Destruction of WWII Airfield Perimeter Track at Stoney Cross

Between 21st and 25th May, a contractor from Somerset carried out the destruction of the last remaining significant lengths of the Perimeter Track on the WWII airfield at Stoney Cross, which were freely open to the public. He had no knowledge of what he was destroying or its significance.   

So far as can be ascertained, no local residents, historical or heritage organisations (including FONFA) were contacted prior to the work, which omissions have now been admitted by a New Forest National Park official.         The FONFA Trustees have since received several anguished complaints from our Members, variously describing it as “an appalling situation”, “a blatant unbridled assault on our aviation heritage” and comparing it to “Parliamentarians demolishing Royalist castles during the English Civil War”. One member has even described the action as “Corporate Vandalism At Its Worst.”The work was undertaken following an unheralded, unpublicised and therefore effectively secret “deal” between Hampshire County Council and ‘Natural England’, with the cooperation of the Forestry Commission.              The former is reportedly carrying out road widening work elsewhere in the New Forest and, on a ‘quid pro quo’ basis, they required the Perimeter Track sections to be torn up and ‘returned to a natural state’, as the area forms part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).                                                                                                                                          There are two sections of WWII Perimeter Track which have been destroyed. One is just north of the entrance to the Ocknell Camp Site (pictured below) and the other is three quarters of a mile further north, near to the eastern end of the former WWII main runway. The damage to the 125 yard long southern site is almost total. The two areas are currently fenced off from Forest Road, which runs between the A31 and Fritham village, along the eastern edge of the airfield. Paradoxically, there is no fencing on the side away from the road, to prevent grazing Forest animals from injuring themselves among the hard core, brick, glass and metal fragments left behind. The concrete has been removed by order of the Forestry Commission, according to the contractor on site. He stated that there is no intention to remove the hoggin underlying the concrete, which is comprised of various materials, including brick rubble, historically recorded as being from bombed out houses in Southampton, in 1940, much of which was used in the construction of the airfield. According to the contractor, the intention of the Forestry Commission was to “return the area to its former (pre-1940) state”.        However, without the total removal of this deep layer of underlying core material, which is foreign to the New Forest area, this aim cannot possibly be achieved, so the outcome will presumably be solely superficial and cosmetic.    Presently, at the beginning of the summer visitor holiday season, the damaged areas are a severe blot on the landscape and a danger to grazing animals.                                                      A statement issued by Lawrence Shaw, of the NFNP Archaeology Department, asserted that “Prior to the works taking place, an independent assessment of the remains was commissioned to assess the significance, importance and vulnerability of all remaining features associated with the airfield. Although these features represent a sizeable (sic) area of the surviving infrastructure of the airfield, their context as fragmented and damaged sections of the boundary road was (sic) not deemed to be of high significance compared to other surviving features.” He added that “There are no plans for any similar work to be carried out elsewhere on the former New Forest Airfields, at present.”                               Who carried out the “independent assessment” and “deemed” the areas “not to be of high significance compared to other surviving features”, and by what criteria, was not revealed. One has seriously to question the level of knowledge and competence of anyone making such a decision, without consulting local experts in aviation history and relevant heritage organisations.                                                                        On further enquiry, Mr. Shaw explained further that the work was “approved by the New Forest Verderers and the Forestry Commission” as “habitat restoration” and that the two sections of concrete were deemed to be “in poor condition”, so were destroyed in preference to former Aircraft Dispersal Pans etc. elsewhere.                                                     At present, the “habitat” is nowhere near being “restored”.                                       We have asked that FONFA be consulted on any similar future plans, in the early stages of consideration.                                                                                                                                     The southern site at Stoney Cross, untouched for over 75 years,  was fully accessible to the public by their vehicles (and therefore to disabled people or those with significant mobility difficulties). Private vehicles are currently prevented from accessing the Aircraft Dispersal Pans at the northern end of the former Stoney Cross airfield, by ditches and locked wooden barriers, and therefore anyone with mobility difficulties is effectively disbarred from accessing them. The Dispersal Pans at the southern end of the airfield are on land managed by the Ocknell Camp Site authorities and are similarly unavailable for unrestricted public access by private vehicles.                                                                            We have so few sites in Britain where people can freely ‘Stand On The Ground Where History Was Made’, when compared with France, Belgium and the Netherlands, that preserving each and every one remaining is important.

On balance, this act would appear to be Local Government sponsored destruction, agreed between unaccountable Quangos and officials, behind closed doors, without public consultation, involvement, reporting or accountability. Sadly, the damage is now done, to all but a small section, which has not yet been removed, due solely to there being a private car parked on the concrete at one end of the southern site, during part of the work.              I have respectfully asked Mr. Shaw to consider allowing this small piece of local aviation history, which is about twenty feet square, to be left ‘as it is’.In addition to the irrecoverable damage done to these historical artefacts, the adverse effect on ground nesting birds during the nesting season at this time of year, the potential for injury to grazing Forest animals and the loss of public amenity all appear to have been completely ignored.

In mitigation, it should be stated that FONFA has today been offered to be included by the NFNP in proposals for “developing new walking opportunities for disability groups around Second World War sites in the Forest”. The first two of these have been suggested at Beaulieu airfield and to the east of Stoney Cross, south of Long Beech. However, cursory examination of these suggestions suggests that, due to the steepness of the slopes to the east of Stoney Cross, this track is unlikely to be suitable for wheelchair users and those with limited mobility. Although FONFA will be following up these possibilities closely, they will be no substitute for the wanton destruction of unique archaeological remains, formerly fully accessible to disabled people and those with limited mobility, without let or hindrance.

FONFA always seeks to preserve and protect our local aviation heritage.       On this occasion, we were prevented from carrying out this duty by failures of consultation in the planning process. Whether this was intentional or by omission is not clear. What has been destroyed can never be reinstated and we have lost something valuable that cannot be retrieved.                                            What our parents’ and grandparents’ generation of airmen would have to say about this reckless discarding of irreplaceable historical artefacts, which they used daily in the fight to protect our freedom, does not bear thinking about.

It is the archaeological equivalent of lining up a row of Spitfires or Lightnings and driving a bulldozer through the lot of them.

Update: By mid-June the areas had been almost completely covered up with dried out turf squares and earth, which is now heaped up in low banks, preventing vehicles from parking on the former perimeter track strips.       The hard core and remaining concrete had been simply covered up with earth, without any apparent attempt to extract all of the underlying foreign material (brick, glass, metal fragments, gravel and concrete residue etc.).        So much for “habitat restoration” and the land being “returned to a natural state”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Dr Henry Goodall, Chair of Trustees, Friends of the New Forest Airfields (FONFA)

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‘Mosquito Day’ – Sunday 27th May at the FONFA Museum

This Sunday, 27th May, we presented a special “Mosquito Day” at the FONFA Museum Open Day, a celebration of the De Havilland Mosquito, the ‘Wooden Wonder’ of WWII, with a visit from Alan Pickford, the force behind “The People’s Mosquito”, a project to rebuild a Mosquito to flying condition, in the UK – see http://www.peoplesmosquito.org.uk/.                                                                   Alan gave presentations on his project and the history of the rebuild and answered questions from visitors.   In the morning, we were visited by Frank Damerell, a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Navigator/Observer who flew Mosquito missions from Amiens in France with 410 Squadron, in 1944-5. He was accompanied by his son, Phil and Ruth Lynch, from the Spitfire Society.      Frank enthralled Museum visitors with tales of his wartime experiences.         Frank was interviewed about his WWII missions this week by Neil Sackley of BBC Radio Solent. The interview was broadcast on Julian Clegg’s Breakfast Show on Friday 25th May and again on Sunday 27th May by Tim Daykin.            You can hear it again at  https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06807lt . Overall, the day was a great success, with over seventy visitors to the Museum on a dry sunny day.        

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The Olivier LeFloch Newsletters – Issue No. 12

This issue of the 367th Fighter Group Newsletter (Number 12) was originally issued to Group members in March 2016. It relates Al Diefendorf’s story of the event in 1950, which (after WWII) could have started WWIII.

Next, the story of Jimmy Peck, a popular leader who had joined the RAF Eagle Squadrons and flown with the RAF in Malta, before joining the American 367th Fighter Group. He was killed tragically in a landing accident at Stoney Cross, when an engine failed at a critical moment. Also in this issue, the story of Don Erickson, who died with his stricken aircraft, while courageously avoiding houses in a French village, leaving him virtually no chance of a successful bail out.

We hope that you will both enjoy and be thankful for the courage, repeatedly displayed day after day by these young pilots, whose sacrifices helped to secure the freedoms that we enjoy today.

Newsletter 367th Fighter Group issue 12

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FONFA Museum Classic Car Drive-in and Open Day – Sunday April 15th 2018

The Open Day and Second Annual Classic Car Drive-in on April 15th was a success, in spite of the weather. Grey skies were the order of the day. Eighty cars (almost twice the number attending last year) and a dozen Harley Davidson motorcycles attended the Museum.Thankfully, the unpredictable rain did not arrive until after the drivers and their passengers had had an opportunity to view the assembled club and individual owner’s vehicles.  By 3.30 pm the skies had cleared and the sun came out, but by then most of the car owners had left. We are very pleased that they came at all, given the weather forecast, and enjoyed conducted tours of the Museum, during their visit.                                      Several New Members signed up for FONFA and they have all received the two most recent Newsletters, as well as details of all the Open Days for 2018.

 

 

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The Olivier LeFloch Newsletters – Issue No. 11

This month’s edition of the Olivier LeFloch Newsletters, the eleventh in the series, contains several Pilots’ and a Crew Chief’s personal diary recollections, written in April and May 1944, and several previously unpublished photographs of 367th FG aircrew at Stoney Cross, in the summer of 1944. It is clear that the Americans were impressed with the airfield but they suffered from being assigned many worn out and badly maintained aircraft, which amounted to around three quarters of the total of 85 aircraft. Many needed urgent modifications to bring them up to operational readiness and the ground crews worked night and day to do so.                                                                                                          As has been previously chronicled here, only three of the pilots (out of a total of ninety) had ever flown a twin engined aircraft, when they arrived at Stoney Cross. They were carrying out combat patrols five weeks later.                                                                                  It also contains the somewhat amusing report that “All the enlisted men in the FG had the bullets taken from them as they spent time off hunting deer, rabbit and fox to supplement the terrible English food. The airfield was considered “Royal Property” and thus the game belonged to the King……” (The airfield location was, and still is, within the boundaries of the New Forest, which was declared a Royal hunting ground since about 1079 AD by William the Conqueror – Ed.).                                                                                                                Following this section, there is a tribute to 2nd Lt. George S. White, 393rd Fighter Squadron. Next is the amazing story of the late Clyde Deavers’ flying helmet. Clyde was tall for a fighter pilot, around six foot four inches. He struck the tail unit of his P-38J aircraft when he bailed out and subsequently had to have a leg amputated, when his Lightning was hit by anti-aircraft fire, on a low level strafing run in France .                                                  The Newsletter concludes with a list of Group Missions flown in December 1944. Newsletter 367th Fighter Group issue 11

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Valete – Squadron Leader Peter Crouch, AFM (Retired)

We record with sadness and respect the passing of a long time FONFA Member and supporter, who knew Bernard Baily, our Founder Trustee, well. Peter Crouch had a long, successful and varied RAF career, covering a multitude of postings and very different aircraft types, which are recorded below.
Peter sadly passed away on 14 January 2018, and is survived by his son Brian, who kindly assisted Ian Potts in compiling this tribute for FONFA.
Born in Reading in 1923, flying was in Peter’s blood – his father had been an Air Observer in the RFC and RAF. Peter grew up in Hazlemere, near High Wycombe, then moved to Oxford and attended the School of Technology, Art and Commerce.
With World War 2 well underway, Peter joined the RAF in 1942 and, following training in Canada on Fleet Finches and Harvards, he was awarded his Wings, promoted to Sergeant Pilot and posted back to the UK. Eventually sent for further training on twin engined aircraft, Peter was then posted to 42 OTU at Ashbourne in Derbyshire, where he was flying Whitleys and Albemarles. The latter didn’t impress him, preferring to fly the Whitley on training  flights, which entailed glider towing and parachute troop drops.
Peter then moved on to a Heavy Conversion Unit, to complete a course flying Halifaxes, with more glider towing and parachute drops. On this posting Peter spent some time towing the ‘monster’ Hamilcar gliders, with a dummy load of 6 tons of concrete blocks(!) to simulate the tank they were intended to carry – Peter described these flights as “interesting”……………
With the war finally ended, Peter decided to stay in the RAF and served with 297 Squadron from December 1945. He and Mary (also RAF, a Flt Sgt(SIB) serving in the RAF Police) married in 1947, and had a son Brian, born in 1948.
Peter was posted to 47 Squadron in 1948, to fly the new Hastings transport, serving some time in Germany, flying in the Berlin Airlift.
Peter’s next move was to No.1 Air Navigation School  in 1949, flying the Anson Mk 21, followed by a posting to the Central Flying School at Little Rissington in 1951, eventually instructing on various types including Prentices, Harvards Chipmunks, Meteors, Vampires and Hunters, with moves to Moreton in the Marsh, Western Zoyland, Worksop, Swinderby and Oakington until 1960, when Peter was officially “grounded”.
At this point in his RAF career, he headed to the Far East, with a posting as an Operations Officer, spending 2 years and 6 months in Singapore, but still flying, albeit with the Royal Singapore Flying Club, logging 600 hours as their Chief Flying Instructor!
Peter returned to the UK in 1962, to complete a conversion course at Thorney Island, flying Argosies, later appointed as an Instructor on this type, at 242 OCU, from 1963 to 1966. In 1966 Peter was posted back to Singapore, to 215 Squadron, still flying the Argosy, moving to Cyprus in 1967 with 70 Squadron, again on Argosies, until 1970 when he was posted back to the UK, to the Air Support Examining Team, with responsibility for Argosy, Andover and Caribou operations, Peter then moved back to Thorney Island and 242 OCU, as Andover Wing pilot, until 1975.
He was posted back to Canada in 1975, as the Detachment Commander at Gander, Newfoundland, returning to the UK a few years later and finally retired from RAF duties in June 1978.
Peter had flown biplane trainers, bombers, jet fighters and four engined heavy transports in his RAF career, logging over 11,000 flying hours, on 75 different aircraft types, and had been awarded the Air Force Medal for his Instructing service in 1954.
Peter continued flying, employed as the Laura Ashley company pilot for 10 years, until 1988. He was actively involved with the Aircrew Association, Bournemouth branch, serving as Branch Secretary and then as Chairman, and also held office at National level, as the Aircrew Association Chairman, being appointed in 1984 and serving in this capacity until 1991.
Peter was always an active and supportive member of FONFA, and enjoyed attending Open Days and Memorial events, happily meeting up with old friends and  acquaintances; his presence, companionship, enthusiastic assistance and anecdotes will be sorely missed.
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New Forest National Park Volunteer Fair – Sunday 28th January 2018

FONFA was well represented again this year with a stand at the important Lyndhurst Volunteering Fair, at the Lyndhurst Community Centre, on Sunday 28th January. Over forty community organisations attended and several dozen visitors stopped by to chat with FONFA Trustees and learn about FONFA, our new Museum at Bransgore and the memories we hold in trust, for future generations.MP for New Forest East, Dr Julian Lewis, pictured here (left) with FONFA Trustees Lynn Coirbin and John Brooks, was one of the dozens of visitors who were interested in the history of the New Forest Airfields and our display of model dioramas, depicting aircraft that flew from the Forest in World War II. Chair of Trustees, Dr Henry Goodall and fellow Trustee, Charles McKenzie, were also on the stand, speaking with many new contacts and networking with other New Forest Voluntary organisations.

Henry Goodall said, “This is the premier opportunity in the year, when we have the time and stage to speak with a large number of people, who have either never heard of FONFA or know very little of our organisation and what we do.  We value this event highly and have made several new contacts. We hope that these meetings will translate into increased knowledge for the people of Hampshire and Dorset about the WW2 airfields and that they will join our Membership, to learn more. Furthermore, we are confident that, when they visit the FONFA Museum and the New Forest Airfields Memorial, they will have a greater understanding of the effort and sacrifices which former generations made, here in the New Forest, and expand their knowledge of this critical phase in Britain’s history.”

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