Have you seen the Angel of North Norfolk?
- Credit: Laura Blake Photography
A beautiful new sculpture is flying the flag for all the men who never returned to RAF North Creake from missions in World War Two
It’s an echo of a sight once familiar over these huge Norfolk skies: a stainless steel Stirling Bomber coming in to land, home safe after a dangerous mission.
Nigel Morter and Claire Nugent, who own the Control Tower Bed and Breakfast in Egmere near Walsingham, have been fundraising since 2017 to build a memorial for those who served at the former RAF airfield their business is based at.
The Time to Remember project was temporarily derailed by Covid-19, but the first part of the memorial has just taken flight with the installation of the beautiful Home Safe sculpture on the B1105.
There, passers-by are treated to a sight that last filled the skies in 1945: a Short Stirling bomber returning from another dangerous mission to its home base of RAF North Creake.
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The B1105 slices through what was once North Creake’s Technical Site – you can still see Nissen huts and hangars, turret trainers and a Bomb Teacher hidden in the trees.
A mains store, gas clothing and respirator store from World War Two days are also still in use today and, slightly further away, the Airmen’s huts still stand.
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This is a landscape that still shyly reveals its past, the bravery and heroism, the tragedy and desperation, everywhere you look, there are reminders of RAF North Creake, runways, taxiways and hard-standings.
There is a memorial erected by the Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust that stands away from the busy road and is a tribute to the 17 crews that never returned to North Creake and all their comrades who served alongside them.
But Nigel and Claire were keen to mark the 75th anniversary of the disbandment of RAF North Creake in August 2020 with a memorial which simply could not be missed: and this, they have achieved, with the help of fundraisers.
The large sculpture of the Short Stirling aircraft, mounted as if in flight, its wings banked at an angle to the ground, is a visual reminder of the real-life Stirlings which flew from the base between May 1944 to March 1945.
While the nose of the plane faces the B1105, the fuselage is parallel with runway one of the airfield and in time, there will be information panels where visitors can discover more about RAF North Creake and the incredible 3,250 staff based there.
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 thousands of 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.
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.
“It seemed a shame that with Covid we couldn’t achieve our August 2020 deadline, but with the memorial set to survive beyond 100 years there’s plenty of ‘time to remember’ those who served at RAF North Creake,” said Nigel.
Sculptor Andy Knighton was commissioned by the Time to Remember project to create the bomber, which has a wingspan of more than 20 feet.
“A local nickname ‘The Angel of North Norfolk’ is gaining traction,” added Nigel, saying he and Claire hoped the sculpture would form “a gateway to the Second World War history of North Norfolk”.
Claire added: “It will ensure all those who are passing on their way to Wells-next-the-Sea note that this was a former airfield and if their interest is tweaked, they can stop and find out more.
“It is not every day that ordinary people like us get to commission large-scale pieces of art. It has been a privilege to do this.
“When Andy delivered Home Safe to us last December, we couldn’t have been more thrilled. We can’t wait to share it with all those who see it when they pass this way – it is truly magnificent.”
Later this winter the rest of the site will be completed with a large steel Roll of Honour giving details of the 73 men who died while serving at the airfield set close to the sculpture along with information boards and a bench.
The final landscaping will be completed in time for what the couple hope is the new dedication day: Sunday June 6 2021, the anniversary of D-Day and of the first operation from RAF North Creake.
Claire added: “Seeing Home Safe in place made our year. The backdrop of the trees makes the sculpture look a little ghost-like, transporting us across the years and creating a strong sense of place.
“Home Safe represents all those who worked, lived and served here. We would like to thank everyone who has contributed to help make this project happen.”
* Find out more here www.rafnorthcreake.co.uk
Did you know?
1. RAF North Creake was operational from June 1944 until May 1945
2. It played a critical role in supporting Bomber Command. Flying four-engine ‘heavies’ (initially Stirlings then from March 1945 Halifax) two RAF squadrons, the 199, and the 171, both part of RAF 100 Group, flew operations to carry out secret radio counter measures
3. Tragically, 73 men were lost, 69 while operational, four in a training accident after the end of the war – their Halifax hit the cliffs at Cromer
4. Fundraising included a charity beer, Drink to Remember, from Beeston Brewery, Warham Three Horse Shoes’ Pie to Remember during National Pie Week, a charity auction, 1940s’ days,
5. Sponsors of the Time to Remember project included North Norfolk Big Society Fund, Bomber Command Association, Holkham Estate, Walsingham Estate, Walsingham Parish Council, ABN, The Pickled Inns, Mr and Mrs Campbell, Paul Berry, Rhia Watson and Stephen Squires, Egmere Solar Farm
6. sculpture was designed by architect David Exeter who donated 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