FONFA Visits New Milton Primary School

FONFA visited New Milton Primary School again this week, on our annual visit to the school, where we have been welcomed every year for the last ten years. We are invited to tell the Year 6 children about FONFA every year; who we are, what we do, our Heritage Centre and Memorial to the service men and women whom we commemorate, who worked on the New Forest Airfields in WWII.

FONFA Chair of Trustees, Dr Henry Goodall, gave a 45 minute PowerPoint presentation about the wartime airfields and John Brooks (pictured below), former Chair and current Treasurer and Membership Secretary, told the 100-strong audience about his time in Wembley, watching the V-1 ‘flying bombs’ rain down on the capital, from June 1944 onwards. John spoke about details of his life as a young schoolboy in war torn London, before answering their queries.                                                                                                      This year, we invited the children to ask questions at any time during the presentation and they were not shy about asking excellent questions, almost every minute, during the session.                                                                                                                                                 Mr. Tom Chappell, Year 6 Leader Teacher, managed the hour long lesson and, as in previous years, has invited us back to see the children’s ‘Museum Projects’ later this term. Working in small groups of three or four, they will create an exhibit on a relevant topic of their choice. Ideas explored in previous years have included a huge variety of subjects: home air raid shelters, family member’s personal wartime histories, cooking with wartime recipes, ships and submarines, spies and secret agents, food and clothing rationing, ‘make do and mend’ and RAF aircraft. We would be delighted if other schools would participate in this free service, which we offer to all schools. We feel that a knowledge of local history, which is the children’s own personal heritage, is essential as they grow up into this modern world.                      However, in spite of repeated attempts, we have not yet been able to establish connections to other local schools in the New Forest area, in order to give similar free presentations.

As George Santayana, the writer and philosopher, famously wrote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

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Heritage Centre Open Days for 2020

The following Sunday dates have been agreed by the Trustee Board for 2020.

In addition, we intend to add up to three mid-week Open Days, during the school holidays in July and August, provided that we have sufficient Fire Warden trained volunteers to staff the days. Any additional dates will be announced later in the year.

March 1st & 15th

April 5th & 19th

May 3rd & 17th

June 7th & 14th (avoiding Father’s Day on 21st as requested)

(June 28th – Annual Memorial Service at the New Forest Airfields Memorial)

July 5th & 19th

August 2nd & 16th

September 6th & 20th

October 4th & 18th

Admission donations remain as in 2019: Adults £7.50, 10-16 yrs £3, Under 10s Free.     Pre-1961 UK Military Veterans’ concessionary rate £3.

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Sunderland Flying Boat model added to Heritage Centre displays

Short Sunderland Mk. I  –  DA-G  Serial No: L2163  –  210 Squadron 1941This 1.72 scale model of the Short S.25 Sunderland Mk.I will be added to the Heritage Centre displays for the 2020 Open Day season. The Sunderland was a British flying boat patrol bomber, which entered service with the RAF in June 1938. At the start of WWII, Coastal Command was operating forty Sunderlands, the backbone of the Command during the first two years of the war. This model depicts an aircraft of 210 Squadron, based at Oban, Scotland in 1940. The testing weather and sea conditions in the North Atlantic winters quickly took their toll on the paintwork, as shown in the photo below, taken while the aircraft was escorting Convoy TC 6, on 31st July 1940.Armed with either 500 lb or 250 lb bombs, or eight 250 lb depth charges, and seven machine guns, the Mk I saw service in the early years of WWII, hunting U-Boats in the Battle of the Atlantic, from bases along the west coasts of England, Wales and Scotland and from Ballykelly in Northern Ireland. An RAAF Sunderland made the type’s first unassisted U-Boat kill in July 1940.                                                                                                  Its combination of 18 hour endurance, and the ability to land on water, made it ideal for rescue and convoy protection missions, only being surpassed in the latter by the longer range Consolidated Catalina in 1941 and Very Long Range Liberators, introduced in mid-1943.                                                                                                                                                           Servicing and engine changes were commonly carried out at RAF Calshot, during WWII,  as shown in this post-war photograph. The aircraft would fly down from their operational bases for the work to be carried out, landing on Southampton Water and taxying up, for beaching via attaching main undercarriage wheels and a hull trolley apparatus.                      Sunderlands were susceptible to maritime growth on the hull, which could be cured temporarily by a landing on fresh water and the subsequent scrubbing effect of the take off.                                                                                                                                                         The Sunderland was also important in the Mediterranean Theatre and the Far East, during WWII, and during the post-war Berlin Airlift. The type remained in service with the Royal New Zealand Air Force until 1967.

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Remembrance Sunday – The Annual Act of Remembrance at the Holmsley Memorial

On Remembrance Sunday, FONFA Members and local residents of all ages gathered at our Annual Act of Remembrance at the New Forest Airfields Memorial at Black Lane, Holmsley South, for the two minutes’ silence, to remember the 25,000 military personnel and 10,000 civilians who supported them, serving on the twelve New Forest Airfields in World War II. The Memorial is situated on one of the dispersal pads, where Mosquito, Halifax and Typhoon aircraft were serviced, refuelled and re-armed, during WWII.Around seventy five people attended, including a large contingent from our motorcycle friends, who so loyally support this annual event every year. They brought with them two WWII vintage motorcycles, a BSA and an Aeriel.John Brooks, Honorary Treasurer and former Chairman of Trustees of FONFA, led the commemorations, supported by other Trustee Board Members. We were fortunate with the weather. Between showers, the sun shone in a clear blue sky, although the wind was cold.                              (Photos courtesy of Lynn Corbin and Henry Goodall)

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New P-38J Lighting model added to Heritage Centre displays.

A new 1.32 scale P-38J Lightning is added to the Heritage Centre displays this month, depicting Lt Lawrence ‘Scrappy’ Blumer’s P-38J aircraft, ‘Scrapiron’, in which he shot down five FW 190s in fifteen minutes, on 25th August 1944, making him an ‘Ace in a Day’. This is some shooting, given that the P-38 normally only carried 14 seconds of firing in the 20 mm cannon and 21 seconds in the four 0.5 inch machine guns if 300 rounds were loaded (or a maximum of 35 seconds, if each machine gun magazine was fully loaded with 500 rounds). Larry Blumer was well known in the Squadron for coming home with multiple holes in his aircraft, once totalling over a hundred in a single mission, from ground fire. On another occasion, he returned with 100 feet of barrage balloon wire hanging form a damaged wing tip. The “Censored” label was applied late in the war, when a station commander’s wife objected to the nude in his aircraft’s nose art.367th Fighter Group pilots have stated that some of them had the Crew Chief wire the cannon and machine guns to the single firing button, to bring the maximum weight of fire on any target aircraft. Once the cannon ceased firing, they knew that they had limited machine gun ammunition left.  In addition, when the ground crews discovered that the ammunition boxes were supplied from Lockheed’s Californa factory with false bottoms (as the original specification called for space for a maximum of 500 rounds), they tore out the lightweight spacer panels at the bottom and filled the magazines to capacity.The 19.5 inch wingspan 1.32 scale Revell kit (supplied with decals for ‘Arkansas Traveler’, Lt. Owen Fincher’s aircraft, another Stoney Cross Lightning) dates from 2003, but the moulding dates from 1970. In spite of its age, the moulding is representative of the best of its time, when compared with the modern (2004) Trumpeter moulding.

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A New Forest Walk around Holmsley South Airfield

FONFA Members and visitors to our website may be interested in a video made by Dave Ford, about the wartime Holmsley South Airfield site. It is an interesting commentary on what remains around the area today, 75 years after the busiest period of the airfield’s history. The link is at:

For historians, Dave Ford states that Operation Beggar/Turkey Buzzard had ‘high losses’. However, compared with several other experimental long range Halifax and Lancaster missions, the losses were relatively light in percntage terms. Considering that this was an entirely new mission, which had never been attempted before, out of the 32 Horsa gliders which left Holmsley South and travelled on via Portreath, Cornwall, with their Halifax tugs, 27 (84%) arrived in Tunisia safely. in time to participate in the invasion of Sicily.

The training involved 295 Sqn Halifaxes towing the Horsas on long missions around the coastline of Britain, to see whether it could be done.  However, during the training for the mission, four crashes killed thirteen men. On the mission itself, one Halifax and Horsa combination was shot down by a German long range Focke Wulf Condor patrol aircraft. Another Horsa snapped its tow rope and ditched, the crew being picked up by an Allied ship. Altogether, five Horsas and three Halifaxes were lost.

The Horsas were flow by three pilots, to prevent pilot fatigue, on the long mission. According to one of the Horsa pilots on the mission, whom I met several years ago, the flight from Cornwall to Tunisia took 14 hours in the air (3,200 miles), done in three ‘hops’. The reason why it was not repeated was that there was no longer an operational need. (Ed. Henry Goodall).

Farther north in the Forest, for those who would like to know more about the Ashley Walk practice bombing range, east of Fordingbridge, there is a video by James Brown, New Forest National Park Archaeologist, at:


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“Sopley in the Sixties” – A trip down memory lane – by Frankie Patterson

This summer, the Heritage Centre received a visit from a former WRAF (Women’s Royal Air Force) RADAR Operator, who was posted to RAF Sopley in the early 1960s, Frankie (Frances) Patterson. She kindly agreed to share her memories of her time at the Camp and has now written a personal account on her time there, which we are delighted to print in full below.                                                                                                                                       “Down the Hole”, where she worked, was in the huge underground bunker, on the north side of the Camp, where all the processing and display equipment for the RADAR covering the UK was situated. This was a major Air Traffic Control Training Centre throughout the early to mid 1960s.                                                                                                                                   Younger readers will be intrigued by her description of a life without mobile phones or computers, when a ‘posh frock’ cost more than a week’s wages (you could only afford one!), and a pint glass of ‘scrumpy’ (rough, strong cider) at the nearest pub, half a mile away across the fields, cost 7d (3.5p to today’s money).

Sopley in the Sixties – By Frances Patterson, nee Warboys

I was posted to Sopley in late October 1961, having completed a course on Air Traffic Control at RAF Shawbury. My companions and I found it odd to be posted to a Radar Unit when we had been trained to work in a Tower, and especially so when there were ADOs (Air Defence Operators) who were trained to work with radar in radar units. But such were the ways of the RAF. As it turned out, we didn’t know how lucky we were!

There were four of us, young (17), wet behind the ears and excited to be starting out in a new career. We were among the first regular service WRAFs to be stationed at Sopley, previously there had been Local Service girls who lived at home and travelled in to work. The Local Service branch was being closed down, and we came in to take their place. We didn’t really know them or mix with them, as we never considered them to be real Servicewomen. The men on the camp did not welcome us at all. They didn’t want us there and were very suspicious about us. However, in time they got used to us and stopped behaving like idiots.

So we arrived and were given our billet, 39/22, the second from the end on the left hand side. The WRAF quarters were on one side of the road and the men’s on the other. The quarters that were situated behind the dining hall were for Senior ranks and Officers, and also comprised the Sergeants Mess and Corporals Club. The Sick Bay was also situated there.

Each billet contained two rooms with four beds and two single rooms for more senior personnel. The ablutions, between the two four-bed rooms had baths, washbasins and toilets. Between each pair of billets there was a laundry room which had a washing machine and spin dryer, irons and ironing boards and drying racks. Each girl had a bed, a wardrobe, a bedside cabinet and a chair. It certainly doesn’t sound a lot, but we didn’t seem to notice. We had done our training together and had become friends before arriving, and settled in very happily.

The next big thing was going to work. We kept watches, which I liked, it suited me. Down the Hole. The first day you worked 8am till 12pm, and 5pm till 11pm. The second day it would be 12 till 5pm and then 11pm till 8am nest morning. Then a ‘sleeping off’ day. The two days were then repeated, and after that a 72 hour pass. I liked the watchkeeping rhythm and it meant that you were off when other people were at work, which I liked.

We would catch the transport outside the guard room (a full size RAF bus) and be taken to the hole, where we would be given a token (like coal miners do) on the way down, and hand it back as we left at the end of the watch. Personally I took to the work and enjoyed it, and once I had become competent enough (about a year) I liked to sit on Consul 1 where you coordinated all the traffic and wrote it up on a display board.

One of the other jobs I did was pretending to be an aircraft to help train new controllers. That was on the Mullard flight simulators, conveniently situated opposite the canteen. It made a change and it was quite good fun. This job was days, not watchkeeping, but it was only for a fairly brief period.

Social life was pretty good, as I recall. We used to go to the Carpenter’s Arms (the Chippy’s), which was a small local pub then, before the big restaurant extension had been built. We walked there across the field opposite the camp gates, which is pretty much a housing estate now, and I do remember it was absolutely pitch dark with no light whatever unless there was a moon. Everything was celebrated at the Chippy’s, and if you were penniless you could buy scrumpy for seven pence.

Around Christmas time 1962 I was on a night watch when one of the Controllers offered me a mug of tea. I refused and said I didn’t want one. “You’ll want this one” he said. It wasn’t tea. And nobody was flying except the odd American, because nobody had told them it was Christmas, apparently.

I remember that Christmas of 1962 very well. My friend and I had gone into Bournemouth to buy posh frocks for our Christmas dinner, and we each spent more than a weeks’ wages on them. Hers was royal blue, and I think of it whenever I hear the song “She wore blue velvet”. Mine was a deep crimson and I absolutely loved it. The night of the dinner it started to snow. Just a slight flurry of powdery flakes, and it looked so beautiful in the moonlight. But it didn’t stop. It went on and on relentlessly. It was, of course, the beginning of the now famous winter weather of 1962/63.

Before very many days had passed we had swapped our posh frocks for trousers and battledress and were taken out with shovels to dig out the unfortunate souls who had found themselves marooned in their cars unable to get through, some now completely submerged. They were taken back to camp and given bacon and eggs in the dining hall, and we got a tot of rum. Which we thoroughly deserved!

One of my other abiding memories is of coming in one night and finding one of my room mates standing on a chair wearing pyjamas and a dressing gown, and dark glasses, trying to light a cigarette from the light bulb. I don’t think that worked any better than the time she attempted to roast chestnuts on an upturned iron. Full marks for trying though!

In those long forgotten days before mobile phones, you had to join the queue for the phone box outside the guard room, it seems almost unbelievable now.

I did my fair share of jankers too, though I can’t remember what for. Probably getting in late. We had to be in camp by 2359, but it wasn’t unknown for people to get in through a gap in the perimeter fence. I remember polishing a piano, and turning up for parades at the guard room. On one occasion there was me, at 5′ 2”, and a stores person (male) who was about seven feet tall, and we were given the order Right Dress. Which was farcical.

There were love affairs, and there were marriages, and there was heartbreak from time to time. I am still friends with the girl with the blue dress, we’re both grandmothers now. My boyfriend from Sopley stayed in touch. He was a year older than me. Sadly he died last year.

Nobody who was ever posted to Sopley wanted to leave. Ever. It was the happiest posting imaginable and everybody loved it, without exception. However, our destiny was not ours to choose and we all went away to other adventures near and far. Eventually we were replaced by ADOs, which was logical, and we went our various ways to continue our lives.

But I do count myself one of the very fortunate few to have been stationed at RAF Sopley, and I always will.

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