Charley Heritage Group’s ‘Sharing Heritage’ Diary.
The last days of August 2013 brought the good news that our Group’s application for funding under the Sharing Heritage branch of the National Lottery Fund had been successful! We had been awarded £6300 to continue our research into the World War Two Secret Radio Defence system operated by the RAF 80 Wing. The story surrounding the old brick structure which had stood for so long in St Joseph’s field, Charley, was gradually unfolding thanks to the initial revelation made by Mr Ken Nicholls of Coalville in the late 1990s. We have recorded Ken’s story on CD and film and been fascinated by his account of the activities carried out in St Joseph’s field in the utmost secrecy. Ken had ‘kept quiet’ for over sixty years!
Our lottery bid was to help us to extend and share our research and also to investigate the ‘Starfish’ sites across England which made decoy fires to simulate bombed areas therefore deceiving the enemy planes that the fires indicated targets successfully attacked. There are many other aspects of our bid but rather than spell them out here we thought that a diary of our activities in attempting to fulfil the aims of our grant would be a better way of sharing what we are doing and what we are discovering.
Heritage Open Day
Our first event had been planned to go ahead regardless of whether our bid was successful or not but the grant enabled us to include much more than the previous year’s Open Day. We opened St Joseph’s field on September 14th and 15th under the National Heritage Open Days scheme and there were over 250 visitors despite a really wet and windy weekend. The weather certainly affected the number of casual visitors who would normally have been attracted by the bunting and activity in the field but we were surprised that there were many people who had been the previous year and came again to see what was new or to add information from their own research. Everyone commented on the enthusiastic atmosphere created by Charley Heritage Group and undoubtedly, the star attraction was Ken Nicholls who had been stationed at the St Joseph’s site in the 1940s and had first awakened our interest. At 90+ he defied the weather and spent a good deal of time sitting in one of the tents and talking to the Press and our visitors. We are grateful to him and to his family for coming with him.
Our local Member of Parliament, Andrew Bridgen, visited and proved very knowledgeable about the WW2 era and about the activities of the Air Cadets. He and his son spent a lot of time in the Radio tent listening to conversations from around the world and having a turn with the beambender simulation model aircraft.
We were again joined by the 1188 Squadron (Coalville) Air Cadets who had braved the weather by camping out overnight on the field. They spent the days improving their map reading skills, radio communication techniques and engaging with visitors; their report submitted to Air Cadets Headquarters after the event praised Charley’s Heritage Open Day as one of the best occasions for ‘social interaction with the community’ and for ‘an opportunity to practise and improve skills’.They and their leaders are a great bunch of people for us to work with!
It was no surprise to us this year that the Paper Plane Challenge was such a crowd pleaser especially as the rain eased off but the wind gave a boost to the length of flight so long as the direction of the gusts was calculated correctly.
In September our Facebook page was extended to give a detailed focus of the Sharing Heritage funded activities and friends and relatives asked to become ‘friends’ of the page. We see this as a way of keeping our activities in the public domain and, hopefully, catching the eye of interested individuals from far afield.
Our new page is Aspirin, Benjamin and Bromide
14th October 2013
Last night, 14 October, at The Links Hotel I was the guest speaker on behalf of the CHG at a dinner meeting of the Shepshed Rotary Club.
Rotarian Robert Hall in his introduction described how he saw a small paragraph in the Loughborough Echo about a strange sounding event happening in a field in Charnwood Forest. “It was very vague about what it was, or where, but I decided to check it out on 14th September”.
“I spent two absolutely intriguing hours in that field and I immediately saw the story as something that would be of great interest to the Rotary Club,” Robert Hall continued.
So this session was born. Normal meetings of the Shepshed Rotary Club number around 15, but this event drew in a total of 38 people, as members invited guests to hear about Charley’s Battle of the Beams. The new Viewsonic projector had its first public outing.
15th October 2013
Maureen gave a short presentation about our lottery funded project to the member of the Coalville Community Forum with the aim of spreading the word about the Group’s forthcoming activities and asking the members to help us to recruit volunteers. The response was good and several members volunteered on the spot.
21st October 2013
One of our early volunteers is a visitor from Germany. His visit to this area just missed the Heritage Open Day but he was intrigued by what he had heard about the event. He agreed to be interviewd and filmed and later sent us web links from German web sites which he thought may be relevant to our research. On his return to Germany he intends to continue looking for evidence of the transmission of the ‘beams’ but he thinks that the war is a subject rarely broached in the present day.
In November 2013 an 84 year old man, Mike Batten, visited Maureen and John. He had been present at the Heritage Open Day in September and had remembered that he had a VHS recording of a television programme about R.V. Jones, the instigator of the Beambender programme. He had searched his home, found it and had a DVD copy made for us. This was gratefully received and also his offer of further help in what we are doing. Some weeks late he emailed the text of a talk he planned to give to a U3A group of which he is a member amd asked for comments and permission to use the material. This was readily given and we look forward to filming his presentation in 2014.
The original search of the RAF records at Kew had been in the 1990s and had concentrated on fnding reference to St Joseph’s field; so Terry visited in December to examine the whole file in order to add to our knowledge of ‘beambender stations’ in other areas. Terry is very single-minded in his research and spent a profitable day which will result in more contacts being made in 2014.
November Charnwood Forest Regional Park
Maureen attended the meeting of the Stakeholder Group of the Charnwood Forest Regional Park at County Hall, Glenfield. This meeting had been planned to discuss the future in the light of funding from the National Lottery. Unfortunately the application for funding had not been successful so the proposed Agenda was modified and those present at the meeting were shown film presentations of what was happening in the area of the proposed Regional Park and which would be highlighted in any amended bid to the National Lottery. One of the presentations featured photographs of Charley Heritage Group’s Heritage Open Day weekend and a description of Philip Lindley’s visit. He said that “it was one of the very exciting ventures being carried out weithin the area of the proposed park.”!
Further news of another bid for funding is awaited.
Oral History with Charnwood Roots
On 13th December Maureen attended a training day organised by Dr Julie Attard, leader of the Charnwood Roots Programme.
The Charnwood Roots project is an initiative of Leicestershire Victoria County History Trust, the Leicestershire arm of a national research project, the Victoria Histories of the Counties of England, which started in 1899 to produce a reference history of every single town, village and hamlet in England from earliest times up to the present day. The Charnwood Roots project is a very important part of completing this work for Leicestershire.
One of the aspects of the Project is to collect oral histories from Leicestershire and Julie and Maureen had spoken in the past about the collection of histories recorded by Charley Heritage Group and how these would be valuable to the project once they were transposed to a digital version. A further meeting is to be arranged between Julie, Maureen and Colin Hinde of Leicester University to begin this process and transfer the sound files to the University’s web site for public accessibility.
During the course of the day Maureen felt that it would be a good idea to talk with the local farmers, most of whom are second or third generation farmers about their way of life in Charley. This will be put on the ‘to do’ list!
Also in December Wilf, Sheila and Maureen spent a morning at the Whitwick Historical Group’s HQ which is housed in the old railway station office. The aim was to find material relevant to WW2 but the members were so welcoming and gave free access to their entire collection so that often, the original purpose of the visit was forgotten and cries of “Look at this!” or “Here’s a photo of Auntie.......” rang out and we gressed into reminiscences and chats over cups of tea and coffee. There will have to be more visits!
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