Thursday, 10 November 2011

Book - Booklet celebrates local airfields and memorials (Nottinghamshire)

HUCKNALL’S rich and historic connections with aviation are celebrated in a new booklet that has taken off thanks to Newark Air Museum.

‘Aviation In Nottinghamshire’ is a 48-page guide that delves into the background of the county’s airfields and pinpoints the locations of memorials. Hucknall features heavily with a page dedicated to the town’s airfield off Watnall Road.

The famous site was used for the testing of the Flying Bedstead — a vertical take-off rig designed by Rolls-Royce that was the forerunner to potent fighter-planes. The Bedstead first took off in 1953 and had its first free flight in 1954.

Twice the Hucknall airfield was used by the Royal Air Force (RAF) — from 1917 to 1919 and then from 1928 to 1957, which encompassed the Second World War when it was a base for Polish pilots.

The airfield achieved notoriety in December 1940 when it was the scene of the capture of infamous German prisoner of war, Franz von Werra.

The member of the Luftwaffe was shot down over Kent and after escaping and being recaptured, he was transferred to Swanwick, Derbyshire. He and fellow prisoners spent a month digging an escape tunnel and von Werra eventually fled the camp.

Using forged paperwork and assuming false identities, he eventually made it to the Hucknall RAF site where he was captured at gunpoint while in a cockpit attempting to make off in an aircraft.

He was transferred to Canada where he again escaped and made it back to Germany where he was given hero status. The story was the subject of the book and film, ‘The One That Got Away’.

Hucknall and nearby Annesley are also the sites of aviation memorials explained by the booklet.

Two intriguing ones sit side by side on West Street in Hucknall. The first relates to a crash on September 23 1940 when an aircraft from Hucknall airfield, with a Polish pilot at the controls, crashed at the corner of Ruffs Drive and Laughton Crescent.

The pilot and several members of the Evans household were killed. The pilot was buried with full military honours at Hucknall Cemetery.

The second plaque remembers Sally, a collie dog dubbed the ‘Pride Of Hucknall’ and owned in the 1970s and 1980s by Hucknall-based Pole Stefan Sztejer. She helped raise funds for the Royal Air Force Association (RAFA), Royal British Legion and Polish Red Cross.

The memorial at Annesley remembers January 14 1945 when the crew of a Stirling bomber were killed when en route to making an emergency landing at Hucknall.

The book also mentions the naming of Hucknall’s Flying Bedstead pub on Watnall Road to continue the town’s connections with aviation and a statue of the Bedstead rig on the traffic island at the Annesley Road end of Hucknall bypass.

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