Posted by Stella Gooch
The Bank Holiday weekend once again saw the opening to the public of the RAF Memorial Project Heritage Room Museum. Since I had never heard of the museum previously – entry was FREE – and it was close by my family and I ventured out to take a look. What we found was an amazing collection of historical memorabilia and records covering the life of what was once an operational RAF base throughout two world wars. The material gathered had been provided from many sources throughout the local area. In such a small room there was an amazing range of items to get your head around. For me it was overwhelming in that I currently live on top of all this history and had no idea of the role played by Bircham Newton in the two world wars.
I also witnessed on display a truly wonderful piece of memorabilia which I understand, was created more than 90 years ago. This plaque had been donated to the Museum by Rene Chamberlain, a resident of Heacham near Hunstanton in 2011 when Mrs Chamberlain was 100 years old! The plaque is painted on canvas from the skin of an aircraft (Fairey Albacore) and is an emblem representing the 119 Squadron in which Mrs Chamberlain’s father Frank Coe served, working all over the UK and for a period in France. This is a phenomenal piece in the collection of memorabilia and will generate a lot of interest for future generations, because of its age and the fact that it was painted by someone who served in the 119 Squadron which was actually based here at Bircham Newton. Alongside the display is an explanation of its history.
The 119 Squadron was formed in January 1918 as a day bomber unit but failed to become operational before the end of the First World War. After training at Duxford and Thetford it was eventually disbanded in December 1918. Mr Coe is believed to have joined the squadron in 1918. (The squadron was reformed again in July 1944 and served in Bircham Newton, flying Alacore and Swordfish biplanes on anti-shipping missions. It was disbanded again in May 1945.)
When presenting the plaque, Mrs Chamberlain said: “The plaque was just left in my house and I didn’t want it to end up on the scrap heap. I had asked a lot of friends if they knew of a museum who would like to take it and my friend Peter Collison contacted the people here at Bircham Newton.”
Mrs Chamberlain was rightly proud of her father who had been awarded three medals for bravery during his time in the service and felt sure that he would be delighted if he could see what had happened to his plaque. The emblem drawn and painted by Mr Coe features a white eagle with a crown above it.
It is believed that this was not the squadron plaque used during World War Two but it could well have been a preliminary design.
The work of the museum is to be commended. There are unfortunately too few volunteers for the museum to be open very often.
Memorial at Bircham Newton
Future dates in 2012 for museum openings are (11am to 5pm for each day):
Sunday, 27 May
Sunday, 24 June
Sunday, 29 July
Sunday, 26 August
Sunday, 30 September (special celebration 2pm 5pm)
RAF Bircham Newton closed in December 1962. The closure was marked by a final graduation parade of RAF apprentices and a ‘Beating Retreat’ ceremony conducted by the Central Band of the Royal Air Force and the Queens Colour Squadron. The guest of honour was Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Tedder, who had commanded one of Bircham Newton’s squadrons in the early 1920s.
An event will be held at Bircham Newton on the afternoon of Sunday the 30 September 2012 to mark the 50th anniversary of the closure of the RAF station. Weather permitting, there will be a flypast of vintage aircraft from Felthorpe Flying Club, and many other things to enjoy, including military music performed by the Fakenham Town Band.
It is anticipated that several RAF veterans will attend, including former RAF Administrative Apprentices, who participated in the original closing ceremony. Other local organisations have also been invited to participate and exhibit, including the National Construction College, the Air Training Corps, the Royal British Legion, the Royal Air Force Association, the Norfolk Military Vehicle Group, the Friends of Langham Dome and the War Graves Group from St Mary’s Church Great Bircham.
There will be a display of military vehicles and large scale model aircraft, and an exhibition of paintings and drawings produced by two local primary schools. In addition, trustee David Jacklin will present an illustrated talk on the history of the former RAF station and its satellite airfields. To conclude the event, a small ‘Sunset Ceremony’ will be conducted to replicate the final part of the original closing ceremony when a bugler played the ‘Last Post’ as the RAF ensign was lowered.
You can find out more about the Bircham Newton Memorial Project on their website
HOW TO FIND THE HERITAGE ROOM:
Take the B1155 (Stanhoe to Gt Bircham) through the centre of the National Construction College East campus (Bircham Newton) – see OS Landrange 132 – NE Norfolk/Kings Lynn/Fakenham.
From Stanhoe: Immediately pass signs for The Birches Conference Centre – look for sign on lefthand siDe of road indicating “RAF Memorial”. Turn off B1155 at this sign. Pass memorial (on right). Parking area and Heritage Room Museum in building facing blue ramp and wooden sign in place).
From Gt Bircham: Drive through campus – pass main car park on right. Take second turning right then directions as above.
BRIEF BACKGROUND TO RAF BIRCHAM NEWTON MEMORIAL PROJECT HERITAGE ROOM MUSEUM
Bircham Newton’s RAF history spans 1918 – 1962 and involves some illustrious names over the years. The origins of the station go back to the First World War when it opened as a home to the first four-engined bombers. The base continued hosting bomber squadrons during the 1920s and 1930s. In the Second World War it served with distinction in Coastal Command. At this time the station became the home of Admin and Officer Training. The Construction College (known as CITB at the time) purchased the site in 1962.
The Memorial Project was established in 2005 with a view to raising funds for permanent memorials at both Bircham Newton and Docking. These memorials are now in place and the offer focal points to honour those who served and died at both stations. The College kindly provided a permanent home for the project in what used to the Commanding Officer’s quarters and the Heritage Room Museum became established.
The Museum commemorates the personnel and work of those involved in the RAF station at Bircham Newton and its satellites (Docking, Langham and Sedgeford) and houses personal memories, memorabilia and items of interest illustrating the history of the life of the station.