A Winters Tale of Building Survey

A note from our Community Archaeologist, Martin Cuthbert

“Growing up in rural Suffolk I was well aware of the archaeological impact of the 8th US Army Air Force. This interest led me to write my undergraduate dissertation on the ‘Survival of Airfields in East Suffolk’. It was whilst writing my dissertation I realised how much archaeology still survived relating to this period, but I also realised that many of the structures and archaeological remains were gradually disappearing and if they weren’t recorded and surveyed now they would be lost over time”

From January to June 2016, project volunteers archaeologically surveyed over 800 2nd World War USAAF buildings at 15 airfield sites and 1 Head Quarters site across the region. From Bushey Hall to Bungay, Nuthampstead to North Pickenham all were recorded so the information can be added to the County Council Historic Environment Record, helping preserve the memory of these sites for future generations.

It’s the busiest time of the year for building recording on airfield sites mainly because of the lack of undergrowth during this cold time, nettles and brambles are an archaeologist’s nightmare! The surveys took place in all sorts of locations – woodland, farms and small industrial estates and identified surviving structures that even local residents weren’t aware off.

The buildings were photographed, measured and recorded using the most basic building recording skills and identified using the 1945 official Air Ministry site plans that give us very handy information, including what type of building we are recording and what its function was. We looked at the airfield and the structures around the runways but also the living quarter sites and communal sites used by the airmen and women that are sometimes located over a mile away from the airfield itself. A number of the dispersed sites have since gone but the concrete pads the buildings once stood on still survive below inches of leaves and soil. Tapping through the soil with ranging poles we were able to find the edges of the concrete pads where we then took an Ordnance Survey grid reference and again identified what once stood here using the 1945 official Air Ministry site plans.

Here’s a list of where we have surveyed over the last 6 months: Bottisham, Boxted, Bungay, Bushey Hall, Debach, Great Ashfield, Martlesham Heath, North Pickenham, Nuthampstead, Parham, Raydon, Ridgewell, Rougham, Steeple Morden, Thorpe Abbotts and Thurleigh.

A big thank you must go to all the volunteers who have helped survey all of the sites. Whatever the weather rain or shine, cold or hot they turned up to put there time into the project.  A thank you must also go the museums and village halls who have accommodated the volunteers over the last 6 months; and lastly a massive thank you must also go to the landowners, without their permission we would not have been able to carry out any of the survey work.

If you would like to learn how to record your own local airfield or want to help out in future archaeology events then just let us know at [email protected]

Here’s just a few photos from an amazing 6 months of surveying: