Latest News as of May 2017

Hello and welcome to our latest e-newsletter. We made a very good start to the 2017 season by opening for two days over the Easter break. This was followed up by two more openings during the early May bank holiday. Over the years, thousands of people have visited the Heritage Centre 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 we have added an extra opening on Sunday, 7th of May, in support of the War@The Hollow reenactment being held nearby on the same day. Note also that our revised visiting times for 2017 are from 10 am until 4 pm.

One for your diary

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 Veterans' Day event for you on Saturday, the 19th of May, 2018. On this day we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Bircham Newton as an RAF flying station. The first flying unit, No. 3 Fighting School, arrived at the newly-created aerodrome in late May 1918. You may be aware that 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.

The Veterans' Day 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. It is also planned to hold an RAF administrative apprentice reunion in the vicinity over the same weekend. Details of this reunion will be circulated to former apprentices separately. The Veterans' Day event is still at the early planning stage, but we expect to provide conducted tours through the RAF Heritage Centre, an illustrated talk about Bircham Newton's role during the Great War, static displays and a late-afternoon 'sunset ceremony' conducted in conjunction with local ATC squadrons and the Royal British Legion. Watch this space for more details in the future.

WW1 Montage by David Jacklin

What is new

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.

New Modular Display System

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.

Recent Visitors

Clive Parish

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.

Another May Day visitor was Michael Newman, who 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.


© D. Jacklin 2017. This website is owned by the RAF Bircham Newton Memorial Project.