Welcome to our 2020 newsletter, which will be updated regularly throughout the year. This year, as usual, we had hoped to open during all bank holiday weekends and other selected Sundays throughout the year, beginning on Easter Sunday. However, in the light of the latest Government advice for us all to avoid unnecessary travel and social gatherings during the current Coronavirus pandemic, we have taken the decision not to open the RAF Heritage Centre for the time being until the situation improves. Almost all of the Heritage Centre volunteers and many of our regular visitors are over 70 and at high risk from the disease. Our greatest concern is for their health and well-being. We hope to resume our openings later in the year, when the situation improves.
Follow us on Facebook: You can also follow us on Facebook, where we maintain a public group called RAF Bircham Newton Heritage Centre, which you are most welcome to join. Over recent months, we have discussed many topics on Facebook, including Bircham Newton's former RAF buildings, personnel who served there and the aircraft they flew. Your inputs would be appreciated.
This photograph, courtesy of Paul Hewitt, shows BBC Radio Norfolk's Julie Reinger (second from the right) at the RAF Bircham Newton memorial with some of the Heritage Centre team members and friends during a Treasure Quest visit on Remembrance Sunday in 2019.
Recent Coincidences: 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 in 2018 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.
Another coincidence happened recently. In late November last year, Paul Aslett posted on our Facebook group about his father, Sgt A.T.R. Aslett, who served at Bircham Newton in 1940 as a WOp/AG. He was aboard Blenheim T1999 on the 23rd of November 1940, attacking enemy surface vessels off the coast of Denmark. During this operation, he and the pilot, P/O J.T. Davison, were wounded by enemy fire and the undercarriage of their aircraft was damaged making it necessary to perform a crash landing at base. Unfortunately, a bomb had remained on the rack and this exploded when they landed, causing further injury to Sgt Aslett and setting fire to the aircraft. P/O Davison and a third member of the crew, Sgt Brazier, jumped clear but bravely returned to the burning wreckage to pull Sgt Aslett out. They were both badly burned and were decorated for their bravery. Sgt Aslett spent some time in Ely hospital, before he returned to Bircham Newton, eventually joining No. 279 (air-sea rescue) squadron. One month after Paul's Facebook post, on the 24th of December, the obituary of Air Vice-Marshal John Lawrence appeared in the Times, revealing that he had also served at Bircham Newton in 1940, as a Sgt pilot on the same squadron as Sgt Aslett. Moreover, he had participated in the same raid on the 23rd of November of that year. John Lawrence and his navigator had also been wounded during the operation and had to make a belly landing on the airfield because their aircraft's hydraulics had been shot up. They survived the forced landing but were taken to Ely hospital because of their earlier wounds, sharing a ward with Sgt Aslett. The coincidence is that these two seemingly unconnected stories came to our attention from different sources just one month apart, a full 79 years after the actual events occurred.
Honesty is the Best Policy: A lady from Northamptonshire
contacted David Jacklin in August of last 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.
2020 Open Days and Visitors
This is where we will add information discovered during each Heritage
Centre opening as it occurs during the year.
© D. Jacklin 2019. This website is owned by the RAF Bircham Newton Memorial
2020 Open Days and Visitors
This is where we will add information discovered during each Heritage Centre opening as it occurs during the year.
© D. Jacklin 2019. This website is owned by the RAF Bircham Newton Memorial Project.