Matthew Hudson saved “Life Story” papers from Battle of Britain Hero which have now been published in a new book
The man who saved both Salisbury’s historic Old Sarum Airfield and Prestwick International Airport and from closure has been instrumental in bringing to life important notes from one of Britain’s most famous WW2 historical figures, Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding.
Dowding was appointed as the Commander in Chief of RAF Fighter Command in 1936 and is widely credited with playing the crucial role in Britain’s defence against a German invasion through the winning of the Battle of Britain in 1940.
Matthew Hudson was an initial contributor to the formation and funding of a charity to save Bentley Priory, which was the headquarters of RAF Fighter Command during WW2. The MOD had planned to redevelop the entire Bentley Priory site into new luxury homes but a small group led by Alan Curtis OBE wished to save the main building and convert it into a dedicated RAF museum and memorial to those who served. When Bentley Priory was still slated for demolition, Mr. Hudson was given a copy of a set of notes which had been prepared by Lord Dowding himself in1956 to assist his authorised biographer.
As events transpired the charity was successful at raising the necessary funds to save Bentley Priory and make it into the museum that still operates today. The other main Old Sarum Airfield benefactor, Grenville Hodge, at the time a leading executive of British Aerospace, was responsible for BAe making an important contribution to the successful funding effort. The irreplaceable heritage of Bentley Priory was saved and put on firm financial ground.
Not appreciating the unique nature of the manuscript Mr. Hudson forgot about it until he came across it in his own papers in early 2020. On reading it he felt the memoir should be published or at least donated to the proper authorities. He sent the memoir to Sir Donald Spiers, who then undertook substantial research concerning Lord Dowding and his personal background. Sir Donald then self-published the memoir, titled The Dowding Papers.
The papers give a unique insight into Lord Dowding, his upbringing and how his early life helped shape his military career, firstly in the Army and later in the Royal Air Force, plus his life following retirement from the RAF. They do not cover the Battle of Britain itself, on which he wrote a separate Despatch that was published in the London Gazette in September 1946.
Grenville Hodge, speaking for Old Sarum Airfield said: “Matthew and I were delighted to play a part in the successful effort to preserve Bentley Priory and the unearthing, preservation and documenting of these very important historical papers. The importance of the role Lord Dowding played in the ultimate victory in WW2 must not be underestimated. He created a hardwired network, the first mechanical internet, linking all the airfields, radar towers and coastal watchers in the UK directly to Bentley Priory. This allowed the essential co-ordination of our scarce defensive resources using real time information. Everyone who cares about heritage owes a debt of gratitude to Sir Donald Spiers who has done a fantastic job of collating all of Lord Dowding’s notes into a really insightful book and we wish him every success with the book launch.”
Sir Donald Spiers said: “This set of notes is an invaluable part of Lord Dowding’s life history before and after the Battle of Britain. The book is a fascinating read and includes some photographs of Lord Dowding from an early age. I am grateful to Matthew Hudson for bringing the notes to my attention and for the assistance I have been given by Bentley Priory Museum and by Lord Dowding’s stepson, David Whiting, in providing additional material.”
The Dowding Papers are available to buy from:
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