Latest News as of December 2021

 

The scheduled openings for 2021 are now complete. Thank you to everyone who visited us during the year. The new schedule for 2022, which should begin on Easter Sunday, the 17th of April, can be found on the 'Schedule of Openings' page under this same pull down menu.

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Find us on Facebook: A Facebook group, called RAF Bircham Newton Heritage Centrer, has been established to discuss this former RAF station and its satellite airfields. You are encouraged to join this group, which is a forum to discuss all things about Bircham Newton and other closely related topics.

Recent Openings in 2021

OPENING ON SUNDAY, 27 JUNE 2021: Forty-one visitors came to Bircham Newton on the 27th of June, when we opened the RAF Heritage Centre to visitors for the first time in 2021.

Roger Farmer visited from the Fenland and West Norfolk Aviation Museum to share information about Reginald Smith, who served at Bircham Newton with No. 99 Bomber Squadron in the mid-1920s. Roger had recently shared some aeroplane photographs taken during Smith’s time at Bircham Newton via the Facebook group.  He brought the photograph album and Smith’s service record along to the Heritage Centre to allow copies to be made.

Another visitor, John Lewis, from Holt, made a second visit to capture some video footage of the Heritage Centre. John donated some interesting books, including an RAF Souvenir book/magazine 1971 Edition, for our collection.  He also supplied additional information about the Heinkel – He115 crash at Sheringham on the 6th of December 1939, in which Oberfeldwebel (Staff Sergeant) Emil Rodel and two other crew members died. Emil Rodel was the first WW2 combatant to be buried in in St. Mary’s Churchyard, Great Bircham. This occurred with full military honours on the 9th of December 1939.

Bob Danes, a former RAF administrative apprentice, who trained at Bircham Newton as a member of the 33rd Entry, also visited. Bob later became a Master Air Loadmaster and legendary winchman on Search and Rescue helicopters. He was awarded the Air Force Cross (AFC) and Bar for his courage and devotion during extremely hazardous rescues he performed as a winchman.

Edith Chaplin

OPENING ON SUNDAY, 25 JULY 2021: Despite a Met Office yellow weather warning for heavy showers and thunderstorms, sixty-two visitors braved the elements and attended the second open day of the year at Bircham Newton on Sunday, 25th of July. Amongst the visitors was former RAF Warrant Officer Anthony ‘Charlie’ Chaplin, from Aylsham.  However, Charlie didn’t come along to discuss his own service career. Instead, he spoke about his late mother, former Leading Aircraftwoman Edith Eileen Chaplin (nee Newton), who had served as a member of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (W.A.A.F.) during the war.  Edith, seen on the left of the above photograph, had been a Motor Transport Driver, who had spent time at several RAF stations during her wartime service, including Bircham Newton, Chivenor, Thorney Island, St. Eval, Davidstow Moor, Leuchars and St David. 

One of Edith's most precious possessions was a battered old teddy bear, which had been a first birthday present from an uncle in Canada more than a century ago. She told Charlie how she had carried it around from station to station throughout her W.A.A.F. service. She also revealed that it had been adopted as a lucky mascot by a Canadian crew at Bircham Newton, who would take it with them when they flew on operations across the North Sea. Fortunately, this particular crew and the bear had survived these operations, although many other aircraft and their crews did not. After Edith passed away, Charlie rediscovered the bear in her possessions and could not bring himself to dispose of it. Consequently, he brought the bear to Bircham Newton and donated it to the Heritage Centre for safe keeping.  We are more than happy to adopt it in memory of Edith and her service.

Mrs. Jennifer Oliver also visited with a little mystery she had discovered in her late father’s flying logbook. He was Pilot Officer Frederick Harry Bishop, who had completed his flying training in South Africa under the Joint Air Training Scheme. After he returned to the UK, Frederick spent a short period in September 1946 attached to a unit called ACAC at Bircham Newton, before he left the service.  Although we suspected that ACAC was an aircrew holding unit or clearing house for surplus aircrew at the end of the war, we had not previously heard of this unit. No. 27 Aircrew Holding Unit was the unit normally associated with this role. However, 27 ACHU had formed at Bircham Newton in September 1945, but had disbanded in May 1946, prior to Frederick’s arrival in Norfolk. Subsequent research has revealed that ACAC was an Air Crew Allocation Centre which moved to Bircham Newton in August 1946 and disbanded in October of the same year. It had previously operated at Eastchurch, Brackla and Catterick. Bircham Newton was its final move before it too was disbanded.  We must now thank Jennifer Oliver for adding yet another unit to our ever-growing understanding of Bircham Newton’s history.

OPENING ON SUNDAY, 29 AUGUST 2021: Seventy-five adults and several accompanied children visited the RAF Heritage Centre on the final Sunday in August. It was a particular treat to meet several families with small children. We must congratulate one boy, Thomas Templeton, who made short work of one of our tricky aircraft recognition quizzes. At the other end of the age scale, nonagenarian Peter Collison, from Heacham, made one of his regular return visits.  Peter, an old friend to the Heritage Centre staff, is a great source of interesting stories from Bircham Newton’s past. On this occasion, he recalled his first visit to the former RAF station as a young child, in May 1935. It was the occasion of the second Empire Air Day to be held on the station, when various biplanes performed spectacular aerobatics for the general public. He recalled that several red, white and blue balloons had been released over the airfield and a small biplane flew down through one of the Bellman hangars and then up into the balloons, scattering them. It was such a vivid image that he remembers it clearly to this day.

Another visitor, David Dodson, from Stowmarket, came along to discuss his father, former Corporal Gordon Harry Dodson, an airframe fitter who had served at Bircham Newton during WW2 with No. 695 Squadron, one of the resident target-towing units.  Gordon was a skilled carpenter, who made wooden toys, in his spare time.  David donated one of his prized possessions, a wooden scaled model of an RAF mobile crane that his father had made for him as a Christmas present in 1944.  Mr. T. M. O. Richards, from Harpley, donated a folder containing his research into service personnel who were killed or died in training accidents at Narborough and from Zeppelin raids over Norfolk. It is our intention to put this on display in Room 3, where we display information about World War One and on early military aviation in Norfolk.

OPENING ON SUNDAY, 19 SEPTEMBER 2021: Only 11 visitors attended the open day on the 19th  of September.This opening was added at a late stage, with insufficient time to pre-advertise it in the local press, village magazines and the like. It was only advertised on this website and within our Facebook group and otherwise relied upon our road signs to attract passing traffic. This was an interesting experiment but was clearly not able to attract sufficient visitors to keep us busy. Nevertheless, we enjoyed meeting those who did come along and were able to give them our undivided attention.

OPENING ON SUNDAY, 26 SEPTEMBER 2021: A total of forty-three visitors attended the Heritage Centre opening on Sunday, 26 September, much less than the footfalls in the corresponding openings in July and August, when we received sixty-five and seventy-five visitors respectively. This might have been due to the lateness of the holiday season, the current fuel shortages due to panic-buying at petrol pumps, or a combination of these factors. One interesting visitor who did call in was Roger Dean, a Norfolk-based singer, actor and former cruise director, who has toured the UK singing in a Johnny Cash tribute show. He has also spent may years as compere of a talent show 'Search for a Star' at his favourite local theatre, The Princess Theatre, in Hunstanton.

We introduced local visitors to the new East Anglian Aviation Heritage Trail, which was launched at Marham earlier in the week. The news of the aviation trail was met with much enthusiasm, and we issued several trail brochures.

Wensum TR Group

OPENING ON SUNDAY, 17 OCTOBER 2021: Thirty-five visitors attended the opening on Sunday, 17th of October, including eleven members of the Wensum TR Group, who brightened up our car park with their classic sports cars. Brian Scott also visited and discussed his interesting Facebook page: The Glorious Dead in the UK.  Brian informed us about Corporal Sidney Albert Howard who served at Bircham Newton during WW2 as a member of No. 1611 Flight. Sidney died, aged 53, on the 15th of October 1943 and is buried in Cambridge City Cemetery.

Another visitor, Mrs. Clare Garrods, told us about her uncle, former Warrant Officer MacDonald. Although she didn’t know much about his service career, she knew that he had served at Bircham Newton in the early post-war period, during 1947 and 1948. She recalled that he lived in a married quarter in the estate which is now called Monks Close.

Mr. Paul Van der Hulks visited in the afternoon and informed us about his great uncle, Peter Derrick Seaford, who had served with No. 280 Squadron at Bircham Newton from February 1942 until September 1943.  Paul possesses a poor photocopy of Peter’s service record, which is unfortunately unreadable but has requested a replacement copy. Also, he is currently studying the Operations Record Book (ORB) entries for No. 280 Squadron, which he downloaded from the Public Records Office, so we hope to find out more about Peter’s service in due course.

HERITAGE CENTRE OPENING ON SUNDAY 31 OCTOBER: Thirty-one visitors made the trip to Bircham Newton on a wet and windy Halloween. One was Peter Wells, who visited from Lincolnshire to discuss his relative Group Captain J.C. ‘Johnny’ Wells, a highly decorated WW2 pilot, who was born at Sheringham, on the north Norfolk coast. Following his RAF apprenticeship, as an aero engine fitter, Johnny’s first posting in 1930 was to No. 35 Squadron at Bircham Newton. He developed a love of flying and began training as an air gunner on the squadron’s Fairey IIIF and Fairey Gordon aircraft. He soon realised that his real ambition was to be a pilot and he successfully applied for pilot training, leaving the squadron in 1934 to begin his course at No. 5 Flying Training School. This led to a glittering flying career. By the end of WW2, he was acknowledged to be one of the most successful and highly decorated Typhoon Wing Leaders in the Air Force. Peter generously donated the book ‘To Scale the Skies’, by Peter Cornwell, which tells Johnny’s story. This will be incorporated into the Heritage Centre’s aviation library.

Peter was able to find Johnny Wells on one of the squadron photographs on display in the Centre. The photograph, of No. 35 Squadron taken in 1931, has its own interesting history. It was discovered in the early 1980s, in the loft of someone's house, behind his water tank. It was subsequently published in a local newspaper and generated enough interest by former squadron personnel that two squadron reunions were held at Bircham Newton in 1982 and 1983, hosted by the CITB Training Centre, as it was known at that time.

Other visitors on the 31st of October included former college lecturer Christine Dean, who discussed research she has conducted into personalities with connections to the nearby village of Heacham, and Jon and Shelly Booty from the West Raynham Control Tower

Wreath_laying 2021

Heritage Centre Opening on Remembrance Sunday, 14th of November: The RAF Heritage Centre welcomed seventy-six visitors on Remembrance Sunday, including a group of eleven cyclists who arrived from King's Lynn. The highlight in the morning was a wreath-laying ceremony to remember those who fell in two world wars and other conflicts past and present.

One of the visitors to the Heritage Centre was Michael Newman, from Heacham, who discussed his late uncle, Wing Commander Claude Dunkerley. Claude had served at Bircham Newton in the late 1930s and ealy 1940s, first with No. 207 squadron and then with No. 206 Squadron. Michael was shown items of Claude's RAF memorabilia and a memorial seat all donated by Claude's son David Dunkerley.

In a sad conclusion to the day, the Heritage Centre team said goodbye to one of its longest-serving volunteers, Avril MacArthur, who is retiring after 15 yeas service. Avril was responsible for publicity, liaising with the local press, the editors of village magazines and others to keep the Heritage Centre in the public eye. She will be sadly missed.

Final Heritage Centre Opening on Thursday, 18th of November: The Heritage Centre was opened for a final time in 2021 on Thursday, 18th of November to coincide with the National finals of SkillBuild, the largest multi-trade skills competition held in the UK for construction trainees and apprentices. During the morning, the CITB Chief Executive, Tim Balcon, and the CITB Chairman, Peter Lauener, both took time out of their busy schedules to visit the Heritage Centre for the first time.

D. Jacklin 2019. This website is owned by the RAF Bircham Newton Memorial Project.