Saved: part of RAF Coltishall's wartime heritage
PUBLISHED: 08:30 20 July 2016
Archant Norfolk 2016
In blistering heat echoing the Battle of Britain summer of 1940, a unique piece of Norfolk heritage has been unveiled.
Your chance to see fighter pen
Members of the public will be able to view the restored fighter pen and shed at Heritage Open Days on September 8 and 9 when Spirit of Coltishall Association members will conduct tours around the former RAF base.
Registration is expected to begin online in August.
Special interest groups are welcome to contact SoCa via its website to arrange visits at other times.
Six interpretation boards have been hung in the shed explaining the role of the fighter pen and those who worked in it. David Gurney, Norfolk County Council’s historic environment manager, said he had wanted to celebrate the work of the ground crews whose names, unlike the pilots, were often forgotten.
“The crucial question for them was ‘How many aircraft can we get back into the air by dawn?’ They worked 24/seven in all weathers when the planes returned all shot up. It’s a bit like Lewis Hamilton. Everyone knows his name but where would he be without the army of people who keep his car going?” said Mr Gurney.
He believes the pen and shed were saved from destruction in the Cold War because they were used as a salvage compound.
An enclosure of concrete-filled sandbags with a small brick shed nearby may not have the “Wow!” impact of the county’s historic stately homes.
But the restored wartime walls proudly revealed at former RAF Coltishall yesterday played their part in defeating Nazi Germany and keeping Britain free.
And, in salute to their importance, a lone Typhoon from RAF Coningsby roared over the site as VIPs gathered to admire the spectacle.
The walls formed a fighter pen where Spitfires taxied after landing, were repaired, re-armed, maintained and re-fuelled, and from where the planes and their crews headed off on the next sortie.
David Gurney, Norfolk County Council’s historic environment manager, is unsure of the role of the shed – it was possibly used to store the trolley accumulators used to start Spitfires – but said it was a unique national survival.
The pen, among 12 once dotted across the airfield, had disappeared under nettles, brambles and ivy when the council bought the site in 2013, renaming it Scottow Enterprise Park.
But, with the help of a £14,000 Armed Forces Covenant grant and willing volunteers from the Spirit of Coltishall Association (SoCA), the pen has been rescued from the undergrowth and it and the shed are now part of a Scheduled Monument within a Conservation Area at Risk.
SoCA historian Neil “Foz” Foster, who served at RAF Coltishall for 15 years, said the group was delighted with the finished project.
He added: “It matters that we preserve a little bit of Battle of Britain history and it’s particularly important that we pass it on to future generations.”