Photo Gallery: Memories of Norfolk airfield’s key role in wartime operation
11:51 22 April 2014
Archant © 2014
It will be 70 years this June since the D-Day landings. That world-changing event was also the first mission to be carried out from RAF North Creake. The double anniversary will be marked with a public open day at the former Norfolk air base in June. ADAM LAZZARI reports.
RAF North Creake is actually at Egmere, which is on the side of the main road from Fakenham to Wells.
It was given the name North Creake as this could be heard more clearly over radio.
In an isolated farmland setting, fringed by the Holkham Estate, RAF North Creake was opened in 1941 as a decoy site by the air force, and then used as a heavy bomber base, complete with three intersecting runways, a control tower, technical and administration sites and quarters for more than 3,000 servicemen and women.
In due course, 100 Group of RAF Bomber Command used the station to carry out counter-measures to disrupt the Nazis’ electronic and radio communications. The first mission from RAF North Creake was in June 1944, carrying out radio counter-measures in support of D-Day.
Just a few days later, on June 16, the air base suffered its first loss, aircraft N was missing and never found and all crew were lost.
In September 1944, 171 Squadron formed at North Creake airfield. Initially flying Stirling IIIs, they were subsequently replaced by Halifax IIIs.
In May 1945, during the final sortie, two Halifax aircraft collided just south of Kiel and were Bomber Command’s last aircraft loss.
In total, seventeen aircraft were lost during operations out of RAF North Creake.
When Bernie How was called to a briefing at RAF North Creake in the early hours of June 6, 1944, little did he know that, hours later, he would play an important role in a vital wartime mission.
Mr How, who was 20 at the time, was told he would be a part of Operation Overlord, codename for the Battle of Normandy, which launched the successful invasion of German-occupied western Europe.
Within hours he was in an aircraft flying low over the sea off France, where his colleagues dropped aluminium foil strips, or chaff, to fool enemy radar into believing the invasion was heading to Calais.
The fearlessness of youth ensured Mr How, who was a flight engineer, had no nerves about his mission which helped lead to the end of the Second World War.
• Nigel Morter and Claire Nugent will welcome people into their home for an open day to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the first mission out of RAF North Creake.
• They have been living in the control tower since 2011 and have been working to restore it, as closely as possible, to the way it was during the Second World War. There will be a vintage fair, music from the period, tower tours and people can even have 1940s makeovers by Hairaid Shelter.
• The open day will be on June 8, between 10am and 4pm at The Control Tower, Bunkers Hill, Egmere, Walsingham, NR22 6AZ.
• For more information, go to www.controltowerstays.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01328 821574.
He said: “I was only 20. I didn’t worry about anything, I just saw that I was doing my job, we all did.
“We messed with their radar and did our bit.”
The mission lasted six hours and all seven members of the crew returned to RAF North Creake safely.
Mr How, now 89 and living in Worlington, near Mildenhall, will be reliving his experiences at RAF North Creake, where he served with the 199 Squadron of 100 Group Bomber Support, when he returns to the former air base on June 7.
He will be attending an invitation-only event at the RAF North Creake Control Tower along with other veterans and their families.
The next day Nigel Morter and Claire Nugent, who live at the control tower which has been converted into a home, will be welcoming people to a public open day where they will reveal some of the untold history of the Norfolk air base.
Due to the nature of the work carried out there, RAF North Creake was subject to the 30-year rule and information about the base was classified until the 1970s.
To this day, little has been written about it and Mr Morter and Mrs Nugent, who have lived at the control tower since 2011, want its history to be told.
Mr Morter intends to write a book about the base. He said: “This place played a hugely significant role in the Second World War but there is still a lot that is unknown about it.”
He added: “Meeting people like Bernie is completely humbling.
“His stories add flesh to the bones of the information we know about what happened here.”
Despite once being in a Stirling which, due to a puncture, crashed on take-off at RAF North Creake, Mr How has fond memories of his time there. Amazingly, even though there were two 400lb sea mines on board, all crew got out with only one minor injury. Mr How said: “We just got out and ran for safety in case there was an explosion, but there wasn’t one.
“I never felt frightened at all, I just got on with my job.”
Mr How was also able to recall the reasons he and his colleagues walked an extra mile to drink at The Black Swan pub, which they called “The Mucky Duck”, instead of the The Bull, in Walsingham.
He said: “The land girls were stationed next to the pub we went to and we didn’t mind the extra walk. We were after a bit of fun and so were they.”
Despite the hugely important work undertaken at RAF North Creake, the airmen still found time to ensure the garden was well looked after.
Reflecting on those times, Mr How feels immense pride for the service which he gave to his country. He said: “I did my bit and I feel proud of the work I did; we all should.”
Mr How is the only member of his crew who is still alive today.