Unusual Find at WWII Holmsley South Airfield – Donated to FONFA

Last week, while carrying out a ‘litter pick’ in some undergrowth and cleaning up the Holmsley Camp Site, the Site staff came across an interesting unknown object in good condition. It was a standard Nissen Hut light shade fitting, many tens of thousands of which were manufactured for use in Service premises and on RAF airfields, during World War II. They were normally suspended from the ceiling, to give light over a wide area.  The dark green gloss paint is mostly in good condition after 60+ years in the undergrowth. The electric shroud fitting is corroded and the white inside and edge is stained with some rust but, given that it has spent the interim in the open, it is in remarkable condition. They were used everywhere, from offices to radio sites; parachute packing blocks to latrines. In order that the largest number of people can view this artefact, the Holmsley Camp Site has kindly donated it to FONFA, for display in the Museum. We are grateful to them and in particular appreciate the support of Lou Barry, who alerted us to the find.                      We will display it with photographs of how the fittings were used; yet another important original piece of local history to add to our growing collection of WWII memorabilia.

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The Olivier LeFloch Newsletters – Issue No. 13

This month’s 367th Fighter Group Newsletter contains descriptions of the various movements of the American Group’s units, from leaving their English base at Ibsley and making their different journeys across the English Channel. This was done by various means, as the three Squadrons were split up initially, on their arrival in Normandy, going to three different newly built airstrips (Advanced Landing Grounds). The ‘hurry up and wait’ of service life is amply illustrated, thanks to personal recollections and the photos of the late Clyde Deavers. The second part of this description will be published in Newsletter Number 14, in two months’ time.

Next, a section on investigating a crash site in France, with photographs. This is followed by some typed menus and messages from the Thanksgiving Meals that the Group had in November 1944, courtesy of Vern Truemper, a former pilot with the 367th FG.                  The Newsletter continues with a tribute to 2nd Lt James Parker, 394th Fighter Squadron.

Finally there is a link to the US Ninth Air Force Engineer Command, who built airfields in France, for the Group and many others, which you may wish to follow, to learn about these unsung heroes, who often worked close to the front line, within shell range of enemy artillery, whose sole mission was to make their lives hell. Make sure you check out the link http://www.ixengineercommand.com/video/index.php

Click on ‘Videos’ on the list at the left hand side of the page. Scroll down to ‘Transportable Runway’ for a description of how to build a Pierced Steel Plank (PSP) runway for an Advanced Landing Ground.

However, above this clip, make sure you play the clip headed  “I’ve been working on an airfield” to learn something I don’t expect you ever expected to see or hear. Don’t miss it!

Newsletter 367th Fighter Group_issue13

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Harley Davidson Riders’ Visit to FONFA Museum – 17th June 2018

On Sunday 17th June – Father’s Day -the UK Harley Davidson Riders visited the FONFA Museum at Bransgore, on one of their scheduled weekend runs. Twenty one riders brought their varied motorcycles to the Museum and enjoyed a couple of hours, being shown the Museum exhibits by John Brooks, Trustee and former Chairman of FONFA.

We have a shared interest in quality engineering and history, so the Trustees hope that this will become an annual event, to be enjoyed by all.

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New Forest Airfields Memorial Re-Dedication Service – Sunday 24th June

At 2 pm on Sunday 24th June, the Annual Service was held at the New Forest Airfields Memorial, in Black Lane BH23 8EB, on the western edge of the WWII Holmsley South airfield. The Trustees are once again very pleased to welcome Canon Bill Rogers, the Bishop’s Adviser at Salisbury Cathedral, who conducted the service. Representatives of WWII Allied Nations were represented at the service, in person or by wreaths laid on their behalf, and the Lady Mayor of Christchurch gave an address.  Photos were taken by Edwin Levett

 

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Visit by Austin Seven Club to FONFA Museum on 7th June 2018

Members of the Austin Seven Club routed their June ‘Trundle’ via the FONFA Museum on June 7th, before they departed for lunch at a local hostelry. Their superb display of vintage vehicles brightened the car park area on what turned out to be a cloudy day, with a light sprinkling of a few raindrops, towards the end of their visit.They enjoyed almost two hours at the Museum and were shown round by a group of Trustees and FONFA Members. They clearly enjoyed their visit and made several positive comments. There were many expressions of surprise ad enthusiasm at the many and varied contents of the museum, which were much appreciated by the Members.                We welcome visits by groups, such as this, as our mutual interest in engineering and local history is a splendid way to exchange and share knowledge and experience.  

 

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U.S Memorial Day – 28th May 2018

A brief ceremony was held at the New Forest Airfields Memorial on Monday 28th May, to remember the many airmen and others serving with the American forces during WWII, on the New Forest airfields.

This is also the time of year when we arrange for the refurbishment of the Memorial, in preparation for the Annual Service of Re-dedication on Sunday 24th June at 2 p.m.We are greatly helped by volunteers from the Probation Service, carrying out Community Service, and appreciate their contribution to honouring those who did not return home.

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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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