English Electric Lightning

English Electric Lightnings flew from Coltishall

The Royal Air Force had a major airbase at Coltishall in Norfolk. From its inception in 1938 until its closure in 2006 it was a base for fighters. Canberra bombers had a brief spell at the station, but fighters were the rule.  Although the last type to use the airfield was the Jaguar, and that was no longer called a fighter but a ground attack aircraft, the airframe was developed from the fighter and not a bomber.

Although I went to air displays to mark Battle of Britain Day at Marham and St Faiths during the 50s and early 60s, I do not remember going to RAF Coltishall. However we often saw the aircraft taking off and landing while driving along the Norwich to North Walsham Road which passed near to the airbase.

Now the skies are empty of the military aircraft that used to make regular sorties at both high and low-level. I am no lover of war. I should not have to say this, for few want war, but because some foolish people equate the necessity for a strong defence force with war-mongering I must make the point. We need a strong deterrent. As the word suggests, this is to deter potential enemies from attacking us by making an attack unlikely to succeed. I did my own small part in the defence of the realm by my service in the Territorial Army. The ever-present threat of more defence cuts fill me with dread.

In the early 70s, when I was studying for a Diploma in Management Studies at Ivory House in Norwich, one of my fellow students was Harry Wilde. He had been a Bevin Boy at end of the war, but he disliked working down the coal mines so much that he transferred into the RAF at the earliest opportunity. By 1970 he was a Warrant Officer at RAF Coltishall. His job was to field complains of low flying aircraft from members of the public. He was coming to the end of this engagement in the airforce and so he was studying for a DMS to ease his path into civilian employment. VAT had recently replaced purchase tax and once he was qualified he found a job in the Norwich VAT office. I liked Harry and got on well with him as everybody did; he was that sort of bloke.

In the late 70s I was playing my double bass wherever I could, and one of my musical friends was Mr Ferguson, headmaster of Hellesdon Middle School. He played the piano as well as the violin in an orchestra with me on bass. His wife was also a head, in her case at the Primary School run for the children of airforce personnel at RAF Coltishall. She persuaded me to go to her school at Coltishall to play my bass and talk about it to the children. I did not take much persuading. I told them that the back was made of hardwood and the front was made of softwood, which I referred to as Christmas tree wood. This made an impression on the children, and several mentioned Christmas trees in the thank you letters they were instructed to write to me.

The former Coltishall airbase has had a difficult period since the RAF left, and it has struggled to find a role. HM Prison Bure now occupies part of the site, a use which was not popular locally. Much of the open space has recently been converted into a solar energy farm, while the married quarters have been upgraded and sold off to first time buyers. The industrial use that has been such a success at the former American airbase at Bentwaters in Suffolk has not been much in evidence at Coltishall. I am sure there is still a lot of space there which needs to find a use.





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