'Peace for our time': Biggin Hill gets ready for war

7:30am Wednesday 20th July 2011

As part of a News Shopper series exploring the military history of Biggin Hill, DAVID MILLS looks back at the build up to the Second World War.

ON September 30, 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from a meeting with Adolf Hitler, promising “peace for our time”.

In the Munich agreement, after which the term ‘appeasement’ became a dirty word, Hitler promised not to go to war with Britain.

But while cheering crowds saluted Chamberlain with King and Queen at his side at Buckingham Palace, a military base in Biggin Hill was busy preparing for war.

News Shopper: Gloster Gauntlets over Biggin Hill, 1938 doing air attack practice, air firing or interception. (Pictures taken from Bob Ogley’s Biggin On The Bump)

Historian and author Bob Ogley said: “The Munich appeasement brought the station to ‘immediate readiness for war’, code name Diabolo, and all aircraft were ordered to be camouflaged in drab green and brown.

“Each pilot tackled his own machine with paint and brush, obliterating the squadron crest.

“Chamberlain’s announcement was ignored at Biggin Hill.”

By 1939 Biggin Hill was ready.

The aerodrome had been camouflaged, trees planted, windows reinforced and sandbags brought in along with ground defence units.

News Shopper: Airfield camouflage: Pre-war reconnaissance photo of Biggin Hill airfield taken from the German airline Lufthansa en route for Croydon, recovered from German archives after the war. (Pictures taken from Bob Ogley’s Biggin On The Bump)

With the nation still weary from the First World War, another war was unthinkable for most Britons.

But the re-emergence of Germany was becoming an increasing concern.

Mr Ogley said: “In 1936 Hitler introduced his new fully fledged air force, the Luftwaffe, and people began to take notice of the warnings of Winston Churchill (about the German threat).

“Germany was known to be building modern bombers and a fair but alarming assumption at that time was ‘the bomber will always get through’.”

Britain launched its Home Defence Force in May 1936 with Biggin Hill coming under Fighter Command.

Biggin Hill was so successful in establishing ground-to-air and air-to-air communication, it was seen as the perfect place to continue important work developing radar.

Mr Ogley said: “The pilots of 32 Squadron worked unceasingly to perfect new techniques and procedures. Systems were developed which enabled controllers to plot invaders’ exact positions and courses and to direct fighters to intercept them.”

News Shopper: News of the World billboard: War declared (Pictures taken from Bob Ogley’s Biggin On The Bump)

In September 1939 a vociferous opponent to appeasement and the future Prime Minister called by Biggin Hill on his way to Chartwell in Westerham.

With war looming large, Winston Churchill said to officers: “I’ve no doubt you will be as brave and eager to defend your country as were your forefathers.”

The next day, Britain declared war on Germany.

News Shopper: An artist's impression of the Biggin Hill Heritage Centre.

THE BIGGIN HILL HERITAGE CENTRE

Campaigners are hoping to open a long overdue military heritage centre on a site next to Biggin Hill airfield to remember The Few who gave their lives for so many.

The centre will chart the groundbreaking development of radar and communication technology used by aircraft during the First and Second World War, as well as house a large collection of artefacts and memorabilia from pilots based at the airfield.

Visit the Biggin Hill Battle of Britain Supporters’ Club, which is the backing the campaign, at bhbobsc.org.uk

Bob Ogley has written two books about the military history of Biggin Hill, ‘Biggin on the Bump’ (£11.99) and ‘Ghosts of Biggin Hill’ (£12.99). For more information and to obtain copies, call 01959 562972 or visit frogletspublications.co.uk

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