Latest News as of August 2022

Our schedule of openings for 2022, which began on Easter Sunday, can be found on the 'Schedule of Openings' page under this same pull down menu.

 

First Visitors of the Year: Two early visitors this year were former RAF administrative apprentice David Aston (37th entry) and his wife Mary, who is a former member of the WRAF. They were enjoying a mini break at Corton coastal village near Lowestoft and took the opportunity to drive over to Bircham Newton on the 2nd of April. David graduated from the 37th Entry of RAF apprentices in 1960, and hadn't revisited his old training station since then. They were met by our Chairman, Jamie Heffer, and one of our volunteers, William 'Dixie' Dean, himself a former administrative apprentice, who showed them around the Heritage Centre. We are always keen to accommodate such adhoc visits if possible, particularly if they are requested by former veterans who served or were trained at Bircham Newton.

 

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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.

We do not repeat the things that are discussed within the Facebook group here as it is updated on a daily basis and would soon overwhelm this page. However, as a small taster, we will provide an outline of a recent post on Facebook. It concerned the auction of a group of medals, including an Air Force Medal (AFM), which had been awarded to a Wing Commander Brett. Just to cut a long story short, it was discovered that the AFM had been awarded to Brett when he was a Flight Sergeant serving at Bircham Newton in 1924. He was the observer on a Vickers Virginia bomber, flown by Pilot Officer Perry-Keene which was on a night training exercise over Hunstanton, when an engine fire broke out as a result of the breaking of a petrol feed tube. Acting spontaneously and on his own initiative, Brett climbed out of the cockpit onto a wing in the dark to douse the flames. This brave action enabled the pilot to get back to the aerodrome at Bircham Newton and save the entire crew. He was awarded his medal in the 1925 New Year's honours List. He was also awarded a Bronze medal of the Society of the Protection of Life from Fire for the same incident.  If you like to discover stories like this, or wish to share stories of your own, please join the Facebook group.

 

Recent Scheduled Openings in 2022

Opening on Easter Sunday, 17 April 2022: Thirty-one individuals visited the Heritage Centre on Easter Sunday, which was the first public opening of the year. One old friend who visited again was Peter Collison, from Heacham, who is a former civilian employee who worked at Bircham Newton in the post-war years, and who will celebrate his 90th birthday in June of this year. Peter has always entertained the Heritage Centre team with his wealth of stories from Bircham Newton's past. Another old friend who visited was Tony Nelson, who has displayed his large aircraft models outside the Centre in the past. We are planning for Tony to display them again during one of our upcoming openings during the summer months. One Bircham Newton resident visited to ask the team to suggest a suitable name for a small road at the Stanhoe end of the site where new houses are currently under construction. The team suggested 'Anson Way' to commemorate the Avro Anson reconnaissance aircraft which was the first to fly on combat missions from Bircham Newton during WW2. A very unusual donation was the top of an old wooden RAF packing case addressed to a Flight Lieutenant K.W.P. Jones, who lived at 23 Hyde Close at Bircham Newton. Surprisingly, this object was found by Mr. Alwyn Bates in the loft of a property in Foundery Close, in Sculthorpe!

Opening on Sunday, 1 May 2022: Thirty-six visitors came along to the Heritage Centre on the Sunday of the May Day bank holiday weekend. A new volunteer, David White, also joined the Heritage Centre team and was on duty for the first time during this opening.

Opening on Sunday, 29 May 2022:  Only 28 visitors came along on the 29th of May. Stuart Ross visited from Hertfordshire accompanied by his aunt, Mrs. Gloria Williamson, from Dereham. They spoke about their family member - Stuart’s great uncle - Wireless Operator/Air Gunner Eddie Fitzgerald, who was tragically killed on the 14th of August 1940, when Hudson N7401 dived into the ground after taking off from the Docking satellite airfield. Stuart brought along Eddie’s service record and other documentation to improve our knowledge of his brief service with No. 206 Squadron and this tragic accident. We were able to direct Stuart and Gloria to the local War Graves Cemetery in Great Bircham, where the pilot, H.G. Ballantyne, and navigator, J.O.L. Stephenson, were buried. Eddie was interred in The Rosary cemetery in Norwich. Miraculously, one crew member, Sergeant J. Steel, survived the incident. Sadly, he too was lost just two months later, on the 15th of October, when Hudson T9303 failed to return from a North Sea patrol.

Another visitor, Scott Eltringham, who volunteers at the Langham Dome, came along on behalf of a friend, whose grandfather, Flight Sergeant G. Grimble, also served with No. 206 squadron at Bircham Newton. During his time with No. 206 Squadron, they practiced night landings at the Langham satellite airfield, staying there overnight. His flying log book verifies that he experienced a very lucky escape one morning, in April 1941, when the satellite airfield was bombed at the very moment that his aircraft was taking off. From his log book, it is apparent that he arrived at Bircham Newton in December 1940, but joined No. 200 Squadron when it was formed from No. 206 Squadron personnel in May 1941.  He then departed for Gibraltar and onwards to the Gambia with the new squadron in June 1941, to fly convoy protection duties off the West coast of Africa.

To round off a successful day, we had a surprise visit from a family of five from California. They were staying in Hunstanton and had links with the former USAFE base at Sculthorpe and with Mildenhall.

Opening on Sunday, 12 June 2022:
The open day on Sunday, 12th of June was the most successful of the year so far, in terms of visitor numbers (56). It was helped by many tourists who were out enjoying the beautiful Norfolk weather. We also had a visit by a group of staff members from Constructionarium, who were at Bircham Newton providing practical building experience to students from University College London (UCL).

Mrs. Sarah Allthorpe visited to discuss her grandfather, former Wireless Operator/Air Gunner (Wop/AG) Wilfred Reeder, who served at Bircham Newton and Langham during 1942 and 1943 with No. 280 Squadron, performing air-sea rescue duties. Sarah brought along Wilfred’s flying log book and some intriguing photographs of the rescue of survivors in an airborne lifeboat performed in the spring of 1943. We hope to receive copies of these photographs to do some further research on the incident.

Mrs. Jenny Mannion-Wood also visited to discuss her uncle, former Wop/AG Dennis Mannion, who served with No. 206 Squadron. Sadly, he was killed on the 5th of August 1940, when Lockheed Hudson, P5133, piloted by a New Zealander, Pilot Officer R.T. Kean DFC, stalled after a steep turn and crashed at Syderstone, near the airfield. All of the crew perished. Ironically, Dennis Mannion had previously survived another incident with Pilot Officer Kean just 3 months earlier, on the 3rd of May 1940. Their aircraft, Hudson N7319, had been attacked by Me109s off the Elbe Estuary and Air Gunner E. Townsend had been killed. Although injured, Pilot Officer Kean had managed to get the aircraft back to base, assisted by the navigator, Sergeant E. Deverill. The pilot and Navigator were both decorated, Kean with the DFC and Deverill with the DFM. Dennis Mannion was mentioned in Deverill's DFM citation as acting with extreme coolness throughout, continuing with his wireless reports, providing radio bearings until the aerial was shot away and helping remove Townsend from the turret, amongst other things.

Mr. Peter Pygall visited from Heacham to discuss his father, Albert Samuel ‘Tim’ Pygall, who worked for a local company, Walter Lawrence & Son Ltd, from Swaffham, and was employed at Bircham Newton during its rebuilding and expansion during the period 1938 until 1940. Peter and his sister Patricia (who could not attend) donated an interesting photograph of his father with other Lawrence employees, taken at Bircham Newton during this construction work. They also donated a letter of reference, written by the Manager of Lawrence & Son Ltd, about his father’s employment.

Gordon Hart

Opening on Sunday, 26 June 2022: This opening was much quieter than the previous one, with only 29 visitors. The photograph above, taken by Jonathon Waite, shows one of the visitors, veteran Gordon Hart (second from the right) who had served at Bircham Newton during his national service in 1947. Also in ther photograph are Gordon's son, Michael, on the extreme right, and two members of the Heritage Centre staff, David Jacklin and Jamie Heffer.

Gordon, aged 94, was making a return trip to the Heritage Centre, which he first visited in 2019, seventy years after he served on the station as a carpenter in the station workshops. He recalled a vivid memory of one particular task, when he had to make an emergency repair to an Avro Anson's wing after a bird strike. The Ansons were being used to monitor and photograph ice flows that were present in the North Sea during the severe winter of 1947, menacing trawlers and other shipping. Consequently, his wing repair was a very urgent and had to be completed overnight under the close scrutiny of his supervising sergeant. He must have done a good job because it lead to his promotion to Aircraftman 1st Class (AC1).

Gordon's brother-in-law, Edward Chamberlain, was also a national serviceman in the late 1940s, but served in Egypt. After he died, a small lapel badge of No. 107 Maintenance Unit was found in Edward's possessions, and Gordon presented this to the Heritage Centre. We have since discovered that this Maintence Unit was established during WW2 at RAF Kasfareet, in Egypt, to restock RAF squadrons operating in the Western Sahara Desert. We intend to display this in our 'Royal' cupboard for our visitors to see. You never know, somebody might be able to tell us more about it.

Julie Childs

Another visitor was Julie Childs, from Sheringham, who presented the Centre with a framed portrait and other items on behalf of the late Mrs. Catherine Cooper, whose brother, Sergeant John Stewart 'Johnny' BROWNSELL, was killed flying from Bircham Newton in January 1942. The photograph shows Julie presenting the portrait of Johnny Brownsell to the Chairman of Trustees, Jamie Heffer. The portrait will be put on permanent display inside the Heritage Centre.

Johnny was a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner (WOp/AG) flying with No. 500 Squadron. He was aboard Lockheed Hudson (V9097) which crashed at Lowlands Farm, Bacton, near North Walsham, during a snow storm on the 16th of January 1942, killing all four crew members. A memorial cairn has been constructed near the crash site remembering all four casualties: Pilot Officer J. MacGillivray, Pilot Officer R.B. Wark, Sergeant W.A. Sanger and Sergeant J.S. Brownsell.

Opening on Sunday, 17th of July 2022: This was a very quiet day when only 13 visitors turned up. There was nothing special to report.

Lord Craig

Special Opening on Sunday, 31st of July 2022: Approximately 120 individuals visited Bircham Newton on the 31st of July 2022, to help us mark the 60th anniversary of the closure of this former RAF station. We were particularly grateful to Tony Nelson, who brought along his model Air Force, Docking Heritage Group and the Allied Star Re-enactment Group for their part in making the day such a great success. A very special guest was our patron, Marshal of the Royal Air Force David Brownrigg Craig, Baron Craig of Radley, GCB OBE, who visited in the afternoon. The photographs above shows Lord Craig (Centre) receiving instruction on a pair of WWI binoculars by Gerald Fulsher of the Allied Star Re-enactment Group. Also in the photograph is Jamie Heffer, the Charman of Trustees at the RAF Heritage Centre.

One of the visitors, Bev Williams, a former SAC airframe mechanic, recalled his service at Bircham Newton between 1957 and 1959, when he had worked on the Station Flight. He particularly remembered WG486, the lone Chipmunk on the station in the late 1950s. This Chipmunk is still flying with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) and has a very interesting history. Before it came to Bircham Newton, it had served in Cyprus during the conflict against EOKA terrorists. Later, in the late 1980s, it has served in Germany at RAF Gatow (Berlin) during the Cold War, when it had been used on covert photographic reconnaissance flights, amongst other duties.

Visit of Leah Mansfield

Pre-arranged Visit on 11 August 2022: David Jacklin hosted a pre-arranged visit by two individuals on the 11th of August. The lady in the photograph is Leah Mansfield, from Wanstead, London, who visited in memory of her late father, Leading Aircraftsman Leslie Mansfield. Leslie served as an engine mechanic on Vickers Wellington aircraft flown by No. 221 Squadron. He served with the squadron when it flew from Bircham Newton and Langham between December 1940 and May 1941 and also during subsequent duties in Northern Ireland (Limavady), Iceland (Reykjavík) and in the Middle East (Egypt). Leslie’s service was discussed and David showed Leah several items of 221 Squadron memorabilia previously donated to the Heritage Centre by the family of its first Commanding Officer, Wing Commander T.R. Vickers, and by the 221 Squadron Association.

Leah’s companion, former RAF Squadron Leader Nick Wilcock, from Witney in Oxfordshire, was interested in finding out more about two of his former flying units, Nos. 35 and 101 squadrons, who flew from Bircham Newton in the inter-war years, albeit long before his own service as a 35 Squadron Vulcan pilot at RAF Scampton and subsequently as a 101 Squadron VC10K pilot at RAF Brize Norton.

Sarah Darnell

Opening on Sunday, 14th of August: A successful open day was held on 14 August, when 26 visitors attended. Amongst the visitors was Sarah Darnell and her elderly mother, Jean Rowe (see photograph above). The two ladies brought along several photographs which belonged to Jean’s father, William Claude Newman Ayelett, who may have served at Bircham Newton in the 1920s with No. 7 Squadron or No. 99 Squadron. One of the photographs was of a Vickers Virginia at Bircham Newton in 1924, and another was an aerial view of Bircham Newton taken at a time when Nos. 7 and 99 squadrons were both flying from this Norfolk station, which would have been between May 1924 and April 1927. The visitors were given copies of the forms necessary to obtain a copy of William’s service record, to enable further investigation to proceed.

 


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