December 10 2013 Latest news:
Monday, September 2, 2013
The stories and camaraderie of the brave men who flew over Europe’s wartime skies were brought to life yesterday as Blickling Hall revealed the role it played during the 1939-1945 conflict.
Visitors to the stately home were transported back to the second world war when the Blickling estate was home to the bomber base RAF Oulton, and the grand country house and its outbuildings were taken over by servicemen and women.
Dressed in their smart uniforms, RAF and WAAF officers strolled the grounds, took tea in the gardens and gave debriefings in one of the country home’s grand rooms, while mingling with visitors.
Vintage vehicles, wartime songs and special tours of the hall also added to the historical flavour of the day.
And history fans poured into the artefact-stuffed RAF Oulton museum, which is housed in one of the buildings where crew were billeted.
The base played two very different roles during the war: first becoming home to 2 Group – the first group of squadrons to attack continental Europe – and later the centre for 100 Group, which flew covert radio and radar counter measure missions.
Ian Flint, visitor experience manager for the Blickling estate – who was among the staff to don RAF uniform for yesterday’s open day – said: “The first part of the war was 2 Group, which was a meat grinder.
“They suffered horrendous casualties. If you were posted to 2 group you made your [funeral] arrangements before you left. You didn’t finish your operations with the same crew you started with.
“These were debonair young men living like there was no tomorrow, swimming in the lake and carving their names in the trees and going to the Bucks Arms.
“Then there was 100 Group. It was very much a more secretive, serious, dark place because you weren’t allowed to discuss operations with the crew.
“There was still the Bucks Arms and the party side of things but they were no longer able to stand in the Black Boys inn laughing and joking about how they’d given Jerry a damn good thrashing.
“It was very much a more secretive and deadly form of warfare.”
Second world war veteran Sidney Pike, who served with 100 Group at RAF Oulton, was among those at the open day.
Mr Pike, 91, from Norwich, was stationed at the base from August 1944 to April 1945 as a navigator with 214 squadron, and shared his memories of Blickling with visitors as they passed through the museum.
The great-grandfather-of-three has been back to Blickling several times and said it was always nice to return to the estate.
Mr Pike said: “We were billeted in a Nissen hut down by the lake.
“There was a music session in the hall – it was about the only place we were allowed to inhabit because the hall was definitely out of bounds.
“It was only for the most senior officers.
“In the morning you found out if you were on duty that night.
“If you were, you had to prepare yourself for a briefing later.
“They’d brief you on where you were going and what the targets were.
“I think every one of us in air crew experienced a hairy moment, some more hairy than others.
“But I think all of us who did survive was down to sheer luck.”