Countryside Notes – October

Eastmoor Airfield
These days the tranquillity of Barton Bendish is only interrupted by Tornados from Marham and farm machinery working close to the village but back in World War Two it was a very different place. Kevin Fisher forwarded us an email from Evelyn Simak who has been researching WW11 airfields in Norfolk and was enquiring about one that existed south of the public footpath heading west from the Eastmoor road where two pill boxes are sited. Enquiries revealed some very interesting facts which two octogenarian village elders, Alan Quadling and Ernie Percival, remember well. At the beginning of the last war the landing strip was constructed and known officially as RAF Barton Bendish or Eastmoor Landing Ground. It opened on September 2nd 1939 as a satellite station for RAF Marham, extended to 340 acres and its runways were unpaved. However it was not always used on a daily basis and appears to have been also utilized as a safe storage facility for non-operational Marham planes away from the main airfield. It has also been suggested that at one time it was used as a dummy airfield but this has been discounted. To begin with it was home to Hawker Hurricanes based at Sutton Bridge. Wellington bomber aircraft were also deployed there including a New Zealand squadron from Feltwell. In the summer of 1941 detachments of Curtis Tomahawks (low level reconnaissance aircraft) and Westland Lysanders flew from there. Soon after Eastmoor airfield opened one of the Wellingtons, flying at low level on its way to Marham, hit a tree and crashed killing all the crew on board. There were several other incidents involving Wellingtons from which, apart from one fatality, the crews escaped. In late November 1943, after the airfield had been closed for some time, a Lancaster from Lincolnshire based RAF Wickenby attempting to land at Marham made an emergency landing and overshot what was once the runway killing all the five crew on board. Guarding and defending the airfield were obviously important and when it was not in use various precautions were taken to prevent enemy landings. Of particular interest were three Pickett-Hamilton Forts, hydraulic pill boxes which could be raised and lowered out of the ground. They formed part of the airfield defences along with observation posts and the existing pill boxes. There were also two air raid shelters, one close to the western pillbox and another near Hill Farm. A Bofors anti-aircraft gun emplacement existed close to the corner at the bottom of Boughton Long Road. Eastmoor airfield closed after three years when Bexwell opened at Downham Market but the installations remained in place for a while afterwards. Alan and Ernie and can recall the fun they had as boys lowering themselves down into the ground on the hydraulic pill boxes! No sooner had the airmen left Barton than the Land girls arrived. Billeted at the Hall they ensured that Barton would continue to be a hive of activity throughout the war! Evelyn Simak’s article can be found on www.geograph.org.uk/article/RAF-Barton-Bendish

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