and ex-RAF Navigator who volunteers at the centre. “We often find relatives of Marham personnel come to us wanting to know what happened to their loved ones, and our lead researcher Mark Every will go above and beyond to bring clarity to a previously unknown element of their family jigsaw.”
The research aspect of the centre cannot be understated, and Mark’s incredible ability to uncover the individual service histories and actions of the fallen has gained him a reputation for accuracy and detail. He can often take a person back to when their relative first arrived at Marham and reveal every mission they were involved in up until the moment they were killed.
“Helping families find closure by piecing together the past is an important part of what we do,” says Ken. “We’ve also created a garden dedicated to the memory of those who served at Marham. Relatives can sponsor a plaque to place on our memorial wall, which is made from bricks reclaimed from an aircraft hangar. It’s a beautiful and lasting tribute to the devotion of Marham personnel and is always open to visitors wanting a space to remember and reflect.”
Though rooted in the past, the Heritage Centre is forward-thinking in its outlook and the team are working towards a bright future. “We’ve got a brilliant schedule of events planned for next year and plenty of ongoing projects,” says Steve. “We’re looking for support to build a new entrance on the front of the building, within which we wish to create a local veteran’s hub and establish a new home for our memorabilia shop, allowing more room for exhibits.”
“We believe, to influence the future, you must learn from the past - and it’s vitally important, not only to East Anglia but also to the Nation - to display our growing archive of material in honour of the valiant people that went before us. Without their extraordinary efforts and dedicated service, we wouldn’t have the peace we treasure today.”
The Heritage Centre is open every Tuesday and Wednesday from 9 until 4 as well as the last Saturday of the month (except December) For more information please visit marhamahc.org.uk