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Bircham Newton base history remembered at centenary commemoration




Tony Nelson displayed some of the model planes he has spent a life time making, including his sixth-scale Short Stirling heavy bomber, which was based at nearly RAF North Creake (2147546)
Tony Nelson displayed some of the model planes he has spent a life time making, including his sixth-scale Short Stirling heavy bomber, which was based at nearly RAF North Creake (2147546)

The role a West Norfolk airbase nearly played in extending the First World War was recalled during an event marking the centenary of its opening at the weekend.

In November 1918, aircraft from the newly-designated RAF Bircham Newton came within seconds of taking off on a previously arranged mission to bomb Berlin.

Among visitors to a social Veterans' Day held at the base's heritage museum on Saturday was Clive Parish, whose father Eric was involved in the operation.

Airfield records show the raid would have been the last hostile act of the war.

And Mr Parish remembered how his father told him that his experiences of the conflict included preparations for what would have been Britain's first bombing raid on the German capital.

He said: "He told me that on the last day of the war he was on an airfield and there was a mission to bomb Berlin which is why I've traced him here."

Eric Parish was an RAF sergeant armourer who had been involved in loading the bombs and the machine guns onto two planes destined for Berlin.

His son said: "He died when I was 16 on 11 November so each Armistice Day brings back poignant memories. It'll be more poignant this year."

Clive Parish (right) chats to Roger Browning, an RAF apprentice at Bircham Newton in 1961, and his wife, Caroline, who travelled to the Veterans' day from Cornwall (2147537)
Clive Parish (right) chats to Roger Browning, an RAF apprentice at Bircham Newton in 1961, and his wife, Caroline, who travelled to the Veterans' day from Cornwall (2147537)

David Jacklin, joint trustee of the museum with Avril Macarthur, said the day celebrated the distinguished history of the airfield.

He said: "It opened one month after the RAF was formed as a fighting school with Avro 504's and Sopwith Camels and Pups. The purpose was to train pilots."

Shortly afterwards, that unit moved to Sedgeford and the base was taken over by a long range bombing unit which was subsequently ordered to carry out the Berlin raid.

The two planes that were involved were by the standards of the day monsters of the sky. They were Handley Page V1500 bombers, made of fabric and wood, bi-planes with two 'puller' and two 'pusher' engines.

A four-engined Handley Page V1500 plane two of which nearly mistakenly bombed Berlin after the First World War Armistice was signed (2147550)
A four-engined Handley Page V1500 plane two of which nearly mistakenly bombed Berlin after the First World War Armistice was signed (2147550)

Mr Jacklin said: "Bad weather postponed the raid for forty-eight hours. Then the two heavy bombers were made ready again and had taxied out onto the runway.

"But at the very last moment news of the Armistice meant that someone had to rush out onto the airfield and stop them."

With radio communications inadequate a catastrophic blunder, averted by seconds, would have broken the Armistice and could have prolonged the war.

Later, during the Second World War, Bircham Newton was a Coastal Command station flying planes such as Lockheed Hudsons, Bristol Blenheims and Vickers Wellingtons.

It subsequently became a training centre for administration staff before it closed in 1962, though it was used in the mid-1960's to test the then revolutionary Kestrel jump jet.

One highlight of the Veterans' Day was a flypast by a De Havilland Chipmunk, the last RAF plane to use the base before it closed.

A De Havilland Chipmunk flies over Bircham Newton to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the RAF station's opening (2147535)
A De Havilland Chipmunk flies over Bircham Newton to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the RAF station's opening (2147535)

A wide range of memorabilia, military vehicles, a range of model aircraft and exhibits by the Royal British Legion was also displayed.

Those who had served at the station and relatives of older service personnel, some who had travelled hundreds of miles, turned out in large numbers to mark the occasion.

The day finished with a Sunset Ceremony at the station's memorial where prayers were led by the Rev Peter Cook.



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