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The Norfolk Control Tower that played its part in Hitler’s downfall

PUBLISHED: 13:23 04 November 2018 | UPDATED: 13:23 04 November 2018

A model stirling outside the former RAF North Creake control tower. Picture: Matthew Usher.

A model stirling outside the former RAF North Creake control tower. Picture: Matthew Usher.

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2016

It’s the Norfolk Control Tower that played its part in Hitler’s downfall and whose owners are seeking to raise the funds to erect a stunning memorial to those who flew from RAF North Creake. A charity auction on Remembrance Day will take Nigel Morter and Claire Nugent one step closer to their goal.

Beeston Brewery are brewing a special beer, Drink to Remember which will launch at the CAMRA Great British Beer Festival in February. Pictured are Control Tower B&B owners Nigel Morter, Claire Nugent, Picture: Ian BurtBeeston Brewery are brewing a special beer, Drink to Remember which will launch at the CAMRA Great British Beer Festival in February. Pictured are Control Tower B&B owners Nigel Morter, Claire Nugent, Picture: Ian Burt

The history is laid out before us, but it would be easy to pass by this quiet corner of Norfolk close to Walsingham and Wells-next-the-Sea without a second thought to what happened at this spot 75 years ago.

Just off the B1105 between Fakenham and Wells (known as The Dry Road, due to the fact it doesn’t traverse any villages and therefore has no pubs along the way) at Egmere, if you look closely, you will see the Control Tower which was once key to operations at RAF North Creake and which is today a sanctuary for visitors as a beautifully restored Art Deco bed and breakfast.

The road itself slices through what was once the airfield’s Technical Site and you can still spot the Nissan huts and two large hangars, which are now put to use by a range of businesses and can see a turret trainers and Bomb Teacher hidden in the trees.

A mains store, gas clothing and respirator store are also still in use today and – slightly further away, the Airmans’ huts still stand. There are the remains of runways, taxiways and hardstandings and a modern addition in the corner of a patch of concrete away from the busy road, a memorial erected by the Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust which stands as a lasting tribute to the 17 crews who never returned to North Creake and all their comrades who served alongside them. But as the months roll towards August 2020 and the 75th anniversary of the disbandment of RAF North Creake, the owners of The Control Tower B&B, Nigel Morter and Claire Nugent, are keen that the base has a memorial which simply cannot be missed by passers-by: a large sculpture of a Short Stirling aircraft mounted to appear as if in flight, its wings banked at an angle to the ground, a memory of the real-life Stirlings which flew from the base between May 1944 to March 1945.

Some of the 'window' - metal scraps to confuse enemy radar - discovered at the former RAF North Creake arifield's control tower (C) ArchantSome of the 'window' - metal scraps to confuse enemy radar - discovered at the former RAF North Creake arifield's control tower (C) Archant

The nose of the plane will face the B1105 but the fuselage will be parallel with runway one of the Second World War airfield and there will be information panels where visitors can discover more about RAF North Creake, where a staggering 3,000 staff were once based.

In a £30,000 project supported by Holkham and Walsingham Estates, fundraising efforts to secure the cash are already well underway with thousands of pounds already in the coffers held by Walsingham Parish Council. An auction to be held on Remembrance Sunday in Walsingham will boost the fund and take the project a step closer to its final target.

Designed by architect David Exeter who is donating his work due to his love for the Control Tower and to honour his father, who was ground crew in the RAF from 1939 to 1945, the memorial will be created by sculptor Andy Knighton who previously crafted a Lancaster plane at RAF East Kirkby.

RAF North Creake was operational from June 1944 until May 1945 and flew its first operation in support of the D-Day landings on the night of June 5, a day before the 1944 invasion.

North Creake Airfield 70th anniversary feature. RAF North Creake Control Tower with FO Faulkner & LAC Harrison on duty by Norman Turnbull ©Control Tower NC by Sgt Norman Turnbull 1945North Creake Airfield 70th anniversary feature. RAF North Creake Control Tower with FO Faulkner & LAC Harrison on duty by Norman Turnbull ©Control Tower NC by Sgt Norman Turnbull 1945

It was a huge operation: the main runway was 2,000m long and was intersected with two smaller runways, there were 36 aircraft dispersal points and three hangars, technical and administration sites, quarters for more than 3,000 servicemen and women and, of course, central to all, a Control Tower.

From here, No 199 and No 171 Squadrons of No 100 Group of RAF Bomber Command flew Stirling IIIs and Halifax IIIs on radio counter-measures intended to conceal the true position of the main Allied bomber thrust and to create maximum confusion among German radar operators.

They used airborne radio transmitters called Mandrel to jam German early-warning radar and dropped aluminium strips, known as chaff or Window to give false radar readings (the cats at The Control Tower are called Window and Mandrell…).

In peacetime, Mosquito planes were stored at RAF North Creake for a while but the runways were largely broken up. It is difficult to comprehend just what a hive of activity this area once was, and as it falls away from first-hand memory, essential that we remember the part it played in winning the war.

The Control Tower, Photo: camrovision photography, www.camrovision-photography.co.ukThe Control Tower, Photo: camrovision photography, www.camrovision-photography.co.uk

“From when we first moved in seven years ago there were three things we were eager to achieve – put the Control Tower back to how it should look, create a business that would support our life in Norfolk and recognise those that served here,” said Claire.

“The generosity of people has been overwhelming and the total is continuing to rise towards our target of £30,000. Since the beginning we have attempted to deal with a serious subject in respectful but not too earnest way – putting the ‘fun’ into fundraising if you like.

“Since our project launch at The Control Tower a year ago to engage with local business based on the airfield - significant pledges and support followed – The Earl of Leicester, Walsingham Estate, ABN, The Pickled Inns and William Hewitt. Beeston Brewery’s fundraising beer ‘Drink to Remember’ has really helped with this and has led to a number of events at pubs in the area.

“To give you a flavour: Warham’s Three Horse Shoes ran what they called ‘Pie to Remember’ during National Pie Week, donating a pound per pie sold with a special event on one of the nights featuring a talk and beer tasting. The Lifeboat Inn in Wells organised a 1940s fun day with a talk, games and quizzes and we hosted a dinner and jazz night featuring the quartet ‘up the Creake’ to commemorate D-Day.”

The Control Tower, �Control Tower NC by Sgt Norman Turnbull 1945The Control Tower, �Control Tower NC by Sgt Norman Turnbull 1945

Nigel added: “Generally speaking, as those times drift from living memory, it seems every more pressing that we find ways of commemorating what that generation did for us in the fight against fascism; this seems increasingly urgent in our currently unsettling world.

“Specifically, North Creake was a secret station and the work of the squadrons that served here has been, to a large degree, lost in the annals of history. It was a small part of the big picture, but a critical one that really deserves to be remembered as 73 men in 12 months gave their lives to achieve it.

“We know just how much this memorial will mean to those who served at RAF North Creake and their families. Two generations of the Allen family contributed their skills towards donations of prints of pictures Claude ‘Ted’ Allen painted whilst he served here during the war - they restored and enhanced the originals and have presented them in a wonderful way.

“A number of children of veterans have made significant financial contributions towards the fund and we’ve even had a donation from a veteran from here, Bernie How, even though we tried to talk him out of it – surely he’s contributed enough already?!”

The Control Tower, ©Control Tower NC by Sgt Norman Turnbull 1945The Control Tower, ©Control Tower NC by Sgt Norman Turnbull 1945

* The fundraising auction will be on November 11 at The Black Lion Hotel in Little Walsingham from 5.30pm. There will be a Remembrance talk commemorating Walsingham in both World Wars, a buffet for ticket holders (£20 in advance from the Black Lion), the auction will begin at 8.15pm with entertainer Olly Day acting as auctioneer. Lots range from a week in a holiday cottage in Normandy, a year’s free parking in Holkham, a WWII Radio Receiver, a brewery experience, framed prints by a RAF North Creake veteran Claude ‘Ted’ Allen, as well as hampers and dinners out and about in North Norfolk. Auction lots can be viewed online: www.controltowerstays.com/history.html and catalogue is available to view at The Black Lion Hotel, commission bids can be taken in advance.

* For more information, or to donate, contact 01328 821 574, mail@controltowerstays.com.

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