Exploring historical Norfolk

Historical Norfolk provides frontline defence during the Second World War

Many visitors to Norfolk are keen historians and, from its links to Boudicca and the Iceni tribe through to the Agrarian Revolution, this is a county that is awash with history.

The Second World War provides a particularly rich era for people with a passion for the past. With its proximity to mainline Europe, Norfolk was on front line when it came to defending Britain against attacks by Nazi Germany.

Evidence of the part that historical Norfolk played can be seen in the old pill-boxes that are scattered along the coast line.

Pill boxes form defence line

There were more than 18,000 pill boxes built in 1940 alone. These were mainly along the east and southern coast line and at nodal points (important junctions and airfields). The pill boxes were part of an integrated defence system, positioned to interlock fields of fire with other boxes.

The pill boxes that had been built during the First World War were all hexagonal in shape. By the time the Second World War came around their design had become more complex. Pill boxes were now built to suit the weaponry they would house and the tactical or strategical role they would play.

Where can you see remnants of historical Norfolk?

Today, 32 pill box sites remain from World War One and a further 672 from WWII. While some of these are simply sites that can only be identified from the air, the majority have survived. The closest examples of pill boxes to Rookery Farm can be found at Stiffkey (a WWI pill box), Weybourne, Bacton, Kelling (which is an example of the less familiar Norcon pill box), and Cromer.

Also providing a wealth of interest is the number of airfields that were active during the Second World War. The area around Fakenham was home to a number of airfields clustered in a 10 mile radius around the town.

The oldest airfield in this part of the county was Bircham Newton. This was built in 1917 to provide a training centre for the Royal Flying Corp – the predecessor of the RAF. The airfield remained open between the wars and was not decommissioned until 1962. During WWII, Bircham Newton became home to No16 Group Coastal Command. This squadron mainly carried out reconnaissance work and air, sea rescue. During the war, 22 different RAF squadrons were based at the camp.

A temporary satellite station was opened in Docking in 1940. This airfield remained operational until the end of the war, providing support to the Bircham Newton airbase.

Langham’s starring role

Langham Airfield was also opened in 1940 as an independent base. It was used by the Army, Fleet Air Arm and Meteorological flights as well as being part of Coastal Command. Although Langham closed in 1946 as a RAF air field, it re-opened briefly when it was used by the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

Then, from 1953 until 1958, the station re-opened as a Anti-Air Craft Cooperation Unit. It worked closely with an Army camp that was housed at Stiffly. Today, Langham has an impressive visitor centre, including the innovative Langham Dome where trainee pilots learnt how to shoot down enemy aircraft.

North Creake airfield served as a decoy site from 1941 until 1942. It was then put on a Care and Maintenance order with a view to becoming a Heavy Bomber Base. This transformation never took place. Instead, North Creake saw out the war as a home for the special Radio Counter Measures unit and for bomber support missions.

Cricket legends turn hero airmen

Great Massingham and West Rayham were two more inland airfields.  These were renown as the temporary home of the Flying Fortress. Among the pilots flying out of these airfields were England cricketing hero Bill Edrich, Australian cricket legend Keith Miller and the football commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme. Three rooms at the Dabbling Duck Inn in the village of Great Massingham are named after the three airmen.

For further questions on historical Norfolk, do ask the team at Rookery Farm and we will happily point you in the right direction.