A Harrier at Sopley – an unusual tale from the past

Corporal Denys “Jim” Fail 3504451, a retired Mechanised Transport Driver, has related this unusual tale about the former RAF Sopley domestic site camp, where the FONFA Museum now stands at the western edge of the new housing estate.   Photo Credit – PPRuNe Forums – Harrier GR1 taking off from the St Pancras Railway Station coal yard, London, flown by Sqn Ldr Tom Lecky-Thompson, in the Daily Mail London to New York Air Race in May 1969.

“During the time I was stationed at R.A.F. Bicester, I was called upon to carry out some interesting tasks. One morning, an airman came up to me and said “The ‘old man’ wants to see you in his office”. I went to his office and Said “You want to see me, sir”? “Ah, yes” he replied, “You come from the New Forest area?”  “Sort of”, I replied, “Actually, I come from Bournemouth”.                                                                                                                               “Now, we have a little task in the New Forest, apparently a Harrier aircraft has crashed and needs to be recovered and taken back to its base, Boscombe Down”.

He instructed me to take a Queen Mary Trailer vehicle to Hamble in Hampshire, and pick up a rig which is fitted to the trailer so a Harrier aircraft can be transported by road.             A Harrier aircraft had apparently crashed near Hurn Airport, and my task was to collect the said aircraft and take it back to Boscombe Down in Wiltshire.

Well, off we go, to Hamble and collect the rig, no problems, yet. I might point out that I had not been near my home town for over three years. I didn’t know the A338 had been built (in the late 1960s) between Ringwood and Bournemouth, so I have to go the way I know, via Ferndown & Parley to Hurn. I went in the back way to the Airport, via the engineering side. At the gate, a Ministry policeman met me. I said “Hallow mate, where is the Harrier that has crashed?” “There ain’t no Harrier round here, crashed or otherwise.”

After a short spell, he said “Hang on a minute.” He went back into his office and made a phone call to the control tower, came back to me and said “They don’t know nuffing about a Harrier”. He then said “Ah, Just a minute, if you go down this road” and gave me some directions to the A338, which was a new road, which I didn’t know about. “Then on your left, you will see a gate with a sign indicating there is some experimental establishment within”. I drove in the gateway. And there was a Harrier aircraft sitting on a P.S.P. (metal pierced steel planking) take off area. I was told that the sealing material had been sucked up into the engine whilst the aircraft was attempting to take off, hence stalling the engine.

At this stage, I had to plan my next move; I have to take this aircraft to Boscombe Down. Have I got enough petrol?? I don’t think so. I made a phone call to R.A.F. Sopley; the duty storeman told me “Come back on Monday”. I told him “I have to have fuel today”, he told me there is no chance of getting fuel on Saturday or Sunday. I then ordered him to have the fuel pump unlocked and ready for me within one hour.

With that, the duty officer appeared out of nowhere; it turned out to be a W.R.A.F. Officer. She asked what is going on. I explained I only wanted some fuel, enough to get me to Boscombe Down. She turned to the storeman and ordered him to give me fuel.                      I disconnected the trailer from the prime mover and pulled up at the pump and refuelled. To the best of my knowledge, nothing more was said. I drove through the camp gate to be greeted by the orderly Sergeant, who happened to be a chap whom I knew from way back. “Hello there Jim, you want fuel?” I replied “Yes.” He then said “You know where to go, no need to book in”. As I pulled forward, the wings of the aircraft were 16 feet high from the trailer; down came the telephone and Tannoy cables. The Duty Sergeant then said, “I think you had better book in now.”

I continued on my way to Boscombe Down, when I came across another problem, Fordingbridge!                                                                                                                                 There was no by-pass there in those days and for some reason Flags were erected right across the road through the town, I was just about to drive on and pull them all down when a policeman appeared from nowhere, held his hand up for me to stop, which I did. He managed to get a man to find a broom; then the man climbed on my trailer and hooked the flags over the wings. As I got to the other end of the town, Pickford’s (a civilian transport company) with a high load was waiting to come through in the opposite direction. Well, that’s not my problem!!

I eventually arrived at Boscombe Down with the Harrier, and got unloaded.  Now, as I tried to go out the gate, the guy on the gate asked what I was going to do about the rig I had on the trailer, I explained that I was taking it back to Fairey Aviation at Hamble.       He insisted that it belonged to Boscombe Down, as this was the only place that had this rig for Harriers, as they were a new aircraft and no one else had them. I told him to show me their serial number on this one and then he could have it. There was no serial number, so I took it back to Hamble.”

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Remembrance Sunday 2017 – New Forest Airfields Memorial

The day started well; no rain, 4 members arrived at 10.15 am and started assembling the flag poles and flags. Four additional wreaths were displayed alongside the 7 wreaths placed on Saturday.                                                                                                                                  We had been advised that the 1st St Johns Troop Scouts from Woking would be camping in the area and wanted to come to our memorial and they arrived just as we were finishing the preparations. I arranged them as a group in front of the memorial to take a group photograph (see picture) before the crowd built up.                                                                     At 10.30 am the regular vintage clubs motor bikers started to arrive and they built up into a group of over 50 (see the pictures) and then the audio service started bang on 11.00 am. There was a session of discussions between the crowd present before the flags were removed ready for next June.                                                                                                       John Brooks Trustee and Former Chairman, FONFA


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The Olivier LeFloch Newsletters – Issue No. 9

This month, we publish the ninth of Olivier’s Newsletters, which chronicles the advance of the American 367th Fighter Group, across France in WWII. If you have read the previous Newsletters, you will have learned about their experiences leading up to D-Day in June 1944, flying from Stoney Cross in the New Forest, Hampshire, England and from the advanced landing grounds in Normandy.                                                                                            The huge dogfight on 25th August 1944 provides the main focus of this month’s Newsletter, originally distributed to the 367th Fighter Group’s members in January 2014. This is the first part of the story, which will be concluded in Issue No. 10, in two months’ time.        The dogfight occurred at low level against the FW190s of II/JG6. There are modern photographs of Clastres, the target airfield of the 394th Fighter Squadron on that day. Ironically, this same airfield was soon to become the Group’s base, in September, the following month, as the Allied armies advanced across France.

In addition, there is a record of all the targets, which the Group attacked in October 1944, plus pilot tributes. The majority of these armed reconnaissance and bombing missions were directed against railway lines, locomotives and freight trains, most of which contained ammunition and supplies for the German Army and Luftwaffe. The confirmed accuracy of their attacks is evidence of their increasing experience and competence.              For those of you who have never sat in the cockpit of a P-38 Lightning, check out the Youtube video link. You will learn a lot about the aircraft and the supreme skill of the Red Bull display pilots.  Newsletter 367th Fighter Group issue 9

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“Whom did we fight in WW2? Youngsters haven’t a clue”

Shocking ignorance of WWII among the UK adult population revealed in new poll.                                                                                                                                                  A recent nationwide poll of 2000 UK adults by Onepoll.com, published this month in five national newspapers and several Internet news outlets, has revealed a massive level of ignorance about World War II among the adult population in the UK. According to these publications, the poll found the following:                                                                                  53% of those questioned claimed to be knowledgeable about the Second World War      BUT                                                                                                                                                      36% do not know that France and the USA were our allies during the Second World War.   Over a third (and 66% of ‘Under 24s’) are not aware that the Battle of Britain took place in the war and 43% did not know that it happened in British airspace.                                    60% of adults surveyed could not name 1944 as the year of the D-Day landings in France.  32% didn’t know VE Day marks ‘Victory in Europe’ at the end of war.                                32% were unaware that Pearl Harbor, site of a 1941 bombing that led to America joining the war, is in Hawaii.                                                                                                                       30% had no idea that the London Blitz took place during WW2.                                         AND INCREDIBLY, to Britons in the ‘over 60s’ age group,                                                   10% have no idea that Adolf Hitler was involved in the war.                                                    5% even believe that Britain was on the same side with Germany, Italy and Japan!

Dan Korn from television’s History Channel, who carried out the research, to mark the launch of its ‘World War True’ season, commented saying “Britain’s role in defying the Nazis was one of the most important in our recent history. This research shows the importance of telling its stories to the next generation so the fortitude and sacrifice of our forebears in the forces and on the home front, is not forgotten”.

The poll found that, in terms of where knowledge is gleaned, 51% believe the majority of education comes from school, while 57% say they pick up facts from TV programmes. Around 37% also rely on films, of which The Great Escape, Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan were found to be the top three Second World War films.

However, the teaching of modern history in UK schools has been so poor for more than two decades, that now current school teachers often appear more ignorant of basic facts about WWII than their more intelligent pupils.

This level of ignorance among the general population is something which FONFA seeks to reverse, through the FONFA Museum exhibits, our website and educational presentations to schools and interested groups in the local community – see our website header link to our “Presentations and Talks”.

We hope that interested readers of this post will learn more about the local involvement and history of the New Forest in WWII, through the wealth of personal stories on our website and by visiting our FONFA Museum and the New Forest Airfields Memorial.            In addition, if you know of an interested group who would like to hear a presentation on local military history, please see the list of topics and book a date, via the “Presentations and Talks” headline link above.

As the Eighteenth Century Anglo-Irish statesman, author and Philosopher Edmund Burke said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it”.

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FONFA Museum Open Days for 2018

The FONFA Trustees have updated the list and content of Museum Open Day dates for 2018. See the list on the ‘Open Days and What’s New’ section of the website.

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New Forest Airfields Memorial vandalised

The Memorial at Holmsley South was vandalised between 31st August and 3rd September. The damage has now been repaired. A full report is posted on the ‘News’ section of the website.

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Local MP visits the FONFA Museum in Bransgore

For a report, click on our ‘News’ page headline above.

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