1st World War and its Effects on Mattishall ....
Derek Bingham, Brian Youngs, Jenny Pennell and Liz Gilding
During the First World War an Airfield was established
at Mattishall. Although called Mattishall Airfield most of it was
in East Tuddenham with a small part in Mattishall and an even smaller
part in Welborne. The pilots used to follow the railway line to
Dereham and then use Mattishall Church steeple as a landmark for
It was early in 1916 that there was an indication
of an airfield being built. Lorries turned up outside the back door
of Tolgate Farm and the personnel started offloading tents much
to the indignation of Mrs. Bingham, the farmer’s wife, who
asked them to move away from her door, so the tents were erected
in the farmhouse paddock.
The airfield was situated on the large 80 acre field
behind Tolgate Farm on the left hand side of the road going towards
Norwich. It was built for fighter planes to defend the Eastern Counties
against the Zeppelins as there was no defence in the first two years
of the war against these raiders. The other two Norfolk airfields
were situated at Marham and Great Yarmouth.
The area had been used for grazing sheep so the
grass was quite short. A well was bored and two long wooden huts
for officers were erected on the Mattishall side of the farm. Five
similar huts for the other ranks were erected on the East Tuddenham
side and a further hut called the power house was situated behind
the farmhouse for the generator so that electricity could be provided
to pump water from the well. Other huts were erected for stores.
Within a very short time the field was soon operational
with two hangers, six bi-planes and two mobile searchlights which
used to travel most nights to Honingham and Yaxham. The planes were
armed with one machine gun and small bombs carried in the cockpit
to be dropped by hand on the Zeppelins which used to come over at
night. This meant that the pilots had to take off and land at night
which was very hazardous and the flight path was marked by parafin
soaked rags in oil drums which were lit by the ground crews with
a lighted rag on a stick.
The airforce had their own dispatch riders which
used to ride between the airfield and area headquarters in Thetford.
The farmhouse was used as a canteen which was always
busy. Mrs. Bingham used to sell buns, cakes, sandwiches and if requested
cheese on toast. Milk and butter was produced by the farm, and cigarettes
and tobacco were sold, Gold Flake being the most popular brand.
The airforce men got on well with the local population and held
sports days on the field in the summer and concerts in one of the
long huts in the winter which the locals took part in.
Despite several attempts to bomb the airfield the
Zeppelins only managed to drop one bomb on the field although several
landed nearby. The road from Tolgate Farm to East Tuddenham was
lined with tall trees which were sawn down and left on the side
of the road. These made a good grandstand for the hundreds of people
that came to watch on a Sunday in the hope of seeing the planes
take off and land. Wind direction was indicated by smoke from a
fire which was kept alight all day on the edge of the field. This
was later replaced by a tethered balloon.
There were frequent crashes. A Lt. Thunder crashed
on the Mattishall side of Blind Lane and died from his injuries
and burns in an airfield ambulance on his way to hospital.
The last attempted raid was in August 1918 when
four Zeppelins were seen hovering and waiting for nightfall by a
lightship 30 miles off the Norfolk coast. The lightship radioed
the information to the Yarmouth Field and thirteen fighters took
off in the gathering darkness armed with the latest British invention,
incendiary ammunition. A Major Egbert and Capt. Leckie located the
Zepp L79 and attacked it with the incendiary bullets causing it
to catch alight and plunge into the sea, there were no survivors.
After the Armistice was signed, two giant German
airships, the L64 and L71 were seen over Norfolk during daylight
when they flew to the airship station at Pulham and surrendered
in accordance with the Armistice agreement. With the war over the
airmen were demobbed and the field closed down. All the huts and
surplus equipment were sold at a big auction held on the site. Some
huts were bought as village halls and others as farm buildings.
The only evidence of the airfield in recent years
was the small green pay hut which stood beside the main road to
Norwich until a year or so ago.
A book “Mattishall Airfield and the Zeppelins
1916 - 1919” by Derek Bingham is available from the Mattishall
For more information click HERE