The Cold War in The Brecks

The Breckland Society’s current project is “The Cold War in The Brecks”. It is supported by almost £10,000 of funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.  Participation is open to everyone.

If you would like to get involved, email Project Manager Peter Goulding at brecksmilitaryhistory@gmail.com You can also join our Facebook Group

See the main BrecSoc Events page for specific Cold War Project related events.

 

Due to the Covid-19 situation, no meetings or events are currently scheduled for the project. However, project volunteers are continuing to do online research during this difficult time.

 

29th February 2020

Alan C again. 20 of us attended an excellent seminar this morning at the Engine House, Brandon Country Park, lead by our old friend and archaeologist Dr Richard Hoggett. He looked at the history of the Cold War in the broader East Anglian context, and from an archaeological viewpoint.

As well as Richard’s excellent presentation it was great to have many animated active discussions. The seminar attracted lots of ‘new’ local folks with first hand knowledge of the era, or who had researched aspects of it or who had just acquired a lot of in-depth knowledge over the years. Highlights for me included:

  • Teresa talking about her time as the first ever RAF servicewoman to be in charge of issuing the infamous ‘four minute warning’ when she was based at RAF Fylingdales.
  • Seeing a copy of Ric Parsonson’s study of “Thor At Feltwell” which he is producing as part of the Swaffham Museum Cold War project.
  • Finding out that Chris Samuels, as a history graduate, had written an 80,000 word dissertation on Project Emily and the whole Thor story, including his discovery that the UK government had been fed false data about the missile’s performance; if they had even been launched from the Brecks bases (and others) the missiles would barely have made it across the Russian border, never mind hit Moscow!
  • The wealth of information that Rob Hewitt had about working on defence-related engineering projects across the decades.
  • Not only identifying the mystery air base in Chris Cock’s protest photos – it was RAF Honington – but also getting a precise date, 20th October 1962, thanks to the video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1ZhScrz3rk that Ed Stanley found online.

I’m sure there were lots of other interesting conversations going on that I wasn’t party to – loads more new research to do now!

Please keep posting links of whatever you find online to the Facebook group!

I’ll be sending out invitations to book for Richard Hoggett’s follow-up event, on recording Cold War structures, in the next few days.

24th February 2020

Alan C spent a very useful morning at the Archant Group (publishers of the Eastern Daily Press) archives in Norwich, looking at Cold War era newspaper clippings. Here are just a few of the stories he came across:

  • Failure to form a Thetford branch of CND because only 11 people turned up for the meeting and “not all of them were convinced”.
  • Many clippings on Angie Zelter and her “Snowball” protest movement. Incidentally, Angie is still going strong, and was the first Extinction Rebellion protester to be arrested and prosecuted.
  • The wife of the vicar of Eriswell leading a protest march on horseback, from Feltwell to Lakenheath, after her husband had been sacked as base chaplain for complaining about the nose from low-flying aircraft over his church.
  • The protester sentenced to 6 days in prison for not paying his £2 (!) fine being released two days early because the money he’d made by prison labour covered the 13s 4d he still owed by then. His work had consisted of waxing string for mail bags.
  • A civilian gardener at RAF Marham being sacked (later reinstated) because he’d been seen “too close” to a demo and was thought to be a CND sympathiser.
  • 26 “lots” at RAF Marham, including 4 squadrons of V-bombers, the runway, and 32 Bloodhound missiles, being “auctioned” by The Committee of 100 in May 1963 (and the alleged RAF plan to disrupt the auctions by outbidding the protestors!)
  • The former Lord Iveagh evicting peace protesters from Maid’s Cross Hill. Quote from a protester “It would be difficult to find any land around here that he doesn’t own!”
  • An envelope printed with ‘Exclusive Sex Manual Offer’ sent by locals who were opposed to CND to a solicitor defending CND protestors, to embarrass him publicly (presumably via the postman gossiping!).
  • A police inspector protesting about the low, underhand tactics of CND protestors who turned up to a protest “armed” with aniseed-soaked buns to distract the dogs!
  • Peace campaigners returning from China and the USSR with very naïve reports about how wonderfully peace-loving the Russians and Chinese were.

We need a volunteer to look at this and other protest material – might it be you? 🙂

17th February 2020

Chris Cock bought a photo album on Ebay. We think it belonged to an RAF Police serviceman who was based at Feltwell at some stage. It contains some great photos of Thor missiles being transported (probably to or from Feltwell).

An empty transporter at the old Coronation Cafe, Thorney Road, Guyhirn
Album caption “Convoy to N. Luffenham”

Album caption “Missile Convoy from N. Pickenham”

This looks very much like a Fenland bridge – any idea where it might be?

Thor missile safe inside a base – but which one?

The album also contained some other great photos of one of the many CND/DAC protests, taken from inside the base perimeter fence, presumably by the policeman.

We know that the police used removal lorries to transport protesters to court during the Swaffham protests in 1958, but we think this is a later protest, from the early 1960s perhaps. The face on the placard is Brian McGee, a serviceman  who was sentenced to two years in prison for disobeying an order and later became prominent in the London Committee Of 100.

Does anyone recognise the background? What might the base be?

Notice the high security perimeter fence!

None of the Glasswell family have any recollection or record of this unconventional booking!

27th January 2020

Swaffham Library has a rich collection of local Cold War material, especially related to the building of the Thor missile site at RAF North Pickenham, the DAC/CND protests and the reaction of local people (who seemed to be almost unanimously pro-Thor).

Sixteen people, both BrecSoc members and others, visited the Museum to look at their collection. We were shown documents related to the rather bizarre event where the Town Clerk received a phone call from a Soviet ‘journalist’ after the CND protests. We saw the Town Clerk’s rather stiff, precise written report to the authorities (“my secretary received a telephone call at 4.02 pm ….”),  a photocopy of the subsequent article in Russian, and a translation into English, sent in by a local Russian speaker. While both reports of the conversation were very consistent, the article’s interpretation of events in Swaffham and elsewhere would have lead most readers to assume that England was about to rise up and throw off the shackles of the evil USA oppressor!

Chris Cock also brought along a rich collection of material related to Thor and the Royal Observer Corps. We were astonished to find that the Thor base at Feltwell produced a regular ‘newspaper’. A Christmas edition showed a jolly Santa Claus happily riding off to destroy the Soviet Union on the nosecone of a Thor missile, rather reminiscent of the closing scenes of Dr Strangelove!

Sometimes, black humour is the only way to deal with the unthinkable.

Some of the attendees in front of a local protest banner from the early 1980s.