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New book looks at the history of RAF Marham

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Relics from the First World War to the jet age line the walls of RAF Marham’s Heritage Centre in a proud salute to the past.

Outside, the future roars overhead ... in the formidable shape of an F-35B Lightning fighter.

Aircraft first flew from the base in 1916. It housed bomber crews through the Second World War and Cold War, then specialised in air-to-air refuelling.

But it was as home to the Tornado that it earned its special place in more recent East Anglian aviation history.

It was a touching moment when in March the aircraft that played a key role in operations for almost 40 years was retired from service and said farewell with a final poignant flypast.

Now a new book telling the story of Marham, its aircraft, and - most importantly - its people, will launch a bid to raise funds to keep the Tornado’s memory alive.

Squadron with Valiant bomber
Squadron with Valiant bomber

Proceeds will go towards building a Tornado Atrium at the heritage centre, where displays will include a cockpit simulator, and also help fund its work.

The book is written by Ken Delve, a former RAF navigator once stationed at Marham and now one of the centre’s volunteers.

Ken spent almost 20 years in the RAF and his last tour of duty was at Marham. He set up a history room on the base and when he left in 1994 wrote a history of the station.

Wellington crew
Wellington crew

The new book, RAF Marham - Operational History: 1916 to 2019, expands on the original and adds the next 25 years.

It is a comprehensive and meticulous record - illustrated by original photographs and sometimes in the words of those involved - of the Norfolk airbase.

Ken has already written more than 40 books on aviation topics. His interest took off when he was made a squadron historian.

“Because I had a degree in ancient history the Squadron Commander decided I was the closest thing they had to a historian,” he recalls.

“I ran a reunion of veterans, then decided I should publish all the stories I heard from talking to them as a history of 39 Squadron."

Maj Harris in Word War 1
Maj Harris in Word War 1

After leaving the RAF Ken became editor of Flypast magazine, and later worked in the Middle East.

“When I came back last year I heard about the heritage centre and was super impressed so I became a volunteer,” he said.

“Marham has one of the most fascinating histories of any airbase.”

The RAF Marham Aviation Heritage Centre opened in 2013 in the station’s former Catholic church. Around 15 volunteers help to run it.

Steve Roberts, a retired RAF warrant officer who also served at Marham, is the curator.

Tornado: credit Neil Dunridge
Tornado: credit Neil Dunridge

“When this building came available we saw the possibilities straight away,” he says.

“We would be able to engage with the local community encouraging schools, cadet forces, veterans and other groups to visit.

“We set up with the help of a donation from a company called Veolia environmental services. There was a lot of hard work by a voluntary team.

“Ken had set up a history room on the base. But the Tornado needed a new HQ, and they chose that room, so we had to put everything in boxes and put it away.

“Now all that work Ken put in at the beginning, the things he obtained from various sources, came out of the boxes and we could display them to the public for the first time.

“We make sure visitors see the people behind the aeroplanes. Our mantra is to tell the whole story.

“People are very kind when they come to us, and see how artefacts are displayed, and the respect we give to every piece of kit that comes to our door. If it’s a ticket to a dance in 1946, that piece of history is important to us.

“We are the last operational RAF flying station in East Anglia we have a responsibility to remember everything in East Anglia, aviation-wise.

“When people find things in the attic they go one of two ways - in a skip, or they try to find someone who might want it. Whatever it is, come along and talk to us about it.”

The heritage centre’s displays start with World War One and include a pilot’s leather overcoat.

Ken said:“Sixty percent of our time here is spent helping relatives and veterans with research. The face of what we do is the collection, but the majority of our visitors have an interest in the base.”

RAF Marham - Operational History: 1916 -2019 is on sale at the heritage centre priced at £30. To order a copy email marham.aviation.heritage@gmail.com.

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