Unveils the Hovercraft Column
Wonderful efforts by all concerned allowed us to celebrate the centenary of Sir Christopher Cockerell’s birthday by unveiling the Hovercraft Column at Somerleyton. A bright and clear dawn greeted the 4th June 2010 and could not have been more welcome; upon it depended the arrival of a Spitfire from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, a tribute by the RAF to Sir Christopher’s wartime work for Bomber Command. Piloted by Sqdn Ldr Duncan Mason, it arrived at 2.30pm precisely above the Hovercraft Column, and returned twice to complete a broad clover leaf pattern around us, finally leaving towards Norwich with a farewell wing-waggle.
Lady Somerleyton opened the event by recalling the early years when Sir Christopher was trying to engage the world of commerce in the Hovercraft invention and how the 2nd Lord Somerleyton had made the initial contact with Lord Louis Mountbatten, then First Sea Lord. An acknowledged technocrat, his understanding proved very important for the development of Sir Christopher’s ideas. Lady Somerleyton was generous in her praise of all involved with the Hovercraft Column and closed her remarks by asking Frances Cockerell to formally unveil it.
Frances gave her personal recollection of the immediate post-war years and how she arrived in Somerleyton with her parents in 1951 to live on an ex-Navy Pinnace moored at the new Ripplecraft Boatyard. Easily recalling her father’s ever present pad of graph paper, Frances gave a more balanced and evidenced view of the invention phase representing years of hard work rather than a eureka moment with some old tin cans.
In December 1955 her father applied for his first patent, by June 1956 his prototype model could hover and the new word ‘Hovercraft’ had entered the English language. The struggle had only just begun and in those difficult times the role of the 2nd Lord Somerleyton and Lord Louis Mountbatten played a crucial part. The interest of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh had also given encouragement when it was most needed and Frances read a letter received from him for the unveiling event.