In late September 2013, Terry Cook, leader of the Social History group, organised a trip to the Parham Airfield Museum. Situated near Framlingham, this airfield was home to the 300th Bomb Group during World War II, one of many American airbases in the region.
After a journey of about an hour and a half our coachload of 31 were welcomed, at what was a fairly desolate spot, by some of the Museum’s volunteers, where a cup of tea in the refreshment area proved very popular. (Writer’s observation: although seatbelts were provided on the coach very few people used them. Tut-tut!!)
Also introduced to us during this time was the farmer who owns the land upon which the old airfield stands. He told us a bit of the history of the place particularly relating to his father’s involvement when the land was commandeered and the runways laid down.
Two museums are on the site: the 390th Bomb Group Memorial Museum, and the Museum of the British Resistance Organisation – The Auxiliary Unit. The latter was of especial interest to me because I (along with many others, I suspect) had no idea that such an organisation had been formed, so I was eager to learn more. It has been described as ‘Britain’s best kept secret’.
Housed in the old control tower complex the museums’ rooms were not very large so we were divided into two groups, each with a guide, swopping museums after a suitable time.
In the 390th Museum, as the following photographs (permission was given) show , there are many examples of the tools of war from a baby’s gas-mask to a crashed aircraft’s undercarriage:
This is an interesting one: it relates the story of the first remote control plane to be used in the war. Old bombers themselves became flying bombs. These pensioned-off planes were stripped out and packed to capacity with explosives.The idea being that a pilot and an engineer would fly the plane close to the English coast and then bale-out having passed over control of the plane to a remote controller, the controller would then guide the plane over the Channel to crash on its target. That was the theory – it was not a very successful enterprise. See this link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Aphrodite for more details.
The ‘secret’ museum was fascinating, not so much in its contents (although they were interesting enough), but more in the concept: The British Resistance Organisation – The Auxiliary Unit. The existence of this unit was not officially made known to the general public until the 1990s such was its secrecy. In 1940 the belief that the Germans would take over Britain sooner rather than later was so strong that one of the many contingencies put in place was the creation of a resistance army to fight behind the enemy lines on British soil. Over three thousand civilians were recruited from all walks of life and secretly trained in the art of sabotage and guerrilla warfare. They would operate, mainly at night, from special underground bunkers usually hidden in woodland. These bunkers were constructed by The Royal Engineers and civilian contractors who were told they were building caches for food. The Auxunits, as they were known, were equipped with firearms, knives and plastic explosives and would be part of cells of 6-8 people. They were, of course, never used, as the invasion never came. When they were stood down in 1944 they were told that officially they had never existed (no paperwork was ever kept) so no recognition could be given. If this intrigues you I would refer you to this link http://www.warlinks.com/pages/auxiliary.php which gives a fuller synopsis of this ‘secret army’.
So there you have it – a very interesting and worthwhile visit. We were well served by our very knowledgeable guides. They are volunteers and unpaid. They do it because they wish to preserve our heritage and we thank them for that. And here they are:
Entry to the museums is FREE but any donations will be gratefully received. They are not open every day so it is recommended that you check their site http://www.parhamairfieldmuseum.co.uk/index.html for official opening times and a wealth of other information. You will also find a reference there to our visit and a photograph similar to the one below of a very motley crew:
And this only took us up to lunchtime! The day continued with a visit to Woodbridge, but that’s another story.
Thanks for a very entertaining day, Terry!