Spa Valley Railway » Family Events

303 Squadron Naming Ceremony & Train Rides

Sunday 1st September 2024

A special event dedicated to the naming of Bulleid Pacific 34053 'Sir Keith Park' as '303 Squadron' – Full event details, please scroll down the page
Southern Locomotives Limited (SLL), owners of Spa Valley based Bulleid Pacifics 34053 'Sir Keith Park' and 34072 '257 Squadron' were very much involved in raising money for the Battle of Britain Fighter Association in the early nineties as a thank you for their involvement with 257 Squadron’s recommissioning at Folkestone Central Station on the 8th September 1990. Battle of Britain air crew representing over 20 different Squadrons joined us for the ceremony and reception after. Many of these Squadrons were remembered by the Southern Region when naming their Battle of Britain class locomotives, but also many were ruled out as a decision had been made that only Squadrons which were active on what was officially the last day of the Battle, 31st October 1940, would be included. 

Also all non-British squadrons would not be considered which excluded the most successful of all – 303 Squadron consisting mainly Polish with some Czech aircrew, commanded by Squadron Leader Roland Kellett. Those who remember the film Battle of Britain will recall that the Polish squadrons weren’t allowed to participate at the start of the battle, for fear of language difficulties and mis-communication. However, two months into the conflict with our losses growing they were finally allowed to become operational, and despite joining the fray two months into the Battle, they achieved more victories than any other participating squadron. 

Although Poland was our fourth largest ally in World War ll, bowing to pressure from Josef Stalin, the Polish forces in Britain were not allowed to participate in the Victory celebrations in London which took place in June 1946. A small group of Polish pilots were sent an invitation but understandably refused with their fellow countrymen excluded, and unbelievably they weren’t allowed to participate in the annual Remembrance Day parades at the Cenotaph until 2005, when the British government made a formal apology to the Polish people. 

Several years ago our long term volunteer Mike Frackiewicz, suggested that one of our BB’s should be renamed 303 Squadron, but only recently did SLL Director Peter Spowage come up with a plan to rename one of them 303 Squadron for a year in gratitude for what they achieved, some 84 years after the formation of the Squadron. 

It will be 34053 'Sir Keith Park', who was Air Vice Marshall in control of 11 Group Fighter Command, which will be exchanging nameplates. 303 Squadron, which flew Hurricanes, was under the direct control of Sir Keith at the time, so it’s fitting that the locomotive will display their name. 

On the 85th anniversary in September 2025 the original plates will be returned and the name of ”Sir Keith Park” will again adorn 34053 which they have done since 1947. SLL are in touch with Louise Kellett, daughter of the Commanding Officer of 303 during the Battle, who understandably is delighted with our idea. 

A meeting has been arranged with the Polish Air Force Memorial Trust based at Northolt who will be supporting us, and over the next few months SLL will update you on others getting involved in our venture. The event will be held at Eridge on the Spa Valley Railway – a location which will allow lower level flying than at Tunbridge Wells (we have to have a Hurricane!) and will be an easy location to reach from London as many of our guests will be travelling from there.

No. 303 Squadron RAF
No. 303 Squadron RAF, also known as the 303rd "Tadeusz Kościuszko Warsaw" Fighter Squadron, was one of two Polish squadrons that fought during the Battle of Britain along with No. 302 Squadron, of 16 total Polish squadrons during the Second World War. Flying Hawker Hurricanes, the squadron claimed the largest number of aircraft shot down of the 66 Allied fighter squadrons engaged in the Battle of Britain, even though it joined the fray two months after the battle had begun.

No. 303 Squadron RAF was formed in July 1940 in Blackpool, England before deployment to RAF Northolt on 2 August as part of an agreement between the Polish Government in Exile and the United Kingdom. It had a distinguished combat record and was disbanded in December 1946.

"Had it not been for the magnificent material contributed by the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry," wrote Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, head of RAF Fighter Command, "I hesitate to say that the outcome of the Battle (of Britain) would have been the same."

Sunday 1st September – Event Details
The Spa Valley Railway will be operating a more intensive service than normal on Sunday 1st September to enable you to travel on our railway, see the naming ceremony and enjoy a train ride behind '303 Squadron'.

The naming ceremony will take place at Eridge station at 13:00 and last approximately 30 minutes, it is hoped a flypast of an appropriate aircraft can take place.

If you wish to see the naming ceremony take place you will need to be at Eridge station between 12:30 and 12:45, there will only be seating for invited guests on the day and space is limited on the station platform. Invited guests/VIPs will be seated/stood first and then members of the public observe the naming ceremony on other parts of the station.




Due to the special occassion only all day travel tickets will be available on Sunday 1st September. Virgin Experience Day vouchers will be valid on the 10:00 and 11:35 services from Tunbridge Wells West only, they will not be valid for travel after 12:35. You must pre-book to travel if you are a Virgin Experience Day voucher holder. 

SLL - Southern Locomotives Ltd unveiled the 303 Squadron name plates and crest for Battle of Britain Class locomotive 34053 on 11th May at Battle of Britain Bunker, UxbridgeThe unveiling was completed by Krzysztof de Berg from The Polish Air Force Memorial Committee

Book tickets

Sun 01 Sep 2024
Open Day Event departing from: Travel All Day, Any Train!

Booking information

If you book online, on the day of your visit you MUST have your eTickets available to show either in a print out or on a mobile device, either will be checked visually by a member of staff before boarding the train.

Tickets can be bought online in advance or are available on the day from our ticket offices at Tunbridge Wells West, Groombridge or Eridge. There is no reserved seating for tickets purchased online or on the day. 

  • The 12:00 from Tunbridge Wells West will have limited passenger accommodation on board and will be on a first come first serve basis.
  • 34053 will haul the 13:45 (which travels as far as Groombridge), 14:20 and 16:55 services from Eridge.
  • 34053 will haul the 16:15 from Tunbridge Wells West.
  • Please note the 13:45 and 14:20 departures from Eridge will have limited passenger accommodation on board and will be on a first come first serve basis. You are welcome to use your tickets for travel all day on Sunday 1st September.
  • High Rocks will be closed on Sunday 1st September.

Note that a £10 admin fee applies to all booking alterations.

Click here to view our refund, cancellation and alterations policy