Bircham centre opens its doors

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The RAF Bircham Newton Heritage Centre, in the centre of what is now the Construction Industry Training Board complex, opened its doors to the public on Sunday.

On show was an extended range of new display boards with extra photographs to add to the wide range of memorabilia already collected.

Some show the different squadrons that occupied the airfield during the final stages of World War One and the whole of World War Two and the part they played in a number of major wartime operations over enemy territory.

But one shows the airfield’s part in the development of the Harrier jump jet.

Previously a Hawker Siddeley single-seater plane, the Kestrel, had been built to help with the development of a VTOL aircraft - one that could take off and land vertically without a runway. Bircham Newton was used as a base for some of the Kestrel’s trials.

The centre, which opened in 2005, records the history of one of the RAF’s very first airfields, which will celebrate its centenary next year.

It is also the site from which two bombers might have performed the last act of the First World War if the weather hadn’t intervened.

To persuade the Germans to surrender, two Handley planes were prepared for a bombing raid on Berlin.

Poor weather delayed their mission by a day but as they prepared to fulfil their mission the following day, news came through that an armistice had been agreed.

They had already taxied for take off and, with less sophisticated radio communications a member of the ground crew had to run out and stop them.

The centre is run by twelve volunteers and further open days will take place in July, August and September.