WEIRD NORFOLK: The ghostly airmen of Bircham Newton whose eerie voices were captured on tape
It's little surprise that so many air force bases are said to be haunted if you think about the number of men in the prime of their lives who never returned from wartime sorties and whose bodies never received a proper burial – can you hear one on this chilling recording?
An eerie voice reaches out across the decades as a man who lost his life in a devastating plane crash shakily asks for help from the notoriously haunted former airfield site at Bircham Newton where scores of people have reported unusual experiences.
The airfield, built in 1916 for the Royal Flying Corps was first used during the First World War and received the largest British bomber of the time, the Handley PageV/1500 which was destined to carry out bombing missions against Berlin but was grounded by the Armistice before any missions were actually flown.
During the 1920s and most of the 1930s, the base remained a peacetime bomber base and in 1936, it was assigned to Coastal Command serving No. 16 Group RAF. A major rebuilding programme was undertaken and the base became critically important in the war effort with roles which included photographic and reconnaissance, mine-laying, anti-shipping strikes and air-sea rescue missions. Bircham also played a vital role on D-Day.
More than 530 men who served at the airfield lost their lives in the course of their duties and, if reports from Bircham are to be believed, some of their spirits remain in West Norfolk, tortured souls unable to move to the next realm, tied to the airfield where they lost their lives.
Bircham Newton closed in 1960 and seven years later was taken over by the Construction Industry Training Board, the grass runways disappearing as students learned how to use a variety of heavy plant vehicles, the buildings, however, remain, including a pair of squash courts.
In 1970, a film unit began work on a management training film. On Friday December 12 in the following year, the Lynn News and Advertiser ran a story about a haunting experience which befell several members of the crew and led to the recording of a truly eerie piece of taped footage.
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Assistant soundman Kevin Garry spotted the squash courts in a break in filming and decided to let off steam by having a game. No one else could be persuaded to join him, so he borrowed a racquet and a ball, took the only key to the courts and headed there alone.
He tried one court and then, for reasons unknown, switched to the other. Despite a sharp drop in temperature in the second court, he started to concentrate on hitting the ball and within minutes, became aware of footsteps in the viewing gallery and assumed one of his fellow crew-mates had decided to join him after all.
After hearing a sigh, he turned to look at his companion, and was horrified by what he saw: in front of him was the ghostly figure of an RAF serviceman watching him which, as he stared at it in amazement, began to disappear into thin air.
Terrified, Garry ran from the courts, realising as he did so that he had locked himself in. Fumbling with the lock, he burst outside and to safety.
Later that night, he confided in colleague and friend Peter Clark, a technician, who suggested they should try and capture whatever it was in the squash court on tape - setting off at 11.30pm on a warm summer night with the full intention of sitting beside it as it recorded.
"There are two courts, side by side, we first went in the one on the left which I can only describe as normal," said Peter.
"Then we investigated the rest of the building and searched everywhere to see if there was anyone in there. And then we went into the one on the right - the atmosphere was so frightening, so cold in there, it was almost like stepping into another world.
"We put the tape recorder on the floor and set the tape on it and we debated whether to stay in the building or not, but we were so frightened that we thought we'd leave it running and lock it in there and leave it running and come back when the tape had run out."
The machine was left running for around 25 minutes while the men watched the building under bright moonlight. They returned as the tape ran out.
"As we were bending over to switch it off, we heard these footsteps along the viewing gallery. As we stood there looking, the footsteps progressed and we could see that no one was there. We were so keyed up that we just picked up the tape recorder and started running," said Peter.
They then listened to the recording, with trepidation. On it, the clear sound of an aircraft passing can be heard along with muffled speech, including a woman's voice, and sounds as if something heavy is being moved: it sounds like a busy hangar during wartime.
The crew left after two weeks of filming and sent the tape to the BBC Jack de Manio programme where it was played over the air one morning, prompting a host of readers to report that their pets had been driven mad by the recording, as if they were picking up something human ears were unable to hear.
BBC analysis was unable to detect what the noises on the recording could be but no answers could be found: engineers ruled out internal issues with the tape recorder and agreed that the sounds recorded had been inside a building rather than outside it.
A séance was organised and a clairvoyant and a renowned medium were called into Bircham to try to solve the mystery. The spirit of a dead airman was said to have made contact with the clairvoyant, giving his name as Wiley, which was later found to be the name of a man who had committed suicide at the base during its wartime years.
More stories began to pour in about other unsettling events at the old airbase.
There were tales of bedclothes pulled away from people at night by invisible hands, curtains torn down and thrown across rooms, senior staff members walked away from their jobs never to return after being tapped on the shoulder in a room where they were completely alone, figures in RAF uniform were seen gliding through solid walls erected since the end of the war.
Under the infamous video of the recording on YouTube are a host of comments that echo what happens on tape.
One says: "I spent two weeks there in 1994, I remember being scared out of mind when, after having a laugh with my mates in the dorm, I retired to bed in a separate bedroom on my own, and was awoken by my bed being violently shaken to the point where I thought it was one of my mates playing a joke on me, there were none of my mates in my room, very frightening."
Another, Mike Stewart, adds: "This recording was made by the Enfield parapsychic research group of which I was a member. I was not with them this night but I did visit at a later date and we recorded similar activity. Members of the group were Ron Russell, John Faye and myself on other hunts we were accompanied by Maurice Grosse who investigated the Enfield poltergeist."
A former student who was based at Bircham in 1986 to 1987 said that his experiences there led to him sleeping with the light on at all times: "one night, shortly after turning my light off and turning on to my front to go to sleep, I was physically pushed down into the bed by what felt like a hand place flat and firm between my shoulder blades and then released. It took me what seemed like an age for me to pluck up the courage to quickly turn over and fumble for the switch of my bedside lamp to find nothing at all was there!
"The contact was as real as any normal physical experience one might normally expect to sense. I could tell you the exact room and location but I don't want to unduly spook any subsequent students to occupy it."
Answering the above message, another man adds: "You have just sent shivers down my spine. I stayed there in 1990 on a scaffolding course, the first few nights there I kept waking up thinking someone had come into my room, but being a heavy sleeper never quite woke up, then one night the same feeling woke me up, this time I got a strong feeling someone was standing over me at the side of the bed.
"When I tried to turn over I was pushed down into the bed by my head, I just froze, I couldn't quite turn enough to see someone barring what just looked like a shadow in my peripheral vision, I went home for the weekend and nearly never went back, I did but slept with the light and TV in every night, I've always known I wasn't dreaming and reading about your experience has brought it all back."
A team, including two mediums, later spent time in the squash court and appeared to establish contact with a dead airman who said he and to other crewmen were killed in a crash at Bircham, behind the local church. He claimed the three men had been keen squash players and had made a pact that if they were killed in action they would meet again at the courts.
A spokesperson for the CITB confirmed the squash courts are still on site.
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