A Happy New Year!

As 2015 fades away I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you who has visited, followed, liked, reblogged, commented and generally supported “Aviation Trails” during the last year. Without you, it would not be the site it is today.

It has certainly grown over the last year and taken on a new dimension. Investment in research material has enabled much longer posts and more personal information to be included, something that I know many people like to see. Not only do ‘we’ as enthusiasts, historical ‘writers’, modellers, relations of veterans etc. preserve our common history, but openly promote and educate others through the writing we do.

I believe it is important to remember what went on, the sacrifice and dedication to freedom, and if I can go a small way to helping that then it has all been worthwhile.

I have been inspired to take up old hobbies, learnt about aspects of military and natural history that I had never heard of, found new places in the world and been a part of a group of people who share the desire to learn, educate and inform others. It has been a wonderful year.

The tally of airfields I have visited is now around 75, double what it was this time last year. I have walked in the footsteps of famous people like Guy Gibson, Glenn Miller and Joe Kennedy, stood where important and famous missions have been planned and executed, trodden the very ground where so many young men and women served their country, many thousands giving the ultimate sacrifice.

It has been a most humbling experience.

So to each and every one of you, a heartfelt thank you, and here’s to a happy, peaceful and rewarding 2016.

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RAF King’s Cliffe – buildings not recommended for listing.

A recent assessment of the remaining buildings on the former RAF King’s Cliffe airfield, Northamptonshire, has not proven to be as positive as one had hoped for. The result could open the door to future development of the site and ultimately the permanent loss of these buildings as a result.

Oakington Pillbox Kings Cliffe Dec 2014

One of the rarer Oakington Pillboxes deemed not to be of Historical interest.

King’s Cliffe (originally visited in Trail 6) was the station for a number of RAF and USAAF units flying P-38s and P-51s amongst them . They operated as fighter escort for the heavy bombers of the Eighth, seeking out targets of opportunity, particularly enemy locomotives, as enemy fighters reduced in numbers. It was also the site of Glenn Miller’s final hangar concert, for which a memorial has been erected on the base of the hanger structure.

Closed post war, it was returned to agriculture, and the runways removed for hardcore. A few buildings still remain including: aircraft pens, pillboxes, the Battle headquarters and a rather dilapidated watch office. Away from the airfield site, the chapel and other small accommodation buildings survive in modern use. King’s Cliffe has certainly taken its share of post war degradation.

This survey was initiated following the successful planing application made for Jacks Green; the area to the southern side of the airfield around the Glenn Miller Memorial. This application has been granted (see here and the media reports here), and development is due to proceed. This combined with the findings of the survey by Historic England, won’t help the long-term future of King’s Cliffe’s buildings, and it may have further implications for the preservation of the site as a whole.

Historic England,  submitted their report to the Secretary of State who has deemed that the remaining buildings, including those mentioned, are not suitable for classification as “historically significant” and therefore will not be added to the list of  Buildings of Historical interest and so ‘listed’.

 Under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic interest; buildings that are deemed to be significant in terms of their architecture, historical importance or rarity, can be classified.

The full report can be accessed via the Historical England Website, but the key points they highlight are thus:

1. The Watch Office:

The report highlights the fact that of the 18 different models constructed, there are 220 examples still surviving today,  with many of them surviving in a better condition.

At King’s Cliffe the watch office (type Watch Office for Night Fighter Stations FCW4514) is a windowless shell, with some of its internal walls demolished and its balcony rails missing. There are no internal features. It is a poignant and dramatic ruin, but its condition precludes designation.

2. The Battle Headquarters:

At the time of the survey, the building was flooded and so access was inhibited, but it is thought that it is unlikely to contain anything of historical or architectural significance. Again Historic England state that there are better preserved examples on other sites around the UK.

The report states:

At King’s Cliffe, much of the essential wartime context has been lost with the removal of its runways and hangers. Moreover, the interior of the structure, which is flooded currently and effectively inaccessible, is unlikely to retain fixtures and fittings of interest. Together, these considerations mean that King’s Cliffe’s Battle HQ cannot be recommended as an addition to the List.

3. Fighter Pens:

Built to protect fighters and crews from attack, with soil mounds, brick walls and protectives rifle slits, there are a variety of these structures surviving today around the UK. More significant examples can be found at Battle of Britain airfields for example, and whilst those at King’s Cliffe were important, they are in mixed condition and according to the report, not of significant value.

The report states:

Elsewhere, however, the pens are very degraded or part demolished. The fact that only a proportion of the fighter pens survival relatively well as an ensemble, and that much of the essential wartime context has been lost with the removal of the runways and hangers, means that King’s Cliffe’s fighter pens cannot be recommended as additions to the List.

4. Pillboxes:

There are a small quantity of pillboxes around the airfield site and these represent a minute number of the 28,000 constructed in defence of the UK. Rarer examples are more likely to be selected for listing than the more common examples. Those found at King’s Cliffe are the Oakington style, a rarer model of which only 61 have been recorded by the English Heritage Monuments Protection Programme. Some of these have since been demolished and so an even smaller number exist today. However, “a high degree of selectivity” was used as a basis for the decision.

While the three examples at King’s Cliffe are also of undoubted interest, and generally survive in relatively good condition, a high degree of selectivity must be deployed when assessing structures of this late date. The loss of so many key components of the wartime airfield compromises their historic context and argues against recommending them for designation.

The conclusion of this report, states that the decision not to recommend listing these buildings is down to three primary points:

1. The fact there the buildings are in poor condition,
2. The fact that they are not ‘rare’ and,
3. The fact that because the other major features, (runways and hangars) have been removed, they are not significant in ‘Group Value’.

This decision is not surprising, but the wording suggests that any airfield with no runway or hangars, is not likely to have its buildings listed for preservation unless they are either very rare or in very good condition. After 75 years, that is extremely unlikely.

This outcome means that any decision to demolish the buildings lays with the landowner, and whilst they have been in situ for the last 70 years or so, there is now no need to retain them in any form should they so wish.

Ultimately, these buildings could be removed for land development, or agriculture use, meaning they would then be lost forever. That would leave the two small memorials as the only significant reminders of the King’s Cliffe site.

The full report can be accessed via the link below, which gives a detailed explanation for the decision. The annex of the report will be published on the Heritage Gateway website.

www.historicengland.org.uk case number 1426070

Anyone who wishes to challenge this decision can do so within 28 days with a request that the decision be reviewed in light of further evidence or because of irregularities in the process, full details are available through the link below. A form is available through this link, with appropriate guidance for completion. Both downloadable from the ‘Reviews of Listing Decisions’ page.

https://www.gov.uk/how-to-challenge-our-decision-to-list-or-not-list-a-building

If you are unable to access the website please contact:

The Listing Review Officer
Heritage Protection Branch
Culture Team
Department for Culture Media and Sport
4th Floor
100 Parliament Street
London
SW1A 2BQ

My thanks to Sandra Beale for forwarding this information.

King’s Cliffe planning application gets approval.

Earlier this year, we highlighted the planning application put forward by Philip Ashton-Jones the current land owner of Jack’s Green on the former RAF King’s Cliffe airfield, in Northampton.

An online petition raised over 300 objections to the application. These came  from: supporters of Glenn Miller, aviation enthusiasts, wildlife groups and local people alike, who all highlighted concerns over the proposed development of the site and the impact it may have. At an initial meeting in September this year, the council failed to come to any overall decision as they needed to consider further reports from interested parties.  At a second meeting held on Wednesday 14th October,  after considering all the issues raised, East Northamptonshire Council approved the plans and so 55 holiday homes will now be built on Jack’s Green.

Whilst concerns were raised over the memorial that currently stands on the actual base of the hangar where Glenn Miller performed his last hangar concert, the land owner Philip Ashton-Jones, stated at the meeting that the memorial would remain “exactly as it is today”.

Glenn Miller Memorial RAF Kings Cliffe Dec 2014

The Memorial to Glenn Miller taken in December 2014. Jack’s Green is the area behind.

RAF King’s Cliffe is a large site, which is now primarily agriculture. It still contains a few buildings from the Second World War and a large memorial to those who served here during this time. Jack’s Green, is part of the larger woodland used by walkers, horse riders and nature lovers.

East Northampton’s decision is in line with many decisions being made by local authorities. Land is at a premium, and whilst this is not essential housing by any stretch, it is not a surprising decision in today’s climate.

Let’s hope Mr Ashton-Jones keeps to his word and this historical place is protected.

Links

The BBC report can be accessed here. (This may only be available for a limited time.)

RAF King’s Cliffe was visited in Trail 6

Previous reports can be found here.

As Heard on the BBC: RAF Kings Cliffe – Time is Running Out!

We recently published a post highlighting the proposed development of the former RAF Kings Cliffe airfield (Trail 6), and in particular the Glenn Miller Memorial located at Jack’s Green, which is part of Rockingham Forest in Northamptonshire, England (post 6/1/15).

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The memorial and hangar base where Maj. Glenn Miller played his last hangar concert on 3rd October 1944.

The proposal, by the land owner/developer, Philip Ashton-Jones, states that a ‘caravan site’ with access and associated buildings would be built on part of the former airfield. This outlined plan includes the location of the memorial on the hangar base where Maj. Glenn Miller performed his final hangar concert (3rd October 1944) before his mysterious disappearance over the English Channel in December that year.

Whilst promoting the issue, Marcella, contacted John Griff at BBC Northants, who in turn asked for an interview on the Stuart Linnell Breakfast Show. Living in the U.S., this would prove interesting as there is a time difference of 5 hours. However, a suitable time was agreed and arrangements made for a pre-recorded rather than live interview.

The proposal has, unsurprisingly, been met with resistance from the local community. Some of the issues include: impact on local property and the current roads around Kings Cliffe which pass a quarry and lead to the back of Kings Cliffe village. The roads are very narrow, and unsuitable for high levels of traffic. The area is relatively high up and gives great views of the surrounding countryside, a reason why it is used by walkers, horse riders, cyclists etc. Furthermore, there is a wide range of wildlife including a herd of  deer that roam freely through the forest – it is indeed an idyllic area of pristine and natural beauty.

Of course there is the NIMBY aspect, no one wants a holiday village in their back garden. There are fears of ‘development creep’ and damage to the local finely balanced ecosystem. To Aviation Trails, it is not only the environment, but it the future of the Glenn Miller Memorial that is at stake, as are the remains of the airfield where so many brave young men, who gave the ultimate sacrifice, flew from during the Second World War.

The BBC broadcast both sides of the debate, including an interview with the landowner/developer, Mr. Philip Ashton-Jones, who slipped into admitting it was not caravans but 55 ‘luxury lodges’ that are being proposed. This was one of several ‘suspicious’ actions, along with the time at which the planning application was made public (i.e. prior to the Christmas holiday when the planning offices were closed), that caused some concern. This action reduced the amount of time objectors had to raise their concerns.

We feel these issues and the memorial in particular, are an important part of our shared British and American history. RAF Kings Cliffe comes from an era that changed the world, and Maj. Glenn Miller was a man whose musical talents helped shape and develop popular music for years to come.

These ancient forests are now delicate ecosystems, the memorials, rapidly disappearing monuments to past generations and Anglo-American heritage. Both need protection from permanent and sustained damage.

The BBC site has the various interviews available through their website, (links are valid for 30 days from the 9th February 2015 – but may be available on archives). They are for entire shows, but we have noted the timings of the relevant parts.

The BBC news website article can be found here.

A facebook page here, anyone can access this.

The radio interview with Marcella can be found here at 1:39:20

The interview with Ian Sharpe and Mr Philip Ashton-Jones can be found here at 2:39:15

A further report from the site can be found here on the John Griff show at 1:15:30

A big thanks also goes to my good friend, Kevin Fleckner, who wrote in support of the memorial.

As an additional note, there is also talk of development on the nearby RAF Deenethorpe site, another Northampton historical site likely to disappear. See the BBC report here.

Andy Laing and Marcella Beaudreau

Kings Cliffe under threat!

Following my recent revisit to RAF Kings Cliffe (Trail 6) I have been contacted by a reader who informs me that there is a planning application in to change the site to a caravan and camping site.

The application will utilise the site of the T2 hanger used by Miller for his final hangar concert in October 1944 and the memorial that now stands there. Details and photos of the site are in the trail update.

In the application, there is no reference to maintaining or preserving this memorial or any of the few remaining buildings that exist on this site.

This application was placed just prior to Christmas and so the offices have been shut for a large part of the holiday.

This is an area of natural beauty, used by walkers, cyclists and horse riders, not to mention visitors to the memorial. The roads are narrow and the surrounding villages are beautiful.

From an aviation point of view, Kings Cliffe is an historical site and is yet another example of world history being developed with little or no regard to its significance.

If you wish to see this application, it can be found on the East Northants Website application reference 14/02225/FUL. Linked below – The closing date for any objections is January 12th 2015.

http://pawebsrv.east-northamptonshire.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=NFDYXIGO03N00 or google ’14/02225/FUL’

Thank you
Andy.

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‘In the Mood’ for aviation nostalgia?

Taking advantage of the winter sun and nearby location, I decided to take a short visit to one of the earlier trails and see how things had changed. Being a different time of year too, perhaps the buildings I saw would now be less obscured. I also thought that the initial trails were lacking and needed a little ‘historical substance’.

Whilst not wanting to lose sight of the idea behind the blog, I felt a little extra would not go amiss. Hearing about a memorial that I had missed earlier, I braved the late December air, donned coat, hat and scarf and set off to Kings Cliffe, in the top corner of Northamptonshire – land of Fighter squadrons and the last hangar concert performed by Major Glenn Miller.

RAF Kings Cliffe (Station 367)

(Revisited and updated December 2014)

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The Memorial at Kings Cliffe.

Unlike the other airfields in the tour, Kings Cliffe was a fighter airfield. Pass through the village from the south, out the other side, under the odd twin-arched bridge and then right. A few hundred yards along and the airfield is now on your right hand side. The memorial is here, flanked by the two flags. It is a more elaborate memorial than some, being made with the wing of a Spitfire on one side and the wing of a Mustang on the other. Various squadron badges are etched into the stone and as the weather takes it’s toll, these are gradually disappearing.

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Protected aircraft pen, with ‘dual skin’ defences on three sides. A number of these litter the site.

Over its life, Kings Cliffe would have a number of fighter units grace it skies. Built in 1943, it would receive its first squadron late that same year when P-39 Airacobras of Duxford’s 347th FS (350th FG) were temporarily based here. A short spell they would soon leave and be replaced with another short-term unit.

The following January, the 347th left and three squadrons: the 61st (code HV), 62nd (code LM) and the 63rd (code UN) of the 56th FG arrived from the U.S. This group fell under the command of the 67th Fighter Wing, Eighth Air Force. Redesignated the 56th FG in the previous May, they were initially given P-47s and continued to train at Kings Cliffe for fighter operations until moving on the 4th/6th April 1943 to Horsham St Faith, Norfolk. A few days later on 13th April 1943, they undertook their first operational sortie. Over the next two years the 56th FG would become famous for the highest number of destroyed aircraft of any fighter unit of the entire Eighth Airforce. A remarkable feat.

Littlefriends.co.uk

Pilots of the 77th FS, at Kings Cliffe 1944-45*1

After the 56th left Kings Cliffe, three more squadrons arrived. In August that year, the 20th FG arrived with their P-38 Lightnings. The 55th (code KI), 77th (code LC) and the 79th (code MC), would fall under the umbrella of the 67th Fighter Wing, Eighth Airforce.

After a spell of renaming, aircraft changes and training, their arrival at Kings Cliffe would see a period of stability for the 20th. Initial operations started in December that year, and their primary role would be to escort bombers over Europe, a role it maintained until the cessation of conflict. Targets of opportunity were often found whilst on these missions, but toward the end of the war, with fighter cover becoming less of an issue, dive bombing and ground attack missions became more common place. Their black and white chequered markings became feared by airfields, barracks and in particular trains as they became known as the “Loco Group” for their high number of locomotive attacks.

Oakington Pillbox Kings Cliffe Dec 2014

Oakington Pillbox, found in pairs, they offer a 360 degree field of fire.

On April 8th 1944, the 20th attacked an airfield in Germany, action for which they received a Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC). They would later take part in the Normandy invasion, Operation Market Garden, and air cover in the Battle of Bulge. In July 1944 they converted to P-51s and continued to escort bombers and search out targets of opportunity until the war closed. In the following October 1945, they returned to the U.S. and Kings Cliffe was returned to RAF ownership. The RAF would use it as a storage depot until selling it off in 1959. Its runways were dug up for hardcore, the buildings demolished and the site finally returned to agriculture.

Kings Cliffe December 2014 Draincover

Drainage covers and pipes adorn the remains of the runway.

Whilst standing at the memorial, it is difficult to imagine any of the activity that occurred here all those years ago. However, behind the memorial you can see a number of brick defence buildings enshrouded in trees and bushes. Move along the road to your right and there is the main gate. Stating that it is an airfield, it doesn’t encourage entrance. However, walk or drive a little further and there is a bridal way that allows access to the site. Walking along around the edge of the airfield, you can see hidden amongst the thorn bushes  an Oakington Pill box. Found in pairs and common in this area, they offer a 360 degree view of the site. The second of the pair is  short distance away in the middle of the field and more visible to the viewer. Also round here are three protected dispersal pens. Each pen has a double skin, in other words, an outside loop holed wall for firing through and an inner wall to protect air and ground crews in the event of an attack. There are a handful of other ancillary buildings here, all of which can be accessed with careful treading. A considerable number of these exist close to the road and path, so extensive travelling or trespass is not required for the more ‘informal’ investigation.

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Inside the Shelter.

Walking further along the path, you pass a large clump of trees heading of in an easterly direction. These mark the line of the east-west runway. Whilst the runway has gone, evidence of its existence can be found. A drainage channel, numerous pieces of drainage material and grates can be found amongst the remains of hardcore.

The path continues in a southerly direction away from the main part of the airfield, and a better option may be to return to the car and drive along to a different part of the site.

If you return through Kings Cliffe, bear left and through the small but gorgeous village of Apethorpe. Continue on and you’ll see a footpath that goes through the woods. Park here and walk through the woods. A couple of miles in and you come across a large open space, to your left is a distinguished memorial to Glenn Miller.

Glenn Miller Memorial RAF Kings Cliffe Dec 2014

Memorial to Glenn Miller’s final hangar concert, 3rd October 1944.

The memorial is located on the site of the original T2 hangar, quite a distance away from the main airfield. It was here that Miller performed his final hangar concert on October 3rd 1944. Standing here in the wintry air listening to ‘In the Mood’, is a surreal experience. To think that, on this spot 70 years ago, this very tune was performed by Miller himself; whilst young couples jitterbugged the evening away – a brief respite from the wartime tragedies that dominated their daily lives.

Leaving here, back to the track, you come across a footpath that takes you north, toward the main airfield before veering off and away to the west.

This path provides what is probably the nearest access point to the tower, as it crosses the track that joins the perimeter near to the towers location. The control tower still stands, but access from the path is over private land and should be undertaken with the land owner’s permission.

A final car trip back to the north side of the airfield reveals evidence of the accommodation blocks. The cinema, Gymnasium and chapel along with some other communal buildings still stand and in use by local timber companies. Well preserved, they are easily accessible and offer a good view to anyone aiming to find evidence of Kings Cliff’s history.

Kings Cliffe December 2014 Chapel with gym

Gymnasium and Chapel now used by a timber company.

Like many sites of it’s age, the majority of Kings Cliffe’s buildings are overgrown, indeed entering them you can see how the roofs have become detached in many cases, and mature trees now the only inhabitants where personnel once stood.

The main part of the airfield is agriculture, and it can be seen from further back, why this site was chosen as the views across the landscape toward Peterborough and the south are stunning. A remarkable place, it offers good evidence, nostalgia and beautiful walks into the bargain.

Overgrown buildings

Overgrown buildings

Kings Cliffe concludes this tour, however, if you return back along the road to the village of Kings Cliffe, turn right away from the village, you will eventually find yourself sitting opposite one of the crash exits of RAF Wittering, the main station to which Kings Cliffe was built as a satellite. Also along here, is a remnant of RAF Collyweston, an airfield absorbed into RAF Wittering at the end of the war when it expanded ready for the V – force bomber aircraft and later the Harriers. Now closed to flying due to government cutbacks, it houses an army detachment and a small RAF detachment for maintenance duties only.

Much of the evidence from the American participation in the Air War of the Second World War has now disappeared, being swallowed up by natures determination to regain what was originally hers. Agriculture and small businesses have clung on to the remainder, leaving little to see. In some ways, and I touched on this earlier, the fact that peace has now taken over what were bustling camps of 3000+ personnel, the roar of four engined bombers laden with high explosives or troop carriers taking scared young men to the killing fields of Europe, is a reflection on their bravery and dedication. These areas are simply peaceful now because of the men that served, lived and died here and whilst they are now gone, maybe their ghosts remain.

Kings Cliffe originally featured in Trail 6 ‘American Ghosts’.

*1 photo by Robert Derenbacker from ‘Little friends’ website http://www.littlefriends.co.uk