The straight road across what would have been the airfield between Great Ellingham and Deopham. Photograph taken July 2019
Although I tend to concentrate my blogs on the events and people in the village of Great Ellingham in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it would be remiss of me not to mention Deopham Green Airfield.
Deopham Green Airfield
Built on land once owned by the Jefferies, the Beales, the Maynards and the Stallards, the airfield is an important part of the history of the villages of Great Ellingham and Deopham.
The substantially built Haw Hill Farm was demolished in order to make way for the aerodrome to be built.
The 452nd Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Corp was based at the airfield between January 1944 and August 1945. Although referred to as Deopham Green Airfield, the base incorporated land in both Deopham and Great Ellingham. Further, significant ancillary buildings were built in Great Ellingham, in particular along (and off) the Hingham Road, near to the junction at Stalland Common.
Hill House Farm (owned by the Beales family) was only 50 yards from the 728th Bomb Squadron. The Beales children would run over to the hard stands to welcome the air crews back.
In the informative booklet ‘A Little History of Great Ellingham’ the authors mention that “only one bomb fell in the village during the war and this was an incendiary device that landed on the field opposite the school“. Thankfully there were no casualties.
There was another incident on this field (which is now being developed for housing) during the war. “A fully armed and loaded Flying Fortress trying to take off from the aerodrome failed to do so and ended up on this field“. Again there were no casualties as, thankfully, the airmen successfully escaped.
It is also known that a ‘Buzz Bomb’ (Doodle Bug) landed in a ditch near to the fuel dump. Again there were no casualties, as fortunately, it did not explode.
At the outbreak of the war, children evacuated from London Fields School with three members of staff, attended the school in Great Ellingham. On the 10th February, 1941, children at the school spent one and a half hours in the ‘refuge rooms’ whilst enemy planes hovered overhead for long periods.
Instructions were given to the school children about touching unfamiliar objects, which may have been dropped by enemy planes. The children also had daily practice of putting on their face mask and taking cover under their desks. They were also reprimanded if they forgot their face mask.
During the construction of the airfield, lorries would constantly pass the school. Taking off from Deopham airfield, the American planes would roar over the school. At Christmas, the village children were transported in the back of large truck to the airfield for a special party which included ice-cream, a rare luxury in those days.
The village also held German and Italian prisoners of war who were guarded by the Home Guard, and undertook farm work around the village.
Some of the villagers worked at Deopham Green Airfield. Edith Hudson living in the newly erected council houses in Hingham Road was a cleaner at the aerodrome. Her daughter, Dora May Hudson, was a Private in the WAAF.
The ground crews often frequented the village pubs. Some of the crew (with their bicycles) would sneak over a ditch in the backyard of Hill House Farm to avoid the guard! When the crewmen left the aerodrome, the local bicycle sellers would buy back the bicycle and then re-sell it for double the cost!
After the War
Doris Fowle with her son David at their home No.1 The Camp Hingham Road. Courtesy of David Fowle
After the Second World War, some of the ancillary buildings were for many years used for housing. The Fowle family moved into ‘1 The Camp, Hingham Road’. David Fowle recalls that this building was formerly “Captain Laws’ old site hut”.
Much evidence of the large airfield has disappeared over time, leaving only a few structures and lengths of concrete, which were once part of the runways. The farmland is gradually being reclaimed.
Memorial at Deopham Green commemorating 452nd Bomb Group (H)
The 452nd Bomb Group Association has a website.
Lebbell, W R & Fay,S. A Little History of Great Ellingham. Date unknown
Great Ellingham County Primary School Centenary 1896-1996 Complied by J E Watts
Great Ellingham Parish Registers. Norfolk Record Office.PD 609.
Death Certificate Dora May Hudson Age 24. 21st August, 1943. Registered 23rd August, 1943.
Thanks to David Fowle & Carolyn Boatwright (neé Beales)