Although the Radar pylons were in Stoke, the camp where the personnel lived was two villages away, in Framingham Earl. The intervening village was Poringland. Although these places sound widely dispersed, the distance was in fact less than half a mile; only a narrow tongue of Poringlad separates the Framinghams from Upper Stoke. I was only seven years old when the camp closed, but I can remember it clearly. There was an RAF roundel painted on the road at the entrance off Long Road, and you would see men and women in RAF uniforms at the base.
There were eight pylons at RAF Stoke Holy Cross; four were built of wood and four of steel. The wooden ones were demolished when the station was closed in 1956; it had lasted much longer than most of the Chain Home Radar Stations, which across the country had been reduced from a wartime maximum of 194 to only a few dozen by 1947. The steel pylons were retained after the RAF left. These were to carry police messages, BT radio communications and to relay the Anglia TV signal from the studios in Norwich to the main transmission pylon at Mendelsham in Suffolk. The camp consisted of wooden huts in Long Road, and they were sold off in 1957.
I would have seen more of the RAF personnel had the entrance to the camp been in Pigot Lane, as this wa s part of my regular afternoon walk to see Kitty, the retired cart horse. Spur Lane, .,ok which connects Pigot Lane with Long Road was a popular dog walking route for our family. Everything here has changed for the worse in the intervening years; Framingham Chase, the childhood home of Timothy Colman which was off Spur Lane has been demolished; the RAF camp has long gone and the 1987 hurricane laid waste the 40 acre plantation in which the RAF huts once stood.
When the base was closed the police dogs who had guarded the base were redundant, and their handlers were ordered to take them out and shoot them. This was a traumatic event for my neighbour, an RAF policeman, as it would be for anyone who had built up working relationship with a dog. You can see Graham’s German Shepherd in the picture.
We have Hitler to thank for RAF Stoke Holy Cross. It was a link in the Chain Home system of Radar Stations that provided crucial defensive information during the Battle of Britain. Despite Chamberlain’s optimistic comments about ‘Peace for Our Time’, by 1938 we were already preparing for the forthcoming conflict. RAF Stoke Holy Cross went operational at Easter 1939. Considering how important Stoke was it is remarkable that we did not get more attention from German bombers. There were air raid shelters at the camp, but perhaps because the huts were very well camouflaged by the surrounding trees, they were never needed. One of the steel pylons was destroyed, but this was in a collision with a British Blenheim bomber. Octagon farm-house in Norwich Road was bombed, when young Mrs Spruce lost her life, but the nearby pylons were not severely damaged.
Unlike most RAF stations there was no runway for aircraft at Stoke. I understand that the site of the steel pylons still belongs to the Ministry of Defence, although military use ceased in the 1950s. One could see the pylons for miles around, and coming home by railway from London it was our first sight of home as the train passed through Dunston. The reason for choosing Stoke was its elevation, it being one of the highest points in Norfolk.