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Rare Second World War Command Post and London War Memorial Listed to Celebrate VE Day
An unusual three-storey Second World War command post near Nottingham and a London war memorial which commemorates civilian casualties amongst those who died during the Second World War have been granted protection to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day – Victory in Europe in 1945. The listings were granted by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the advice of Historic England.
DCMS has also re-listed an obelisk which marks the twinning of Bath with the historic Dutch city of Alkmaar in March 1945 and Felbrigg Hall’s Grade II* listed park and garden in Norfolk which has two linked avenues of beech trees. The avenues, in The Great Wood, are known as the ‘Victory Vs’. Although already listed, new information linking these two sites to the Second World War have been added to their list descriptions on the National Heritage List for England which affords special protection to the most important parts of England's heritage.
We owe the Second World War generation an enormous debt of gratitude. I am delighted that, as we prepare to mark 75 years since the end of the war in Europe on 8 May, we are protecting these historic sites in this way.
Battle headquarters at the former RAF Hucknall Airfield, Nottinghamshire
The Battle Headquarters at the former RAF Hucknall is a very unusual example of a locally-designed command post, built in 1940 to help defend the airfield against wartime paratrooper assaults. Germany had begun to capture military airfields as part of their invasion and occupation plans of Europe. Battle Headquarters were built on the highest nearby ground to give a clear view of the landing ground in anticipation of any such attacks.
The Battle Headquarters at Hucknall was built as an underground command post with a visible three-storey brick tower. The tower has observation slits to each floor and a rooftop gun emplacement that would have provided clear sightlines towards approaching enemy aircraft. If the airfield was at risk of attack, a lookout would sound the alarm to warn personnel to take cover in air raid shelters. In the dugout below, the station defence commander would monitor the development of an attack from the Battle Headquarters and mobilise the defence force.
During 1940, Battle Headquarters were built at hundreds of airfields across the country to ad hoc designs. It was not until August 1941 that the Air Ministry (now part of the Ministry of Defence) replaced most of them with a standardised command post hidden almost completely below ground. Very few of the earlier designs, like that at RAF Hucknall, survive and none other is known to stand more than a single storey in height. The tower may have avoided replacement in 1941 because the view of the landing ground would otherwise be obscured by nearby aircraft hangars (three of which are also listed at Grade II).
The war memorial at St Luke’s Church serves as a permanent testament to the sacrifice made by the community of Bromley who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars. It takes the form of a stylised Portland stone wheel-head cross supporting a crucifix with a bronze figure of Christ. Standing in a prominent position on the main road, at Bromley Common outside St Luke’s Church, it is an unusual design employing good quality materials and craftsmanship. The use of a crucifix echoes the one hanging before the chancel inside the church and the choice of white stone ensured it stood out against the red brick.
The names of 180 soldiers who died in the First World War were inscribed in pillars in the church and the names of 59 who died in the Second World War were added to another pillar. These names also included 16 civilians. Bromley suffered many enemy bomb attacks in the Second World War because of its close proximity to both London and the RAF base at Biggin Hill in Kent. The biggest air raid was in 1941 when 198 bombs were dropped in the area killing 74 civilians and destroying many buildings including Bromley Parish Church.
Victory in Europe on 8 May 1945 was celebrated with a combination of euphoria and relief across England. The surviving physical evidence of the Second World War is all around us, but is often unrecognised. From the Battle Headquarters at RAF Hucknall Airfield to the memorial at St Luke’s Church in Bromley; from aircraft hangars, former air raid shelters, barracks and hospitals, to the thousands of homes that sheltered evacuees, we must ensure that the rich history of these iconic sites is not forgotten.
The obelisk, sited next to the entrance to the Parade Gardens in Bath was originally built in 1734 to commemorate the visit of William IV, Prince of Orange, to Bath. New information has been added to its list entry on the National Heritage List for England to mark its connection with the Second World War.
Following the end of the Second World War, the garden around the obelisk on Orange Grove was redesigned to honour Bath's twinning with the Dutch city of Alkmaar, and named the Alkmaar Garden. The two cities had become ‘adopted sisters’ in March 1945, with the approval of the exiled Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. The ‘Alkmaar Adoption Appeal’ by the people of Bath saw 45,000 articles of clothing shipped to Alkmaar prior to its liberation from Nazi occupation. It was a highly unusual fundraising effort at this time and was inspired by an Alkmaar evacuee, Elias Prins, who settled in Bath following his escape to Britain in 1940.
Days after Alkmaar was liberated, Victory in Europe (VE) Day was declared a national holiday in Britain. It marked the end of nearly six years of war and the hardships and sacrifices it had brought. Millions of people marked the victory as communities came together in street parties, parades and thanksgiving services. The bond of friendship between the two cities was reaffirmed when in 1946 Alkmaar gave 5,000 tulip bulbs to be planted in the Alkmaar Garden. The cities became formally twinned later in the 20th century and in 2017 Alkmaar gave Bath a new gift of 5,000 tulip bulbs.
Currently fully closed to visitors due to the coronavirus outbreak, Felbrigg Hall with its 65 hectare parkland is noted for its Jacobean architecture. The Windham (also known as Wyndham) family acquired the manor of Felbrigg Hall, which included a hall and park, during the 15th century. Many additions to the house and gardens were made over the centuries by subsequent heirs. New research into this park and garden has revealed a strong connection with the Second World War.
Born in 1906, Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer was the last squire of Felbrigg Hall.
He was a major in the Home Guard during the Second World War and the High Sheriff of Norfolk (1951-2) and a Justice of the Peace. He was actively involved in the founding of the University of East Anglia. In 1946, to commemorate VE Day, he planted two linked avenues of beech trees 350 metres long in the grounds of Felbrigg Hall. The avenues in The Great Wood, are known as the ‘Victory Vs’ and they form a ‘V’ when viewed from the air. The avenues were linked from the Walled Garden and were planted in memory of his brother, flying officer Richard Thomas Wyndham Ketton-Cremer, who was killed on active service during the Battle of Crete in May 1941. Robert wrote “it is exactly 20 years since my brother died in Crete when we waited for news of him and heard none.” Robert bequeathed Felbrigg Hall to the National Trust when he died in 1969.