New book revives memories of old RAF Sculthorpe base

A special delivery for Hitler: a bomber of 342 (Free French) Squadron RAF, the first to use Sculthorpe in 1943, being armed with bombs ANL-151201-153853001

A special delivery for Hitler: a bomber of 342 (Free French) Squadron RAF, the first to use Sculthorpe in 1943, being armed with bombs ANL-151201-153853001

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The news that RAF Mildenhall is to close will being back vivid memories around Fakenham of the time 23 years ago when RAF Sculthorpe shut.

A reminder of the important role the airfield played in both the Second World War and the Cold War that followed are chronicled in a book, just re-issued in a new edition, RAF Sculthorpe – 50 Years of Watching and Waiting, by local author Jim Baldwin.

No Caption ABCDE ANL-151201-154244001

No Caption ABCDE ANL-151201-154244001

He said: “Once it was the most important USAF airfield in this part of the world.”

Backing up the book is an exhibition with photographs, aeroplane models, insignia and newspaper clippings that gives a glimpse of the airfield over the years at Fakenham’s Museum of Gas and local History.

It is open each Thursday from 10am-1pm.

Mr Baldwin was born almost at the same time as the airfield opened in 1943, first occupied briefly by the RAF, which included a Free French Squadron, until 1944 when it was closed for some rebuilding, and then from 1948 onwards by the United States.

The Cold War ended with the demolishing of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Americans vacated what had become the USAF’s largest atom bomber base in Europe in October 1992.

“I remember the bombers would fly over Fakenham.”

It was a memory that first created his passion for aviation and he has followed the twists and turns of the history of the airfield ever since.

Those memories included slipping away from school one day when he should have been taking his 11-plus exam.

“I stood on a railway bridge outside Fakenham watching planes taking off and landing.” That clear view of the airfield is now obstructed by the since-built high school and the Fakenham Sports and Fitness Centre.

From one of three runways that were then the longest in Europe, USAF B45 Tornado bombers – the Americans’ first operational jet bomber and the first multi-engined jet to be re-fuelled in mid-air – took off for missions over Europe.

He said: “B45 Tornados flew strategic reconnaissance flights up to, and probably beyond, the borders of the USSR.”

Mr Baldwin remembers the many years he collated information and photographs - some his own, others from fellow photographers - about the airfield which has enabled him to write an illustrated history of the base.

“As a young man RAF Sculthorpe was an exciting place,” he said. “There were so many different aircraft coming and going. There was always so much to see.”

He has been writing and publishing books on local history and heritage for more than 30 years and RAF Sculthorpe - 50 Years of Watching and Waiting is published by Jim Baldwin Publishing Solutions at £9.50 and can be obtained from booksellers or www.jimbooks.co.uk.