WHEN little Geoffrey Hill drew a picture of a Spitfire when he was at school as a ten-year-old boy in the late 1950s, it was to earn him one of the first Blue Peter badges.

But little did he know then that his picture, lovingly created at Rectory Road School in Sedgefield, was to spark a lifelong passion for wartime aviation.

That passion – call it an obession if you like – came to a fitting climax last week when Geoff's huge collection of Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force memorabilia finally found a permanent home.

A Memorial Room has been opened at the St George Hotel, formerly the officers' mess, when Durham Tees Valley Airport was a bomber base during World War Two. Formally opened by Group Captain David Bradshaw, the commanding officer of RAF Leeming, the room houses a fascinating artefacts gathered by Geoff over more than 40 years.

"It is something I've waited a long time for," said Geoff, who is the devoted chairman of the Middleton St George Memorial Association. "I've put on lots of exhibitions over the years but I always wanted to find somewhere appropriate for a permanent memorial."

The permanent exhibition is a wartime treasure trove, including pilots' panels from Lancaster and Halifax bombers, and the last flags to fly at the site before the RAF disbanded in 1964.

The flags – the officers' mess standard, and the guard room "duster" - had originally flown at the El Adem RAF base in North Africa but were brought to Middleton St George by an RAF fitter from Sunderland called Joe Banks.

Even on the day of the opening, the Reverend Colin Lingard, who blessed the Memorial Room, added to the collection by bringing a pair of beautifully preserved 1942 "escape boots" which had belonged to his uncle who served with the RAF.

Escape boots came with a pouch containing a knife that could be used to cut away the leggings and leave what appeared to be civilian shoes if pilots had to bail out.

The exhibition is open to the public free of charge, although there will be a donation box provided, and Geoff hopes to go on adding more and more memorabilia.

"I'm just so proud that it has all been brought together as a permanent reminder of the heroics and sacrifices of those who served and gave their lives with the RAF and RCAF," he said.

Surely, Geoff Hill deserves recognition for all of his admirable efforts - something even more important than a Blue Peter badge.

IT was a great pleasure to speak last week at a meeting of the Barnard Castle History Society, even if the occasion was tinged with a touch of sadness.

The society has traditionally met at the United Reformed Church, which dates back to 1836, but it was closed at the beginning the month due to a lack of funding.

The society recently established a memorial window at the church to the Reverend William Luke Prattman, who had been behind the movement to set it up 178 years ago.

The Rev Prattman married an heiress, who owned coalmines on Cockfield Fell, and he left the ministry to look after their business interests. Sadly, he died in disgrace in Staindrop after going bankrupt due to geological faults on the fell.

What will happen to Rev. Prattman's memorial window now that the doors of the United Reformed Church have been locked? It is a question society chairman Eric Barnes and his fellow historians are understandably keen to pursue.

In the meantime, the society will continue to meet on the second Monday of each month in the Methodist Church Hall at the bottom of Galgate.

IN the front row during my talk to the Barnard Castle History Society was the ever-smiling Dorothy Barker, still a keen member at 90.

Dorothy told me how she and her husband Stanley had run a small printing business in Boroughbridge Road, in Northallerton for many years.

There was one job in which a local nursery had asked for a set of leaflets to be printed with the instruction: "When you receive these flowers unpack them and stand in a bucket of water for two hours."

"We changed it," said Dorothy.

MOVING on to international matters, police have issued a warning to clowns to stop behaving like imbeciles and scaring people worldwide. Are you listening Donald Trump?

FINALLY, we come to the final clue to help with the search for The Holy Grail – also known as the Golden Tin of Spam.

To recap, the Golden Tin of Spam has been hidden at a secret location to help promote the forthcoming production of Monty Python’s Spamalot by Darlington Operatic Society.

Whoever finds it wins two tickets to the show, a whip-round from Darlington’s Victorian Covered Market for a family of four to have Sunday lunch, plus afternoon tea for two at the Mercure Darlington Kings Hotel.

The first clue was: “If you want to find the Holy Grail, go to a place where there’s lots on sale.”

That was followed with: “If the Spam is to be found, set out your stall – don’t MONKEY around.”

And this week it's: "A trip to the market will be a real thriller – see what there is above the gorilla."

n Spamalot is being performed in the Princess Alexandra Auditorium at Yarm School from October 24 to October 29. For tickets, call 01325 244659 or book online at www.darlingtonos.org.uk