Biggin Hill History

Biggin Hill

Many thanks to the News Shopper and Bob Ogley for allowing me to include these articles on BigginHill.co.uk

Biggin Hill gets ready for war

7:30am Wednesday 20th July 2011

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As part of a News Shopper series exploring the military history of Biggin Hill, DAVID MILLS looks back at the build up to the Second World War.

ON September 30, 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from a meeting with Adolf Hitler, promising “peace for our time”.

In the Munich agreement, after which the term ‘appeasement’ became a dirty word, Hitler promised not to go to war with Britain.

But while cheering crowds saluted Chamberlain with King and Queen at his side at Buckingham Palace, a military base in Biggin Hill was busy preparing for war.

Gloster Gauntlets over Biggin Hill, 1938 doing air attack practice, air firing or interception. (Pictures taken from Bob Ogley’s Biggin On The Bump)

Historian and author Bob Ogley said: “The Munich appeasement brought the station to ‘immediate readiness for war’, code name Diabolo, and all aircraft were ordered to be camouflaged in drab green and brown.

“Each pilot tackled his own machine with paint and brush, obliterating the squadron crest.

“Chamberlain’s announcement was ignored at Biggin Hill.”

By 1939 Biggin Hill was ready.

The aerodrome had been camouflaged, trees planted, windows reinforced and sandbags brought in along with ground defence units.

Airfield camouflage: Pre-war reconnaissance photo of Biggin Hill airfield taken from the German airline Lufthansa en route for Croydon, recovered from German archives after the war. (Pictures taken from Bob Ogley’s Biggin On The Bump)

With the nation still weary from the First World War, another war was unthinkable for most Britons.

But the re-emergence of Germany was becoming an increasing concern.

Mr Ogley said: “In 1936 Hitler introduced his new fully fledged air force, the Luftwaffe, and people began to take notice of the warnings of Winston Churchill (about the German threat).

“Germany was known to be building modern bombers and a fair but alarming assumption at that time was ‘the bomber will always get through’.”

Britain launched its Home Defence Force in May 1936 with Biggin Hill coming under Fighter Command.

Biggin Hill was so successful in establishing ground-to-air and air-to-air communication, it was seen as the perfect place to continue important work developing radar.

Mr Ogley said: “The pilots of 32 Squadron worked unceasingly to perfect new techniques and procedures. Systems were developed which enabled controllers to plot invaders’ exact positions and courses and to direct fighters to intercept them.”

News of the World billboard: War declared (Pictures taken from Bob Ogley’s Biggin On The Bump)

In September 1939 a vociferous opponent to appeasement and the future Prime Minister called by Biggin Hill on his way to Chartwell in Westerham.

With war looming large, Winston Churchill said to officers: “I’ve no doubt you will be as brave and eager to defend your country as were your forefathers.”

The next day, Britain declared war on Germany.

 

Biggin Hill history: between the wars

8:00am Wednesday 13th July 2011

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As part of a News Shopper series exploring the military history of Biggin Hill, DAVID MILLS looks back at the period between the wars.

The Hawker Demons of 23 Squadron (Pictures taken from ‘Biggin on the Bump’ by Bob Ogley)

MUTINY IN THE AIR

By the end of the First World War, Biggin Hill had become a centre for wireless research.

Work was underway on the rebuilding of the site but living conditions for staff were so poor they decided to strike in January 1919.

Around 500 workers lived in tents with no heating or hot water.

Mud was everywhere and the food was rotten.

Historian and author Bob Ogley said: “Some wanted a gentlemanly approach but others sang the Red Flag at the top of their voices and suggested violence. Mutiny was in the air.”

But an RAF investigation sided with the workers and gave them all leave while their camp was improved.

Empire Day, Biggin Hill 1934 – aerobatics display by 32 and 23 Squadrons (Pictures taken from ‘Biggin on the Bump’ by Bob Ogley)

HELLO HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT

In August that year, the progress of the work on wireless technology carried out at Biggin Hill was illustrated in a historic broadcast to a stunned audience in the House of Lords.

The voice of Lieutenant S.G. Newport blared through a loudspeaker: “I am in an aircraft.”

The Under Secretary of State for Air, Major General Seely replied: “Hello Newport. We are the Houses of Parliament. Can you hear us?”

Newport said: “Hello Houses of Parliament. I can hear you well. My pilot can hear you too. We are flying at 8,000ft, 20 miles away.”

So impressed was the government by this major step forward, it set up an Instrument Design Establishment at Biggin Hill to conduct further experiments in long distance flying and landing aircraft in fog.

While residents today complain about the noise from the airport, think of the families living nearby at the time who had to put up with the high pitched sound of a giant concrete disc, designed to guide pilots.

Mr Ogley said: “The deafening noise terrified cattle and shattered windows for miles around.”

RAF married quarters at Biggin Hill (Pictures taken from ‘Biggin on the Bump’ by Bob Ogley)

GREAT FUN AT BIGGIN HILL

Building work began in 1927 to extend the airfield following the purchase of 27 acres of land including Cudham Lodge.

On completion five years later, Biggin Hill was home to messes for officers, barracks and married quarters all built in the RAF’s red-brick style, some of which still remain today.

The station reopened and became the base for two fighter squadrons 32 and 23.

Mr Ogley said: “War clouds were not yet looming but the young pilots were encouraged to put in hundreds of hours flying. They played football and cricket at the station and became frequent visitors to the nearby pubs. Life at Biggin Hill in the early 30s was great fun.”

But within a few years, the political landscape in Europe was to change forever and Biggin Hill would be at the heart of Britain’s defence.

How Biggin Hill got pilots talking

7:30am Thursday 7th July 2011

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As part of a series charting the military history of Biggin Hill, DAVID MILLS looks back at the birth of one of Britain’s most important fighter stations.

IT was in thick snow on January 2 in 1917 that Lieutenant Dickie and Air Mechanic Chadwick became the first men to land at Biggin Hill.

Less than a year earlier, two subalterns had come across the 75 acre site when looking for a place to build a centre to develop wireless communication.

Biggin Hill historian and author Bob Ogley said: “It was one of the highest points in Kent, 600ft above sea level. What better place to develop a system of communication with pilots in the air?”

The Royal Flying Corps, which became the Royal Air Force in 1918, opened an aerodrome to test equipment which would enable ground to aircraft communication as well as air-to-air.

Officers of The Royal Flying Corps who developed wireless communication (Picture from Biggin on the Bump by Bob Ogley)

Mr Ogley said: “The camp buzzed with activity. At times there was high excitement and sheer frustration as something went wrong.

“There were experiments with valves, microphones, receivers, aerials and Biggin Hill was soon festooned with wires.”

The results would change the face of aviation forever.

The landmark moment came in July 1917 when two pilots flying separately in Sopwith 1.5 Strutters spoke to each other, marking the birth of air-to-air telephony at Biggin Hill, something nearly 100 years later we take for granted.

‘A VITAL ROLE IN WORLD PEACE’

Biggin Hill became a major defence site for London in 1917 against German Gotha bombers, which were increasing their raids on the capital.

South London was open to attack and squadrons were brought to Biggin Hill, including No 141, the first operation squadron to be based there.

By Christmas, Biggin Hill had become an operational fighter station and the following March, an officers’ mess, barrack blocks and steel and concrete hangars were built.

The birth of Biggin Hill as a major fighter station was consummated with the first ‘kill’ on the night of May 19, 1918.

The wreckage of the Gotha bomber at Frinsted shot down in Biggin Hill's first kill (Picture from Biggin on the Bump by Bob Ogley)

Thirty eight Gothas, three Riesen and two smaller planes were crossing the Channel towards the Thames Estuary.

141 Squadron took off in Bristol Fighters to intercept what was the biggest raid of the First World War.

Lieutenants Turner and Barwise were flying 12,000 feet two miles east of Biggin Hill when they saw a Gotha flying above.

Following a deadly pursuit, they shot it down causing it to crash-land at Frinstead, Kent, killing the pilot and navigator.

This became Biggin Hill’s first ‘kill’ as a fighter station.

Mr Ogley said: “It was to be the last air attack of the 1914-18 war. The Germans decided enough was enough. The defences had mastered the bomber and Biggin Hill had played a vital role in world peace.”

An artist's impression of the Biggin Hill Heritage Centre

THE BIGGIN HILL HERITAGE CENTRE

Campaigners are hoping to open a long overdue military heritage centre on a site next to Biggin Hill airfield to remember The Few who gave their lives for so many.

The centre will chart the groundbreaking development of radar and communication technology used by aircraft during the First and Second World War, as well as house a large collection of artefacts and memorabilia from pilots based at the airfield.

Visit the Biggin Hill Battle of Britain Supporters’ Club, which is the backing the campaign, at bhbobsc.org.uk

Historian and author Bob Ogley who wrote Biggin on the Bump and Ghosts of Biggin Hill

Bob Ogley has written two books about the military history of Biggin Hill, ‘Biggin on the Bump’ (£11.99) and ‘Ghosts of Biggin Hill’ (£12.99). For more information and to obtain copies, call 01959 562972 or visit frogletspublications.co.uk

Memoires of Mr. Smith, a resident in Biggin Hill from around 1929 / 30.

added 27/03/2013

“My father died recently and had been a resident in Biggin Hill from around 1929 / 30. My grandmother had purchased 9 plots from the Aperfield estate all situated in The Grove. We did try many time to persuade my father to commit his life and memories to paper or tape but he never got round to it as he always thought he would live for ever I suppose. It was such a shame a he was a fantastic photographer and had until his last year a pin sharp memory, but I found the attached word document on his computer the other day and thought it may be a little bit of history to add. I have absolutely no doubt there are photos about from the 20’s onwards and as these surface I’ll let you know if you are interested. (text curtesy of Mr. Robert Smith (Son)”

Biggin Hill was in the Parish of Cudham have lived here all of my life when the village had a population of about 1500 . It was a quiet little village but was never a pretty one. As a youngster we had to make our own amusement, and would go off down to the fields and play cricket or football and thorouly enjoy ourselves. The farm was farmed by Mr Miles who didn’t mind us playing in his fields. He had a pony and milk float with a traditional large 17 gallon milk churn in it and used to ladle the milk out into my mother’s jug.

I went to Biggin Hill School where Waitrose is now. A dirt drive led down to the school and was flanked on one side by some old cottages with dirt floors. People by the name of Edgar lived there.

The school consisted of 6 classes and a small playing field. Class 6 was the infant’s class and was a wooden shed at the Westerham end of the ground. The only heating was a “Valor” oil stove. We were taut country dancing and on Empire Day, May 24 th, we paraded down to the village green at the end of Jail Lane where we danced around the Maypole and the school sports were held in the “Rec”.

Many of the Dads worked locally, on the farms. I spent a lot of my time with my best friends at Norheads Farm which was around 400 acres . We had 4 horses and 1 tractor and where I learnt to plough and all things to do with farming mainly with horses. They all had to be shod, and instead of taking them to the forge at the end of Forge Field, run by Mr Tremain, we took them to Cudham, Possibly Mr Stone had an affinity with Cudham. Biggin Hill was in the Parrish of the latter then and was made into its own Parrish when the new church was built.

The majority of our shopping was done in the village. We were well served with 5 butchers,2 builders’ merchants, and several grocers stores at the top and bottom of Stock hill. Their motto on the top temples was “ The Market Place of Biggin Hill”, and it certainly was. One could buy anything there. What fascinated me was the system of putting the bill from each counter into a container, pulling a leaver and seeing this container “whiz” across the shop to the accounts office, and the farthing change coming whizzing back. The ‘bottom’ shop had the largest dog I have ever seen, a Mastiff and reputed to weigh in at 18 stone. When Abbots the bakers were baking, the smell of fresh bread was smelled all over that end of the village. Adjoining the bakers was the “Teapot” tea rooms, a very popular spot with the many cycling clubs that met there on a Sunday morning.

At school we were taught gardening in the two top classes. We had two busses that ran each ½ hour to Bromley. One of them was the Green line coach and the other was the 410 double Decker. Coming out from Bromley on the 410 one day with my Mother we saw a Red squirrel sitting on the fence near the aerodrome . We were on the top deck, a lovely place to be if it was not raining as they were open deck, and if it rained , there was a cover which one could pull up around one’s neck to fend the rain off. The aerodrome or the Camp as it was called was a great attraction to us. We used to cycle along there to watch the bi-planes especially when they were testing their guns just inside the ‘tatty’ bit of wire fence and we collected the spent bullet cases before being chased off.

My Father had a little motor cycle and I used to walk as far as Keston church to get a ride home and it was safe for me to do this,

Most of us had no mains services until after the war. Our water was rain water gathered from the house and stored in wells or tanks. Our toilet arrangements was a bucket in a “Privey-midden” down the garden. The more sophisticated had a cesspool. Most of us did not have electricity until the 1940’s. Until then we just had paraffin lamps and an n open coal fire in the main sitting room. Our winters were terribly harsh..I can remember sitting around a “valor” oil stove in the dead of winter with deep snow outside.

One thought on “Biggin Hill History”

  1. Pat, I think I must’ve been solely renilsspboe for knocking a wide hole in the ozone layer back in the day, with all the hairspray I used to nail down all that big hair!

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