BIRCHAM NEWTON: Golden year for ex-airfield
Nearly 50 years after Bircham Newton airfield saw its final RAF plane take off, a dedicated band of history buffs are facing a busy year.
Hard-working members of the RAF Bircham Newton Heritage Centre hope to celebrate the golden anniversary of the closure in September in style.
But just when visitor numbers are predicted to rise sharply their eight-strong working membership, including four trustees, is about to be reduced by retirements.
Treasurer Denise Goff said more volunteers are urgently needed to cope with the expected influx this year.
The centre opened in 2005 with a single room of exhibits. Since then the discovery of more photographs, documents and memorabilia has expanded the exhibition to three rooms.
“We’re still adding to the knowledge of the history of the station and constantly expanding our collection,” said Mrs Goff.
It all adds up to an organisational headache for a former RAF station that despite the important part it played in the early days of the Royal Flying Corps, and then the Royal Air Force, has rarely hit the headlines.
Had the 1918 Armistice been agreed only 24 hours later then three aircraft from Bircham might well have delivered a dramatic final blow to the very heart of the German Empire.
Bombing major German cities in the World War II to sap the morale of the civilian population was a controversial plan that had its roots in November 1918 at Bircham.
Three of the RAF’s Handley Page V/1500 – the first four-engined bombers in the world and the first in RAF service until the Lancasters of World War II –, were scheduled to bomb Berlin, land and re-fuel in Prague and bomb Dusseldorf on their journey back to Bircham.
Made of fabric and wood with two ‘pusher’ and two ‘puller’ engines they were the monsters of the sky.
They had a wing span of 126ft, were 64ft long and weighed 13 tonnes. Powered by Rolls-Royce engines, which gave them a range of 1129 miles, they could deliver a bomb weighing 3½ tonnes.
Poor weather conditions delayed their mission by a day but as they taxied out for take-off on November 11, 1918, a member of the ground crew raced out to stop them with the news that the Armistice had been agreed and the civilian population of the German capital was spared.
Expressing the trustees’ gratitude to the work of volunteers over the years Mrs Goff said: “Visitors are always surprised to learn how important an airfield this was in both world wars.
“You don’t have to be an RAF buff to help to work at the centre. It can still be an enriching, historical experience.”
Anyone keen to volunteer should contact Mrs Goff on 01485 578527.
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Saturday 18 May 2013
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