The World Comes to Langham
World War 2 (WW2) brought thousands of newcomers to Langham. Suddenly life here changed immeasurably. The air was full of engine noise and many languages and accents.
From occupied Europe and from the far side of the world people came here to fight, together, against a desperate threat. The Polish airmen who came to the UK called it Wyspa Ostatniej Nadziei or “The Island of Last Hope.”
Langham remained an international place after WW2. The Cold War had begun and its facilities were needed until it closed in 1958.
Poland had been invaded by Germany in 1939, starting what was to become World War 2 (WW2). Many Polish Air Force pilots fled to France to fight again. When France too fell, many more came to Britain and offered their skills to the RAF. Several Polish pilots, waiting to become operational aircrew, flew target-towing duties from Langham in 1941-42.
Several squadrons of the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) operated under the command of the RAF in WW2. One stationed here was 489 Squadron. Many individual New Zealanders joined the RAF itself – one of these was in charge of Langham Airfield – Group Captain Arthur Edmond Clouston DSO, DFC, AFC.
One of a number of Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to operate under the command of the RAF in WW2, 455 Squadron arrived at Langham from Leuchars in Scotland alongside the RNZAF squadron to mount joint attacks on enemy shipping in the North Sea.
Like New Zealand and Australia – Canada as part of the Commonwealth – contributed Air Force squadrons to the struggle in Europe.
Nicknamed the ‘Demon squadron’, 407 squadron RCAF was briefly based at Langham. They flew Wellington Mk 14s against enemy shipping and submarines.
Italy, Germany and Japan (the so called ‘Axis’ powers) fought against Britain and the Allied forces in WW2. But Italian prisoners of war (POWs) were used to cover labour shortages. At Langham, they lived in Nissen huts on the Binham Road and worked on Group Captain Clouston’s farming operation. The Italians were later to change sides during WW2 after overthrowing the Fascist Military Dictatorship of the country’s head-of-state, Benito Mussolini.
Germany too was of course a major axis power whose attack on Poland had begun WW2. But from June 1944, POWs flooded into Britain from occupied France following the D-Day landings.
However, German POWs did not arrive at Langham until after the end of hostilities in 1945.
During the early years of the Cold War, soldiers of the 32nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) Brigade were based here. They used the Dome Teacher for simulated anti-aircraft training. They then used the ranges at both Weybourne and Stiffkey for live firing against radio-controlled aircraft. From 1953–55 an American radar unit was also based here.
For a year after the war, Langham airfield became the Royal Netherlands School of Technical Training. This was for the combined Dutch air force and naval air support. Enemy occupation had largely destroyed such facilities in the Netherlands. Up to 1500 young Dutch men lived and studied here through one of Britain’s longest and coldest winters.