Hello and welcome to our latest e-newsletter. During our first seven openings in the 2017 season, almost four hundred individuals have visited the Heritage Centre. Over the past twelve years, thousands of people have visited us to learn about this former RAF station and its WW2 satellite airfields. If you haven't visited us yet, we urge you to do so. We will be delighted to see you and will try to make your visit as enjoyable as possible. Please note that our revised visiting times for 2017 are from 10 am until 4 pm.
If you are a veteran, who served or trained at Bircham Newton, or a close family relative of one who did so, we are planning to organise a special Veterans' Day event for you on the afternoon of Saturday, the 19th of May, 2018. On this day we will celebrate the centenary of the birth of Bircham Newton as a flying station. The first flying unit, No. 3 School of Aerial Fighting and Gunnery, later known as No. 3 Fighting School, arrived at the newly-established aerodrome in late May 1918. This was probably the first airfield created under the control of the new Air Ministry, because the Royal Air Force was created using the assets of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) in the previous month, on the 1st of April, 1918.
This special event will be open to all of Bircham Newton's former RAF servicemen or their close relatives, including but not limited to former national servicemen, former RAF administrative apprentices, and former RAF School of Administration trainees. The largest group of visitors is expected to be former RAF apprentices, who are holding a reunion in the area on the samed weekend, but many other veterans are expected, including former WRAF personnel.
Many attractions will be provided for visitors to enjoy: the RAF Heritage Centre will be opened for guided tours; an illustrated talk will be given on the station’s role during WWI; local history groups and service associations will exhibit table-top displays; military vehicles and large-scale model aircraft will be on display; and local ATC squadrons and the Royal British Legion will participate in a brief end-of-day ceremony, when the RAF ensign will be lowered to remember those who served
Entrance and car parking will be free, and disabled access and toilets will be available.
For those planning to revisit the Centre in 2017, several new exhibits have been put on display for your enjoyment. The central photographic display, depicting the chronological history of RAF Bircham Newton, has been renewed and revised. We have purchased a new 10-panel modular display system for this purpose (see photograph below). The new self-standing display has a much smaller footprint than the previous table-top displays, increasing the available space inside the Centre. In addition, the WWI exhibition, originally established to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, has been given a new look and enhanced to cover the progress of the war in 1917 and by adding other new displays, including Women at War, The Home Front and Songs of the Great War.
As usual. you will be helped and guided by members of the Heritage Centre team, who are all dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers. If you would like to volunteer please contact one of the volunteers on duty or one of trustees mentioned under Contacts.
The latest book in a series written by David Jacklin has been put on sale in the Heritage Centre. It is called "Canadian & Dutch Strike Squadrons" and describes the contribution and sacrifices made by Canadian and Dutch squadrons who served at Bircham Newton and other Coastal Command stations during the Second World War.
Should you have any photographs or other items of RAF memorabilia (particularly items relating to Bircham Newton) and are looking for a good home for them, we would be pleased to accept them into our archive, so that they may be displayed for the benefit of all.
One of the earliest visitors to the Centre in 2017 was writer and journalist, Clive Parish, who made the journey from Bedfordshire in January. Clive's father, Eric Parish, was a sergeant armourer during the First World War who served at Bircham Newton with No. 166 Squadron. Eric was involved in the secret development of a one ton bomb to be dropped from the giant Handley Page V/1500 bombers flown by the squadron at that time. Clive is trying to find the name of Eric's best friend, who was killed when his V/1500 crashed during a training flight on the 11th of November, 1918 (Armistice Day).
About 115 individuals visited the Centre over the Easter holiday. One visitor, June Williams, also has family connections with Bircham Newton going back to the First World War. Her great uncle, Henry Greenwood, served as an armourer with No. 3 Fighting School at both Bircham Newton and at the nearby aerodrome at Sedgeford, where the unit moved in October 1918. Henry joined the Army in 1916, initially serving in the Royal Flying Corps before it became part of the Royal Air Force in April 1918.
June's mother was a Red Cross volunteer during the Second World war, part of an organisation known as the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) She worked in Bristol, attached to the Gloucestershire Regiment. Her fiance, Peter Bower, served as an airman at Bircham Newton in the late 1930s, although June has no particulars of this service. Peter was sent to Egypt in early 1938 to begin flying training at No. 4 Flying Training School (FTS) at Abu Sueir. He later joined No. 45 Squadron in Egypt, but was sadly killed on the 11th of June 1940, during his first operation. His Blenheim aircraft was shot down over the sea near Tobruk by the Italians, just hours after Mussolini declared war on Britain and France. Peter and his two crew members are remembered on the Alamein Memorial in Egypt.
Another Easter visitor, Diane Hunter, recently donated several items of RAF memorabilia and framed pictures of RAF aircraft that had been collected by her late husband, Terry, who served in the RAF, working on Vulcans and other aircraft.
The Centre hosted another 135 visitors over the early May bank holiday. Clive Parish returned on the 30th of April to continue his research on his father's service with No. 166 Squadron, and his involvement in the development of a one ton bomb to be flown by the squadron's giant Handley Page V/1500 bombers. Clive has found a reference to a crash of one of the squadron's V/1500s, but no details. He is particularly interested in this because his late father had told him that his best friend had been killed in such a crash on Armistice Day. Appropriate WWI casualty records have been examined, but the identity of his father's friend has not yet been established. If anyone is able to throw any light on this incident, or has any other relevant information, please contact the Heritage Centre, and we will pass the information on to Clive.
Amongst the visitors who came on the 1st of May was author Chris Hobson. One of his books, on the British and Commonwealth airmen who died in the Great War, has recently been published and a second one, about RAF deaths in the Second World War, is anticipated shortly. Christopher Heath also came on the 1st of May and spoke about his father, Lewis Leonard Nicholson Heath, who served at Bircham Newton with No. 206 Squadron during the period 1940-1941. Former electro medical technician, Ray Whitaker, who had 25 years of RAF service, was another visitor at the beginning of May. Ray spoke about his father, Percy Whitaker, who served in the Operations Room at Bircham Newton during 1944 and 1945. Ray generously donated an original cartoon of his father drawn by Tony Turner.
Michael Newman was another May Day visitor. He spoke about his father, former Squadron Leader John Newman. John was involved in the testing of early radar and aerial photography at Martlesham Heath. He had also served with former Wing Commander Claude Dunkerley, whose flying log books and medals are on display in the Centre. A former national serviceman, Michael Gregory, visited on the same day. Michael began his national service in 1956 after an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic. He later became an RAF regular and enjoyed overseas postings to Aden, Borneo, Germany and Malta before ending his career at Marham in 1979. Michael recalled that he once drove a former Dambuster, Air Commodore Harold 'Mick' Martin, to catch a train at Andover station.
Another 100 visitors were entertained over the Spring bank holiday weekend. John Lewis, Editor of Flashback, the Royal Air Force Photographers Association magazine, visited on Sunday, 28th of May. He took several photographs in preparation for a feature in the Winter edition of Flashback. Trevor Bone, a trustee and Works Director for the Museum of the Broads visited on the same day to discuss future cooperation. Another visitor was Charlotte Hadfield, who recently donated an extract from her new book 'Loads of Love', containing WW2 letters written home by her mother, former WAAF Elizabeth Rosemary Flood. Colin Groves revisited the Centre on the same Sunday to further discuss his uncle, Flight Sergeant A.E. Groves, who was a wireless operator/air gunner with Nos. 1401 and 1403 Met Flights at Bircham Newton during WW2. Sadly he was reported missing on the 27th of May 1942, when his aircraft, Blenheim V5568, failed to return from a RHOMBUS sortie across the North Sea. It was later found to have been shot down in a friendly fire incident. Colin generously donated copies of the relevant pages of his uncle's flying log book.
Radio Norfolk's Treasure Quest clue hunter, Anna Perrott, also visited the Heritage Centre on Sunday the 28th, during the successful 300th show. Anna quickly located Clue 5, which was concealed by a singing pilot teddy inside the Centre. The following photographs, taken by John Lewis, show Anna with the Heritage Centre volunteers (L to R: Mick Fisher, Pauline Fisher, William 'Dixie' Dean and David Jacklin)
Former RAF pilot Ian Robins visited on Monday, 29th of May. Ian is a member of Felthorpe Flying Club, who provided a fly-past during the 50th Anniversary celebrations held at Bircham Newton in September 2012. He discussed the possibility of the Flying Club providing a similar fly-past on the 19th of May 2018, when a Veterans' Day will be held at Bircham Newton to celebrate the centenary of its birth as a flying station.
Allan and Cheryl Dykstra from Sydney, Australia visited on the same day. Allan's father, Jan Dykstra, was from the Netherlands and served with No. 320 (Dutch) Squadron at Bircham Newton during WW2. He met Allan's mother, Dora Smith, who worked in the NAAFI at Bircham Newton, and they married at Thornham Church in 1943. After the war they moved to Arnhem, but in 1957 they emigrated to Australia. Allan later brought his his maternal uncle, Len, to the Centre from Hunstanton. Len, who is now in his 90s, had also worked at Bircham Newton.
Lee Bramzell and her daughter Louise also visited on Monday the 29th of May. Lee's late husband, Cyril, had previously donated a set of 1/72 scale aircraft models to the Centre. Ann Pyle and her husband Tony were two more visitors on the Monday. Ann is the editor of Link magazine, and has generously advertised the Heritage Centre open day schedule in several recent issues. Ann's father served in the RAF, as a senior technician, between the 1940s and 1960s, including a memorable tour in post partition Pakistan. Another visitor, Trevor Hewitt, informed us about the New Farm Aviation Heritage Group from Frettenham. The Group commemorates the aviation history in their local area, including the 'Bell of Boston' B24H Liberator, which crashed after take-off at Horsham St Faiths, 754th Bomb Squadron and 458th Bomb Group.
Freelance photographer Peter Bird visited again on the 25th of June to prepare a piece for the Lynn News. Mrs Margaret Woode also visited on the same day with one of her daughters, Julia Berry. Her other daughter, Allison Woode, was unable to attend. Julia's great uncle, Cecil S. M. Woode, served at Bircham Newton in the mid-1920s as a pilot with No. 99 Squadron. Sadly, he was killed on the 27th of February 1925, aged only 20, when his Avro 504K (H3083) dived into the ground from about 2,000 feet near the airfield. His passenger, mechanic AC1 Ernest Forrester, was seriously injured but survived. Cecil Woode was the eldest child of the rector of Fersfield and was buried at Fersfield, in south Norfolk. Margaret shared a family story about Cecil saving his brother's life during WW2, when his ghost appeared in the cockpit of his brother's aircraft, taking control and diverting it away from a barrage balloon which was in the flight path.
The County Chairman of the Royal British Legion, John Boisson, and the Legion County Ceremonial Officer, Roy Hill, visited on the 30th of July to discuss the RBL's participation in the Veterans' Day event being planned for Saturday, 19th of July, 2018.
Former national serviceman, Grenville Lake, also visited in late July from Strumpshaw, near Norwich. Grenville donated his RAF greatcoat, a signed cartoon drawing signed by the artist Pat Rooney, and various other items of RAF memorabilia related to his service at Bircham Newton between 1953 and 1955. He was employed as a batman for Squadron Leader (later Wing Commander) and Mrs Banyard, at their residence in Officers Married Quarters. Grenville had many tales to tell about life at Bircham Newton in the early 1950s, including 'fire picket' duties, when he had to make early morning calls to wake up cooks and other personnel on early duties.These duties also involved riding around the airfield perimeter on a bicycle, to check for intruders or any other unusual activities. To get home to Strumpshaw, when he was off duty, Grenville would walk to Sculthorpe to get a lift to Norwich from one of the many US servicemen who would drive to the city at the weekend.
© D. Jacklin 2017. This website is owned by the RAF Bircham Newton Memorial Project.