A tea room with a real story to tell

Janet Hunt with a model of a Lancaster bomber - just one item in her unique collection.  Picture: John Aron.
Janet Hunt with a model of a Lancaster bomber - just one item in her unique collection. Picture: John Aron.

It was a sight to bring a lump to the throat of even the most battle-hardened veteran.

The world’s only two airworthy Lancaster bombers, wing-tip-to-wing-tip on the runway at RAF Coningsby.

Cheers! Owner Janet Hunt in her tea room in Woodhall Spa...but will she swap the familiar surroundings for  a special reunion in Canada? Picture: John Aron.

Cheers! Owner Janet Hunt in her tea room in Woodhall Spa...but will she swap the familiar surroundings for a special reunion in Canada? Picture: John Aron.

The date was August 201 4.

While one of the Lancasters was on ‘home ground’ at the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, the other had flown a little further for the special reunion - 3,700 miles from Canada.

And that Canadian Lancaster was to earn Janet Hunt a very special invitation.

Janet has owned a tea room in Woodhall Spa for 19 years.

It is packed with memorabilia from the 617 Dambusters Squadron, whose Lancasters bombed German dams during the Second World War - delivering a crushing blow to the Nazi war machine.

The crew from the Canadian Lancaster - affectionately known as Vera - spent several days in the UK.

When they weren’t in the skies delighting huge crowds at air shows, the crew were usually to be found at Janet’s Tea Room in Woodhall.

As they made plans for their return journey, they invited Janet to visit them in Canada.

And this year, she might just take up that invitation.

“Canada is a long way, “ she says, “and I’m not the best of fliers.

“But I’d love to go. The crew said ‘just get yourself here’ and they’d take care of everything else.

“The only slight trouble is I haven’t told my husband. I don’t think he’d want to go but I’m sure my daughter (Purdey) would go with me.”

It’s hardly surprising the Canadians felt at home in Janet’s tea room.

The place is a remarkable shrine to Lancasters - and 617 Squadron in particular.

Everywhere you turn - every nook and cranny - is filled with memorabilia - much of it unique to the tea room.

Janet admits she is delighted her collection gives pleasure to so many people.

She adds: “We get visitors from all over the world and they are amazed by the number of items we have.”

There are some very special visitors too - including George ‘Johnny’ Johnson - the last British survivor of the famous Dambusters’ mission.

Mr Johnson was born near Horncastle but now lives in Bristol.

On his regular journeys back to his beloved Lincolnshire, he often calls into the tea room.

Often, he’s accompanied by the daughter of Barnes Wallis, the man who invented the famous ‘bouncing bomb’ used by the Dambusters.

Janet explains: “We get visitors from all over the world but Johnny is special. He’s a wonderful, wonderful man.

“Every time he comes in, he asks me to marry him!

“He’s in his nineties now but he still loves this area - and Woodhall in particular.

“He’s done so much for RAF veterans down the years.

“His memory is still very sharp and he has so many stories to tell. I could sit and listen to him all day.”

It is mind-boggling how Janet and her staff find the time to dust all the items.

Janet says she knew nothing about Woodhall’s links with the Squadron - until she opened her business.

She explains: “I’d lived in Brighton but on the first day I opened in Woodhall, I was cleaning the windows when two men walked by and handed me a photo of a Lancaster.

“It just went from there.

“People have kept bringing items - and of course their wonderful stories.”

There was the day a veteran brought in an ash tray he wanted Janet to display alongside all the other memorabilia.

Two days later, his grandson called in to say the man had died 24 hours earlier.

The ash tray is still on display.

Janet describes her collection as ‘unique’ and it is a big draw for visitors from home and abroad.

Whisper this quietly, but she has been offered money for some of the items.

Nothing, though, would persuade her to part company with anything.

Looking after those items is a labour of love.

Just across the road from the tea room, are the ‘old and new’ memorials to 617 Squadron from all over the world.

When the old memorial was damaged by the weather a couple of years ago, Janet was the first person on the ‘phone to get it repaired.

The Dambusters - and 617 Squadron - will always be special to her.

However, eagle-eyed visitors will note she is displaying memorabilia from the Army and the Navy too - donated by veterans who have joined the list of fans of her very special business.