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Bentwaters Cold War Museum, the Rendlesham UFO and 2010
By Andrew Woodger
BBC Suffolk

Bentwaters Cold War Museum and Erroll Frost
Erroll Frost has been involved with the museum since 2001

A Suffolk museum which is dedicated to military history from World War II until the 1990s is preparing to open a cafe and shop for 2010.

The Bentwaters Cold War Museum commemorates the US Air Force's time at RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge.

It reopens on Sunday 4 April although bad weather has meant the new facilities won't be in place until the summer.

The Bentwaters Airshow takes place on Sunday 13 June.

"It was one of the best jobs I could have ever had," said Erroll Frost, who was a civilian fuel specialist working for the Ministry of Defence at RAF Bentwaters, 1983-92.

There were three big fuel tanks on Bentwaters - one capable of holding a million gallons - used to fill up F-15s, A-10s, C-130s, HH-53s, MH-53s and visitors such as F-5s and RAF Harriers.

"I was into aircraft anyway - I was a planespotter most of the time.

"Most of the civilians who worked up here really enjoyed it. The Americans were very friendly and for them it was like a home from home."

Erroll, who now volunteers with the museum, was there for the Desert Storm operation in 1991 when troops, led by the US, forced Iraq out of Kuwait.

Children at the Bentwaters Cold War Museum
Visitors can plan cold war strategy in the restored operation control room

"It was very busy to start with and then a lot of us had to go out to either Turkey or Saudi Arabia.

"I was asked to go out to Incirlik in Turkey which wasn't quite on the frontline, but was as near as I was going to get and I was there for six months.

"Up here, there was a lot of aircraft coming from the US using Bentwaters as jump-stop to go over to Iraq and places like that."

Bentwaters out of service

The US Air Force left Bentwaters in 1993 and the base was turned into a business park. The base's new owners asked a group of volunteers to turn the former Wing Command Post building into a museum.

However, most of the equipment had been stripped out and moved to other bases.

After years of re-fitting the building, it opened in 2007 with displays, a reconstructed operational control room, decontamination shower (there in case of chemical attack) and more.

"It really is a labour of love," said Graham Haynes, museum manager. "There's a lot of hours of blood, sweat and tears gone into this.

Bentwaters Cold War Museum manager Graham Haynes
Graham Haynes in the museum which opened in 2007

"We're in the process of completing the project which sees a new cafe and souvenir shop outside.

"Unfortunately, due to the weather we've had over the winter, this has been delayed but we're hoping to have it open by the end of April.

"We've had a new security fence put around the grass compound outside the museum which will eventually house our collection of aircraft and military vehicles.

"In November 2009, we achieved accreditation from the Museums, Libraries & Archives Council, which means we've achieved a standard for collections care and management.

"We can now achieve links with the likes of Duxford [the Imperial War Museum near Cambridge] and share items.

"We'd like some more aeroplanes! Particularly ones which have some relevance to Bentwaters.

"The Cold War is now an important part of the curriculum at school. A lot of places cover it instead of the Second World War.

"It shows how Bentwaters and Woodbridge played a role in maintaining world peace during those dark days."

Nukes and the Rendlesham UFO

2010 sees the 30th anniversary of the 'Rendlesham Incident'.

Bentwaters Cold War Museum
The museum is housed in one of dozens of buildings on Bentwaters

On 26 December 1980, there were reported sightings of a UFO in the forest at RAF Woodbridge followed by three decades of X Files-style speculation.

"We're only just finding out a lot of things about the UFO and the nuclear weapons that were stored here," said Graham.

"There's a lot of mystery surrounding the UFO. Even if the truth did come out, people wouldn't believe it.

"Although this building was in use at the time of the event, we don't really have an opinion either way. We close again in October and the anniversary's in December."

Airshow and opening days

The museum opens on the first and third Sundays of each month, Bank Holiday Sundays and Mondays. The Bentwaters Airshow takes place on Sunday, 13 June while the museum's special open day is on Sunday 1 August.

Erroll Frost is one of 15 volunteers who have to be jacks-of-all-trades.

"My day to day job is anything technical - mechanical work, electrical work, working on the aircraft and maintenance on the building," said Erroll.

"Most of us all muck in and get on with whatever there is to do. We've probably never done the jobs before, but we get in and learn."

Check out the Bentwaters Cold War Museum website for the dates the museum is open.

RAF Bentwaters, 1985
RAF Bentwaters in 1985, when it was a United States Air Force base

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