Battling volunteers save the day at the Helicopter Museum

Nick and I are busily working on our evaluation of this year’s festival, and some fascinating stories are emerging from venues explaining what happened behind the scenes of their Museums at Night events!

I was intrigued to receive an email from Lee Mills, General Manager of the Helicopter Museum in Weston-super-Mare, asking “If there is an award for museum volunteers going beyond the call of duty for Museums at Night, please can I nominate my team?

Each year for Museums at Night, the Helicopter Museum combines their annual Flight Simulator Convention with some kind of re-enactment event. This year they’d decided to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War.

But what exactly did Lee’s team do that was so significant? Lee explains:

The event itself was a huge success and will never be forgotten (probably for all the wrong reasons).

A soldier crawls through a smoky field with a gun

Just another day for a regular re-enactor … or is it? (c) Helicopter Museum

As you know we staged a Falklands re-enactment on the Saturday.

We had all the pyrotechnics in place, the Argentine dressed re-enactors were here in costume, we were just waiting for the British re-enactment group.

soldiers with old helicopters amid clouds of smoke

Pyrotechnics create an atmospheric setting for a military reenactment (c) Helicopter Museum

And then – on the day – they cancelled on us. NO BRITISH TROOPS in a Falklands re-enactment!

So, in the greatest sense of “the show must go on”, myself and the museum volunteers (who were luckily all dressed up in camouflage costume for the event) took a crash course in how to work the dummy guns.

Reenactors playing British soldiers with guns

The costumed volunteers bravely clutch their weapons as smoke drifts across the battlefield (c) Helicopter Museum

We then ran the gauntlet of smoke grenades, pyrotechnic explosions, firing caps and overhead mortar fire to capture the Argentine gun emplacement in front of a crowd of over 400 people.

A soldier with a helicopter

Would you have guessed that this soldier in deep concentration was a plucky museum volunteer? (c) Helicopter Museum


Like I said it will never be forgotten.

Wow! What a story. Thanks for sharing it, Lee, and congratulations to your redoubtable volunteers!

If you involved volunteers in your Museums at Night event, like 71% of the participating venues we surveyed, do you have a story to tell about the difference they made? Email me:!

(NB. I’m keen to showcase all kinds of stories from the arts and heritage sector here on the blog – your volunteers don’t need to be doing anything as epic or dramatic as running the gauntlet of smoke grenades, pyrotechnic explosions, firing caps and overhead mortar fire to capture an Argentine gun emplacement. Can anyone top this?)

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