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Interview with Kris Hendrix

Date: 
29 September 2017

 
We visited the Royal Air Force Museum in Colindale, North London, to meet Belgian researcher and military expert Kris Hendrix who has been working at the museum since April last year.

 
Kris Hendrix

 
For someone who has not heard of the Royal Air Force Museum, how would you describe the venue?

The RAF Museum is one of the leading museums in the country and worldwide it is one of the most important institutes when it comes to aviation history. The Museum in Hendon is located on the site of one of the oldest aerodromes in the country, the first aircraft factory and one of the first aviation schools. Several original buildings are preserved and we hold more than a hundred historic aircraft. On top of that, it is a venue that suits different audiences: people who served or are serving in the RAF and their families, young and old, from different nationalities.

 
That partly answers my next question: Who are the main visitors?

The Museum caters for a range of audiences, from aviation enthusiasts to current and ex-Service Personnel to families with young children. We especially interact with members of our local community. The museum is very popular with school groups and we also have a large international appeal. It’s a very diverse public that visits the RAF Museum.

 
What exactly is your role within the museum?

My main role is researcher in the archives and library department. I deal with a wide range of enquiries from the public. For instance, a family would like to get information about the military actions of their grandfather who served in the RAF. It could be that they’re in possession of a part of an aircraft about which they would like to find out more. It could be enquiries by model plane builders or general questions about our collection or anything related to the history of the RAF. I’m also a project administrator for our Centenary Programme which will totally redevelop the entire site. That will make the museum more accessible to the general public plus enable 2 new exhibitions to be opened in May 2018.

 
During the centenary exhibition next year, the pilots of Spitfire planes during WW2 are given a prominent place. One of the pilots who will be highlighted is the Belgian pilot Baron Jean de Selys Longchamps. Can you expand on his selection?  

We wanted to highlight the diversity within the RAF and the Belgian baron was an excellent example of precisely that. Spitfire pilots came from all over the world. The selection was not restricted in race, gender or nationality. I chose a Belgian pilot but the baron is only one of the many examples of Belgian pilots who served within the RAF and committed incredible acts of bravery in the British and Belgian fight against Nazi Germany. I could just as well have chosen Remi Van Lierde who shot down 44 V1 flying bombs or Raymond Lallemant who was a successful ‘ace’ and squadron commander. There was also Daniel le Roy Du Vivier, the first non-Commonwealth wing commander. They were all amazing pilots. I guess the story of the baron is interesting because it illustrates how the RAF operated. He launched a devastating attack on the Gestapo HQ in Brussels but did so without authorisation. As a result he was demoted, but at the same time, he was awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross). It’s an aspect of the RAF or even the British where they are very strict on the one hand, yet recognise bravery on the other.

 
Kris Hendrix
Kris Hendrix in front of a Spitfire Mk Vb

 

Can you focus some more on the Belgian links?

The Belgian contribution to the war effort was enormous: there were the resources from the Congo, the land army and a significant number of Belgian pilots in the RAF. Squadrons 349 and 350 and a few others were manned by Belgian pilots. Some pilots like Van Lierde saved hundreds of people’s lives by shooting down V1s. Many of them were rewarded: the baron received the DFC and Van Lierde was awarded as many as 3 DFCs, an honour which was reserved for very few pilots. That makes a Belgian pilot one of the most decorated in the history of the RAF. Sadly, these are stories which are not well known in the UK nor in Belgium.

 
Has the decision of the UK to leave the EU had any effect on the RAF museum so far?

I haven’t noticed any changes as yet but, of course, Brexit hasn’t happened yet. If anything, the devaluation of the British pound may have contributed to an increase in international tourism and the RAF museum is also benefiting from that.

 
Can you tell our readers about your studies?

I was a kind of eternal student, studying archaeology, history and international politics but my emphasis was always on the military side.  I wanted to become a military expert but these studies were not available at Belgian universities. I followed my dream and picked Brunel University in London to engage in military studies. Now I’m working here at the RAF museum which is an obvious choice. This is the ultimate place to deepen my knowledge of military history and more specifically of the RAF.

 
What made you decide to move to the UK?

That was entirely due to my studies. It was a close call between Wales, Scotland and London but in the end I opted for this city, in part because it was closer to Belgium which made trips back home more feasible.

 
What in particular do you appreciate about living and working in this city?

I love the diversity, the multiculturalism of London. I don’t know another European city which is that open to foreigners, to so many different cultures and everybody gets along. London is very welcoming and full of opportunities. It’s the first thing I miss when I leave this place.

 
Do you have contact with other Belgian expats over here?

Initially I was focusing on the Brits and people from various nationalities. It’s only in the last few months I’ve become more interested in getting to know other Belgians here. I think it’s also because I now have a little daughter, Emilia. She was born here and I’m starting to wonder how ‘Belgian’ she will be in the end, in terms of language and culture. I’m much more aware of passing on my Belgian identity to her. I’m looking at it from quite a different perspective now.

https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/london/