Home after 70 years - Engine from historic wartime jet returns to old Norfolk base
A rare link to Britain’s wartime past has found a final resting place at a former RAF base near Fakenham.
The Gloster Meteor was the first British fighter jet and the only Allied jet to see action in the Second World War.
The remains of one engine of the plane, which crashed in 1951, are now housed at the former RAF West Raynham, which became a business park following its closure in 1994.
At a ceremony on Saturday, the engine was unveiled at the weekend in front of one of the airfield’s two control towers.
Jon and Shelley Booty, who bought the control tower in 2016 as their home, are enthusiasts who privately collect RAF memorabilia.
They have agreed to look after the engine, found some two and a half miles from the base, and intend to allow the public to view it and the rest of their collection on an occasional basis.
The couple have close links with the airfield as Mr Booty’s father served there and Jon lived there as a child.
The Gloster Meteor was developed by Frank Whittle and powered by Rolls Royce turbojet Derwent engines.
The engine was discovered by farmer Gary Dawes. “It was in a chalk pit – we knew it was there but thought it was an old irrigation pump.”
He sent photographs to aviation experts who surprised him with the news of its real identity.
“I established the pilots’ names and that the crash was in 1951 and applied to the Ministry of Defence to extract the engine which was turned down as the site might contain human remains.”
Mr Dawes carried out more detective work with the help of a Mr Jackson, who had worked as a gamekeeper from 1955 onwards. He was able to pinpoint the crash site some 400 yards from the engine which had become detached. A second request for a licence was then granted.
Mr Dawes constructed the cradle for the engine with help from CTM Engineering at Harpley. He was keen to thank them and Lex Brun, Great Massingham, who provided the use of his workshop.
He then made contact with Ian Brown, curator of the RAF Sculthorpe Heritage Centre, who suggested the Bootys.
Mr Booty said: “It was quite an important responsibility to shoulder. In a way it is part of the station’s history for it tells of the danger young pilots faced because everything was low tech then. The technology was so new there were quite a number of fatal crashes.
“It’s a relic with a very sad history. The display of the engine will be done tastefully.”
The public will be able to view all the Bootys’ memorabilia plus the engine, on a monthly basis, from September 10, when they open their collection to visitors.
Also at the ceremony were Group Captain Ed Durham, station commander between 1986 -88, and Richard Tree, a representative of the RAF West Raynham Association which is dedicated to preserving the memories of all the station personnel who died.
Mr Tree said: “I’m hoping the publicity surrounding the engine will help us raise more money for a memorial to all those why died.”
He added that the memorial, which is sited near the former married quarters, does not yet contain all the names of those who died.
During the Second World War, the base, which opened in 1939, was used by Bomber Command with the loss of 86 aircraft. In the early 1960s at least two Gloster Meteors were based there along with a flight of Gloster Javelins.
In 1964 the base was used to evaluate the then new vertical take off and landing (VTOL) Hawker Siddeley strike fighter, popularly known as the Harrier jump jet.
During the latter years of the Cold War, it was a base for Bristol Bloodhound and Rapier surface to air missiles ready to counter any possible attack by Soviet aircraft coming in over the North Sea.
At the time residents in nearby Burnham Market slept soundly in their beds not knowing the missiles were programmed to intercept the enemy over their village.