Latest News as of November 2019

Welcome to our 2019 newsletter, which is being updated regularly throughout the year. This year, as usual, we opened during all bank holiday weekends and on other selected Sundays throughout the year. Following the opening on Remembrance Sunday, the 2019 season is now complete and planning is underway for the 2020 season is underway. The 2020 season will begin at Easter and will follow a similar pattern of openings that were held this year. The complete 2020 schedule together with opening times and travel directions will shortly be posted on this website under the same Heritage Centre pull-down menu that you used to reach this page.  Many hundreds of individuals visited (or revisited) the Heritage Centre in 2019, and we will be delighted to see you if you are able to make it next year. Our friendly volunteers will assist you and make your visit as enjoyable as possible.

You can also follow us on Facebook, where we maintain a public group called RAF Bircham Newton Heritage Centre, which you may join.

In this newsletter, we will highlight some new Heritage Centre features that were implemented recently or are being introduced this year.  We will also outline some interesting stories about former Bircham Newton service personnel that have come to light recently.

WWI Montage

WWI Displays: A significant change has been made to the Heritage Centre displays first implemented in 2014 to mark the centenary of the beginning of the Great War. These displays were subsequently updated annually between 2014 and 2018 to mark the progress of the war and to highlight specific events, such as major land battles, that had occurred one hundred years previously.  Now that the centenary period has passed, we have changed these displays to focus on the local history of that period, including new information about the birth of Bircham Newton as a flying station and about some of the individuals who served here during the final year of the Great War and just afterwards.  Inevitably, some of the existing displays (such as those describing events that occurred in France) have been removed as part of this remodelling, but others that are still relevant to this local perspective have been retained.

WW2 Displays:Those who visit us regularly will have noticed new WW2 information, including donated personal memories, being added to the archive all the time. For example, several items of memorabilia were recently loaned to the Heritage Centre by Neville Hall, whose father, Peter Frank Hall, was shot down over Holland in May 1943. Peter and his observer, Bill Woodruff, were captured as prisoners of war (POWs) and served time in Stalag Luft III, Sagan, where the Great Escape was hatched. Peter was employed making escape maps and was scheduled to take his turn escaping through one of the tunnels, but it was discovered and closed down before he was able to escape. Thanks to Neville's generosity, we now have Peter's WW2 uniform - including his medals, goggles and flying helmet - on display in the Centre, together with his POW identity disks and some of the escape maps he created.

Peter served at Bircham Newton with two different squadrons, No. 235 Squadron during 1940 and 1941, and with No. 521 Squadron in early 1943.  Peter and Bill had been flying a Mosquito on a PAMPA sortie, attempting to capture meteorological data in advance of a major bombing raid over Germany, when they were shot down. These PAMPA sorties had been conducted from Bircham Newton by No. 521 Squadron until it was decided that they should be undertaken by a new Bomber Command unit, No 1409 Flight, based at RAF Oakington. Consequently, Peter and Bill were one of several Mosquito crews that were transferred from Bircham Newton to Oakington on the 1st of April 1943 to form this new PAMPA unit. Unfortunately, their Bomber Command service didn't last very long, as they were shot down in the following month.  Another former 521 Squadron pilot from Bircham Newton who transferred to Oakington and became the Commanding Officer of the new unit, Squadron Leader Philip Cunliffe-Lister, ran out of fuel when flying his Mosquito over Germany in July 1943 and had to make a forced landing. He and his observer,  Pilot Officer A.P. Kernon, were also captured and sent to Stalag Luft III. Philip Cunliffe-Lister and Peter Hall had an unexpected reunion when they were billeted in the same hut.

Prisoners of War: One of our followers, Chris Sadler, recently wrote to us and reminded us of another former pilot who was captured as a POW, spending most of the war in Stalag Luft III. He was naval lieutenant, Peter Butterworth, who was then serving with No. 826 Squadron FAA, which was seconded to Coastal Command and based at Bircham Newton in 1940. He was flying a Fairey Albacore biplane on a mission to the Dutch coastline, when he was shot down over Texel on the 21st of June 1940.  At Sagan, Peter made friends with Talbot Rothwell, who would become a writer on the 'Carry On' series of films. Peter Butterworth wrote and performed in camp shows designed to distract the prison guards away from the sounds of digging in escape tunnels.  After the war, Peter became a familiar character actor performing in the 'Carry On' films and on television. He specialised in playing very eccentric characters. His son, Tyler Butterworth,is also a well-known actor, who played the vicar in The Darling Buds of May.

We have identified more than twenty other airmen from Bircham Newton who were shot down and captured as prisoners of war during the Second World War, beginning with a New Zealander, Pilot Officer Laurence Hugh Edwards, of No. 206 Squadron, who was the only survivor from Anson K6183, which was shot down over the North Sea, near the Friesian Islands, at the beginning of the War on 5 September 1939. Laurence had the dubious distinction of being the first officer serving with the RAF to be captured by the Germans in World War Two. Ironically, it was the German float-plane that shot Laurence down that also came to his rescue, landing in the sea to pick him up, although he was badly burned as a result of this incident. He was subsequently repatriated to the UK in 1944 because of ill health, but recovered to resume his flying career with the RNZAF.

All of the POWs must have had unique experiences, which may or not be similar to those of the officers mentioned above.  It is an interesting area of study, which we are hoping to explore further this year.

Visitor Experiences: We try to give our visitors a memorable, nostalgic experience, walking through the story of this former airfield from a bygone age.  However, interesting visitor experiences sometimes occur that are totally unplanned. One interesting coincidence occurred last year, on the 1st of May, when two pairs of visitors were being shown around the Centre at the same time. Perdita Swift was making a return visit accompanied by her friend, Patricia Ladds, to further discuss her father's service at Bircham Newton. He was Flying Officer George Derrick Osmond Le Marchant Hutchesson, known as Peter Hutchesson, who had served at Bircham Newton as a pilot on No. 206 Squadron from August 1937 until he was posted missing in May 1940. Peter's CO at the time of this fatal mission was Patricia's father: Wing Commander (later Air Vice Marshal) N.H. D'Aeth, known as Jimmy on No. 206 Squadron. 

By chance, two other visitors were in the Centre at the same time. They were Glen and Jackie Nunn, who were on vacation in Norfolk from their home in Australia. Jackie's great uncle, Wing Commander Claude Dunkerley, had served at Bircham Newton on two occasions, first with No. 207 Squadron in the early 1930s, when he had learned to fly, and later as a pilot with No. 206 Squadron, from 1936 until 1940.  Jackie was being shown several items that had belonged to Claude, including his flying log books and medals, that had previously been donated to the Centre by Claude's son David, when he also visited from Australia a few years previously. 

The fact that these four visitors met by chance at Bircham Newton on the 1st of May, almost 80 years after Peter, Jimmy and Claude had served there, was coincidence enough, but when it was discovered that Peter Hutchesson and Claude Dunkerley would have been close squadron colleagues for about three years, including a period during 1939 and 1940 when they both served under Wing Commander Jimmy D'Aeth, was truly remarkable. The four visitors had lots to talk about. If you visit the Heritage Centre, you too will have lots to talk about, and you never know who you might meet.

Honesty is the Best Policy: A very honest lady from Northamptonshire contacted David Jacklin in August of this year to tell him that she had been sorting through her late grandfather's books, which had been stored in her loft for a number of years, when she came across a little book entitled ‘Battered Caravanserai’, by Michael Harrison,  which had been borrowed from RAF Bircham Newton Recreational Library and should have been returned by 11 August 1942. She was assured that the library in question had been closed many decades ago and that she wouldn’t face any excessive library charges. She subsequently returned the book, which is now stored in the Heritage Centre. She even supplied the name of her grandfather, a former navigator and avid reader, Sergeant Charles Brown Chamings.

Other Recent Activities and Visitors

Easter Bank Holiday: We began our season of Heritage Centre openings in glorious sunshine at Easter, when more than 120 individuals resisted the temptation to go to the beach and came to see us instead. Many of the visiters were attempting to find details of their relatives who had served at Bircham Newton in the past. Although we don't have full lists of personnel who served here, we were able to provide some details and to offer advice about obtaining copies of service records that are available on request from RAF Cranwell.

Neville Hall revisited the Centre on Easter Monday, accompanied by his wife Kim, son Justin, daughter-in-law Karen, and two grandchildren Martha and Toby. They were able to examine the various items of memorabilia which had belonged to Neville's late father, Flight Lieutenant Peter Frank Hall. These items are on loan from the family and have been on display since 2018. Visitors to the Centre are encouraged to examine the items - which include a tunic, flying helmet, goggles, POW identity tags and medals - to answer a short quiz about Peter Hall's service. This challenge was taken up by Karen and Martha, who successfully completed the quiz during their tour of the Centre.

Early May Bank Holiday Weekend: About 75 visitors came to see us over the early May bank holiday weekend, including a pre-arranged visit on the 5th of May by the Suzuki Intruder Owners Club UK,  who were holding a Meet in Norwich and riding their motor bikes around the county. One of the bikers, Ian Thain, was a former RAF apprentice, who had trained with the 149th Entry at RAF Halton between 1987 and 1990. Ian was able to compare his training with that of one of the Centre's volunteers on duty, David Jacklin, who had trained as a Halton apprentice with the 92nd Entry, thirty years earlier.

BAT Flight

Margaret Smith visited from Dersingham on the 5th of May with a photograph of her late father, former Sergeant Leslie George Smith, who had served at RAF Docking during WW2. From the photograph, we were able to establish that he had served with the Beam Approach Training (BAT) Flight at Docking. Sergeant Smith, who was an aircraft fitter, is shown sitting on the left of the above photograph, with his hands on his knees. The personnel were photographed in front of an Airspeed Oxford aircraft used for beam approach training.

Mrs. Heffer, the widow of former Corporal Derek Heffer, also visited on the 5th with her grandson Jamie.  They brought documents which established that Derek had been a National Serviceman who served as a Clerk (Equipment Accounts) in the Stores Section at Bircham Newton from 1954 to 1957.  He had been inoculated for overseas duty in response to the Suez Crisis, but he wasn't called upon to go. Derek finished his active service and was transferred onto the reserve list in May 1957. The Heritage Centre staff provided Mrs. Heffer with the forms she would need to submit to obtain a copy of her late husband's service record. Jamie returned again on the 6th of May and donated some of his grandfather's items to the Centre.

Lydia Swartz, from Framlingham, visited again on the 6th of May, accompanied by her husband. Lydia had previously visited in 2013, when she donated photographs of her late grandfather, Alexander 'Sandy' Lewis, formerly of No. 206 Squadron, meeting King George VI and Queen Elizabeth during a Royal visit to Bircham Newton in January 1941. Sandy left Bircham Newton in May 1941, when No. 200 Squadron was reformed from a nucleus of personnel and aircraft taken from 206 Squadron. He departed with the new squadron to West Africa (Zambia) a few days after it was reformed. Lydia has Sandy's flying log book, which is illustrated with various photographs and notes written by her grandfather.  The Heritage Centre staff were able to cross reference some of  the names recorded in Sandy's log book with those in Peter Gunn's book,  Naught Escapes Us, the definitive history of No. 206 Squadron.

Some of our volunteers attended Docking Local History Fair over the same weekend, to inform visitors who attended that event about the RAF Heritage Centre and to provide them with open day schedules and information brochures.

Wednesday, 22nd of May: David Jacklin delivered an illustrated talk on the history of RAF Bircham Newton to an audience of approximately 60 members of the Ipswich & District Historical Transport Society on the evening of the 22nd of May. In the audience were several members of the RAF Martlesham Heath Aviation Society, who have a museum in the former control tower, dedicated to preserving the history of this former home of aviation research and development. Also present was Mr. Geoffrey Mann, who had served at Bircham Newton in 1960, as a young national serviceman. Geoffrey worked in the station sick quarters and told David about an incident he recalled when an airman's wife went into labour in the middle of the night. He had to wake up the ambulance driver and together they drove this pregnant lady to Ely Hospital. Geoffrey remembered sitting in the ambulance with her wondering what he would do if the baby arrived. Realising that he was very nervous, she told him not to worry as it was her sixth child! 

Spring Bank Holiday Weekend: The Centre was opened over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend, on the 26th and 27th of May, hosting over 50 visitors. One visitor from Nottinghamshire was Les Fenwick, a former RAF national serviceman and Rolls Royce apprentice and engineer. Les had worked at the Rolls Royce flight testing facility at Hucknall, in Nottinghamshire. Discovering that Bircham Newton had been used for the testing of the Kestrel jump jet, Les recalled that he had worked on a bizarre contraption, known as the Jet Control Research Unit or "Flying Bedstead" used for early trials of vertical take off and landing. Although now retired, Les is still involved at Hucknall, where a flight test museum has been created to bring the test facility's history to the public's attention.

Franz von Werra

Les told an interesting story about Hucknall's connection to Franz von Werra (above), a German WW2 fighter pilot who is generally regarded as the only Axis prisoner of war who ever escaped back to Germany. Werra had been shot down over Kent and was initially held in a prison camp in  that county. However, after a couple of escape attempts, he was transferred to a second camp at Swanwick, in Derbyshire, not far from Hucknall, which was then an RAF aerodrome. He escaped from Swanwick masquerading as a Dutch pilot who had been shot down and was trying to reach his unit. He convinced a local to transport him to the nearest RAF aerodrome at Hucknall, where he tried to steal a plane to fly back to Germany. He was captured at gunpoint as he was sitting in the cockpit trying to learn the controls.  Eventually, Werra was sent with other prisoners of war to Canada, but escaped back to Germany via the USA, Mexico, South America and Spain. His story was told in the book "The One That Got Away" by Kendall Burt and James Leasor, which was made into a film of the same name, starring Hardy Kruger.

Another visitor who made a return visit to the Heritage Centre over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend was former RAF administrative apprentice James Fox. James  had trained at RAF Hereford as a member of the 21st Entry, before the Administrative Apprentice Training School was transferred to Bircham Newton.

Sunday, 16th of June: Approximately thirty visitors came to the Heritage Centre on the 16th of June. We also welcomed a previous visitor, Jamie Heffer, who has become the latest recruit to the Heritage Centre's team of volunteers. In addition, a new Kids Corner was opened within the Centre, containing colouring material, quizzes and puzzles with an aviation theme. Mia Abrams, on holiday with her parents from Malden in Essex, was the first child to test things out. She quickly showed her artistic and detective skills by skillfully colouring an image of an aeroplane and by finding a miniature pilot who had been hidden in one of the display rooms.  She received an aviation colouring book and pencils for her efforts.

Former national serviceman Lionel Moore, who had served in the RAF as a wireless operator between 1956 and 1959, visited the Centre on the same day. He was accompanied by his family, who had brought him along as a Father's Day treat. During WW2, Lionel had lived in the village of Hoveton, near Wroxham. Despite Hoveton's quiet, rural setting, he recalled being in the firing line on two occasions when he narrowly avoided shells from aircraft flying overhead. Both incidents involved German Messerschmitt aircraft. The first incident occured when a Messerschmitt strafed him and his school friends as it was passing overhead.  The second was a friendly fire incident, which occured when a Spitfire inadvertantly strafed them as it was attacking another Mersserschmitt which was flying overhead. On both occasions, he and his friends were able to scramble out of the way and hide behind a solid structure, such as a wall or a bridge to avoid the incoming shells.

Tuesday, 25th of June: The Heritage Centre was opened on the 25th of June to host four visitors, including returning friends Perdita Swift and Patricia Ladds, whose fathers had both served with No. 206 Squadron at Bircham Newton at the beginning of WW2. Perdita's father was Flying Officer George Derrick Osmond Le Marchant Hutchesson, known as Peter, who had served as a pilot with No. 206 Squadron from August 1937 until he was posted missing in May 1940. Patricia's father was Peter's Commanding Officer during 1939 and 1940, Wing Commander N.A. D'Aeth, who was later promoted to Air Vice-Marshal. The previous visit to the Centre by these two ladies is recorded above under the heading Visitor Experiences.

Aries

Patricia spoke of several adventures that her father had participated in during his long RAF career. These included his involvement in a British Arctic Air Route Expedition to Greenland in 1930, which resulted in him receiving a Polar Medal.  He also participated in some record breaking flights aboard the converted Lancaster bomber “Aries” (see photograph above) including a trip across the world to New Zealand in 1946, when he was Commandant of the Empire Central Navigation School at RAF Shawbury. Aries broke three records during the trip: London to Karachi in 19 hours 14 minutes; London to Darwin in 45 hours 35 minutes; and London to Wellington in 59 hours 50 minutes. Patricia owns a beautiful model of Aries, which had been presented to her father. It was made using metal from a Lancaster bomber. 

Sunday, 30th of June: The Heritage Centre welcomed 27 visitors on the 30th of June. One of the visitors, making his first return to Bircham Newton after more than 70 years, was Mr Gordon Hart, from Castle Donington, in Derbyshire, a former national serviceman, who had served at the station in 1947. He was accompanied by his son, Michael Hart, and other family members. The photograph shows Gordon visiting the RAF Bircham Newton Memorial adjacent to the Heritage Centre.

Gordon was a carpenter who had worked in the station workshops under the supervision of Sergeant Greateux.  He repaired Oxford and Anson aircraft that were being used to monitor and photograph ice flows in the North Sea that were proving to be a menace to trawlers and other shipping during the very severe winter of 1947. Gordon recalled repairing an aircraft wing after a bird strike. It was an emergency repair that had to be completed very quickly so that the aircraft was ready to go back on patrol again by the next morning. Gordon also remembered that King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and the two princesses made an unofficial visit to the station in 1947, to meet the crew and inspect the aircraft that was going to be used on the upcoming state visit to South Africa.

Another visitor was Irene McCormick, the daughter of the late Margaret B. White who had served during WW2 as a member of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force.  Margaret had joined up in 1941 and was sent from her home in Glasgow to Gloucester for her initial training. From there she was posted to Bircham Newton, where she was initially employed charging batteries that were used on the aircraft, but after a while she was sent on a typing course at Cranwell to become a teleprinter operator, sending and receiving messages from all over the country.  Some messages were coded, which she would carefully copy and pass on to others for decryption. Margaret had told Irene that she occasionally had to run to a shelter if the sirens went off to indicate that an air raid was imminent. Overall she had enjoyed her service, making many new friends. She had also remarked that she was very well fed, as there appeared to be no rationing in the services.

Wednesday, 3rd of July: The Chairman of Trustees, David Jacklin, delivered an illustrated talk, entitled "In Khaki and Blue", to the Docking Heritage Group and others in Docking's Ripper Hall on the evening of the 3rd of July. The talk covered the birth of RAF Bircham Newton and its subsequent role during the final year of the First World War. The duties of the first flying unit, No. 3 Fighting School, were explained and some of its larger-than-life flying instructors were introduced. Also, the role of the second flying unit, a long-range bomber Group in the newly formed Independent Bombing Force, was covered together with its main protagonists. This Group was placed on standby to bomb Berlin with giant Handley Page bombers, a deadly mission that was only cancelled after the Armistice was signed. David's talk also highlighted some interesting flying adventures that occured in the immediate post-war period involving pilots from the Group and their giant bombers. One of the giant bombers made a record-breaking flight to the Indian subcontinent and dropped bombs on the Afghan capital Kabul during the 3rd Afghan War.

Sunday, 14th of July:The Heritage Centre was always going to struggle to compete with the Cricket World Cup Final, the Wimbledon Men's Single Final and Formula 1's British Grand Prix, and so we were not surprised when only 25 visitors walked through the doors on the 14th of July. However, those that came seemed to enjoy themselves, including a German family from Dresden who were in Norfolk on holiday.

Sunday, 28th of July: We apologize to anyone who made a wasted journey to visit the Heritage Centre on the 28th of July, when we were forced to cancel the open day at the last moment because we could not access the building. Maintenance had been performed on the electro magnetic lock on the main entrance door to the building and available card keys would not unlock it. Moreover, the security staff on duty at NCC's Main Reception could not locate master keys to unlock alternative doors into the building.  Consequently, with no alternative, we contacted Radio Norfolk to broadcast a message about this unplanned closure and posted a notice to this effect at the main entrance door. To add to our embarrassment, a family turned up from Peterborough, expecting other family members who were on their way from Hemsby. They were keen to discuss a relative who had served at Bircham Newton during WW2. Although they accepted our apology for not being able to show them around the Centre, we can understand their disappointment.  We hope they will return in the near future when we will try to make it up to them.  We have been assured that this problem has been reported through the correct channels and will be fixed prior to our next planned openings on the August bank holiday weekend.

Wednesday, 7th of August: David Jacklin delivered at talk on the History of Bircham Newton to the Norwich Airport Aviation Group (NAAG) in the SaxonAir facilities, located within the Klyne Business Aviation Centre, at Norwich Airport on the evening of the 7th of August. The principal point of contact was Malcolm Gee, the Chairman of NAAG.

Thursday, 8th of August: Jeroen Pinto, a Dutch doctor from Hull, visited David on the 8th of August and was taken on a tour of the Heritage Centre and other local points of interest, including the War Graves Cemetery in Great Bircham, the former Docking satellite airfield and the RAF Docking Memorial. Jeroen is working with a Canadian colleague, Dave O'Malley, from Vintage Wings of Canada, to remember Canadian airmen who were casualties of WW2. Dave O'Malley has generated a map of the home addresses of 472 casualties from the Glebe District of Ottawa and this is the focus of current activities.  Jeroen takes a vintage gramophone around  points of interest that are relevant to the deceased, to play music of the 1940s, to make video recordings and to collect flora, all of which are then sent to Canada for Dave O'Malley to use.  On this particular trip, the graves of two of the Glebe casualties, Warrant Officer Z.F. Niblock RCAF and Flight Sergeant N. Leftly RCAF were visited before going to the former satellite airfield at Docking and its memorial.  Niblock was killed with other crew members during take-off from Docking in a Hampden aircraft in 1943, while Leftly's body was recovered from the sea locally in 1942. Niblock's sister is still alive and it is hoped that she will receive the pressed flowers picked at Docking and see the various videos created during Dr Pinto's visit. The photograph above shows Dr Pinto with his gramophone at the Docking Memorial.

Flying Officer J.B. Wilson is another Glebe casualty who flew from Docking. He served there with No. 235 Squadron between May and July 1942, but was subsequently killed in November 1942 whilst flying from RAF Chivenor, where the squadron later moved.

August Bank Holiday Weekend: This photograph shows curator Jamie Heffer raising the RAF ensign prior to the openings on Sunday, the 25th, and Monday, 26th of August. He was later to show his father and grandmother around the Centre. Although visitor numbers were relatively low on this very hot weekend, when many local people visited the coast, we hosted several individuals making return visits to the Centre. One was Mr. Neville Hall, who was on holiday locally from this home in Leicestershire. This time, he was accompanied by his daughter, who was shown several exhibits that had belonged to her grandfather, Peter Hall. Another returning visitor was Mrs. Jane Wright from the University of Westminster Business School.  She had previously brought students to Bircham Newton on a 6-day working field course as part of the Constructionarium learning experience. The students built scaled-down civil engineering projects to supplement their university studies. A regular visitor from the village of Heacham, Mr. Peter Collison, a former employee at Bircham Newton, also came along for a look around and a chat.  Peter has a myriad of stories about his time at Bircham Newton. On this occasion, he recalled taking down the blast walls that surrounded the wartime Operations Centre, which is now the Main Reception building for the National Construction College (NCC).

Tuesday, 17th of September: David Jacklin delivered another talk on the history of RAF Bircham Newton to the North Norfolk Branch of the Norfolk & Norwich Pensioners Association in the Sackhouse building at Wells-next-the-Sea. The main point of contact was Lynette Hills, the Secretary of the Branch.

Sunday, 29th of September: Approximately 50 visiters were hosted during the opening on the final Sunday in September. During this particular opening, the Heritage Centre staff served tea and coffee to those visitors that required a drink. This seemed to be a popular move that will be repeated on future open days.

One early visitor was Mr. David Rees, from Aylsham, who came along to discuss his late uncle, former navigator John Elwyn Rees, who had served at Bircham Newton during WW2. His squadron, No. 221 Squadron, was reformed at Bircham Newton in November 1940, flying Wellington aircraft, but moved to RAF Limavady in Northern Ireland six months later, in May1941. Whilst at Limavady, John Elwyn was detached to RAF St Eval in Cornwall from where his aircraft was posted missing on a patrol west of Ireland on 17 August 1941.  Despite unsuccessful attempts to contact the crew by radio, and searches for signs of wreckage, the crew members were never found.and are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. David was shown several items of 221 Squadron memorabilia which had been donated by its Squadron Association. 

Two young visitors, Ben and Dylan, also visited with their respective parents. They took up the kids' challenge to find two small toy pilots that were hidden within the Centre.  The challenge was not difficult enough for these young sleuths, who quickly claimed their prizes for locating the hidden aviators. It has become clear that we will need to find some much more difficult hiding places for this challenge. During the afternoon, a local family from Monks Close visited with two more boy detectives, and they also located the hidden aviators with apparent ease. While these boys were on their quest, their mother showed us some photographs of ammunition that the boys had dug up from their garden, including a live round which was handed in to the police. This has caused much speculation about the origins of the ammunition, particularly as Monks Close is a former RAF married quarters and there had been an RAF firing range nearby.

Sunday, 27th of October: Over 90 individuals visited the Heritage Centre on the final Sunday in October. On this occasion, Tony Nelson brought his Model Air Force along as an additional outside attraction; however, he decided to exhibit his models inside his trailer because the grass was very wet. Most visitors to the Heritage Centre took the opportunity to view Tony's giant models, all of which he had made personally and many of which have also been flown.  The models include his fantastic model of a Stirling Bomber that appeared on the BBC's Antiques Roadshow.

Mrs. Jane Wakefield visited from Dersingham to discuss her father, Reginald Longland, who had served with No. 85 Squadron during WW2. She donated some copies of family photographs that confirmed that Reginald had been an RAF apprentice at Halton (20th Entry) and that he played in the apprentice band. She also donated a photograph of him in a football team at Bircham Newton in 1933/34.  She was provided with the forms necessary to obtain a copy of his service record, so that his Bircham Newton service might be explored further.  Mrs. Maeve Johnson also made a return visit to discuss her father, Frank Widdas Addison, who had served with No. 88 Squadron during the First World War. She provided an extract from the book 'Aces Twilight', by Robert Jackson, which described a thrilling description of an encounter that Lieutenants Frank Jeffries and F.W. Addison had with six Focker D.VIIs.  Having shot down one of the enemy aircraft, they safely landed their aircraft with both petrol tanks shot through. Of local interest is that Addison did part of his training with No. 72 Squadron at Sedgeford aerodrome.during 1917.

Another visitor on this Sunday was Mrs. Nina Plumbe, from Burnham Market, who owns an airborne lifeboat, Mark IIA (CP 1), which she is planning to restore. David Jacklin explained that only Mark I lifeboats had been dropped operationally by aircraft from Bircham Newton. These were dropped by Lockheed Hudson aircraft belonging to No. 279 ASR Squadron. This squadron was later re-equipped with Vickers Warwick aircraft (in November 1944) and Lancaster aircraft (in September 1945), but this was after it departed from Bircham Newton. However, in 1943, there were some Warwick ASR aircraft at Bircham Newton and Docking being operated by a Warwick Training Unit (later renamed the ASR Training Unit). David understood that the Warwick aircraft was capable of carrying the heavier Mark II airborne lifeboat. Nina and David agreed to liaise further on this topic by exchanging information from published books and other documentation.

Remembrance Sunday, 10th of November:  More than 50 visitors attended the final open day of the year held on Remembrance Sunday, which included a special wreath-laying ceremony at the Bircham Newton Memorial with the traditional two-minute silence observed at 11am. The day was also enhanced by the visit of Julie Reinger and the BBC Radio Norfolk Treasure Quest team. A big thank you to Avril for leading the memorial event, to Jamie for hosting the Treasure Quest team, and to all other members of the Heritage Centre crew who made the day a great success.

Julie Reinger

1940s records were played on a vintage gramophone to remember those who were killed whilst performing their duties during WW2. This gramophone was presented to the Heritage Centre earlier in the year by Jeroen Pinto, a Dutch doctor working around Hull, who takes a similar gramophone to significant points of interest, such as memorials, graves or crash sites, that are relevant to deceased RCAF airmen who perished during WW2. The vintage gramophone was used to conceal the 'Treasure' envelope sought by Julie Reinger to complete the Treasure Quest. She found the enveope to succesfully complete her quest with only moments to spare. The photograph (courtesy of BBC Radio Norfolk) shows Julie with the Treasure enveope.

Many interesting visitors attended the open day, including former RAF serviceman, David Vincent, from Gayton. He is researching No. 279 Air Sea Rescue (ASR) Squadron and provided copies of official photographs of three air-sea rescue incidents involving the squadron. Lesley Nade aso visited to seek information about Squadron Leader Ernest Deverill, who is buried in Docking churchyard. David Jacklin, who was not present on the day, has since sent him some information about this officer, who served on No. 206 Squadron at Bircham Newton in the early years of WW2.

 

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