£15,000 of damage as thieves strike at south Warwickshire museum
THE callous theft of Second World War artefacts from Wellesbourne Wartime Museum has deprived the community of its proud aviation history and left volunteers with an estimated repair bill of £15,000.
But while the damage caused during the break-in on Tuesday, 15th March, can be repaired, the volunteers told the Herald that the cost of the items stolen may never be known as they are simply irreplaceable.
Derrick ‘Del’ Paddock, committee member of the museum, which is based at Wellesbourne Airfield, thinks whoever broke in knew what they were looking for.
“Radio equipment, navigational aids and instrumentation items from the 1940s and ‘50s were stolen,” he said. “These were installed in wartime bombers like Lancasters, Wellingtons and the Halifax.
“They could have been stolen for scrap or stolen to order. We can’t get hold of manufacturer costs from that time and some items have been donated. How do you price them up?
“We are a small volunteer charity museum and we are not insured for anything other than public liability. All our club funds are our own, so we rely on the £2 entry fee we charge visitors.
“In the world of historical aviation everything is getting more costly and dearer and some of it is irreplaceable. The RAF has sort outs when items go up for auction, some of it goes to scrap but what we have here at Wellesbourne is our heritage about our country and that’s now been stolen.”
The £15,000 repair bill covers damage to two large security doors that were broken off, a large concrete panel that was damaged and other steel doors that need repairing. Plywood fittings were also broken while hand tools, aircraft spares and even a wheelbarrow was stolen, possibly to remove the aviation equipment.
Derrick added that it was strange that some items were stripped on site.
“It says to me that whoever did this was on site for some time,” he said. “We had a break-in on Wednesday, 9th March, which was the first occasion and I think people were ferreting about and having a nose around. I would hazard a guess that they came back on 15th March because they knew what we had in the museum.
“We’ve looked at improving security but if we use lights that are activated by sensors we’ve been advised these can give thieves a good look at padlocks and hinges, so lighting works both ways.
“We’ve started repairing things and tidying up as best we can. We had a lot of visitors on Sunday and they were saying what a beautiful museum we have and hoped we would find the perpetrators.”
The volunteers have contacted FlyPast, a heritage aviation magazine which includes Second World War aircraft to alert readers that Wellesbourne Museum was broken into. They’ve also contacted the British Aviation Preservation Council and are checking on the internet to see if any of the missing items have been put up for sale online.
It’s not the first time the museum has been broken into. Last year a control column from a Sea Vixen fighter jet was stolen but – as Derrick points out – “it wasn’t ripped out of its fixing, it was neatly unscrewed and removed”.
As well as the financial cost the volunteers now face, there’s the emotional and historical ties to consider.
“Wellesbourne Wartime Museum is a memorial to the 315 people associated with this training base who lost their lives during the war - the youngest person on the roll of honour was aged 17,” said Derrick. “If we won the lottery we could improve security but at the moment all the repair work is coming out of our pockets. I’ve been an enthusiast and volunteer with aviation in Stratford and Wellesbourne since 1970 and you could say this break-in might make you think is it worth it? But I’m not going to stop now.”
Warwickshire Police confirmed that a burglary was reported between 4pm on 13th March and 9am on 16th March at the Loxley Road site. Items, including tools and old aviation parts, were stolen and enquiries are ongoing.
Anyone with information about the break-in is asked to call Warwickshire Police on 101 quoting incident 210 of 17th March.