Video: A tour of RAF Watton in 1988

One day in 1988 a local builder, Paul Lincoln, drove past the upturned concrete base of a Nissen Hut. In the underside he recognised the tyre tracks of an American lorry hat had driven over the ground just before the concrete was poured. This triggered an awareness that we were in danger of losing some of our WWII buildings.   

Paul approached my (Julian Horn’s) mother, Nell, because she was a keen videographer and asked her for help in recording the buildings of the RAF Camp before they were lost forever. Having an interest in wartime history, Julian offered to help and together, Paul and Julian embarked on what would become the Wartime Watton project.

We very quickly realised that it was the memories of people which were far more important and at much greater risk than the structures. Very soon after this, our first attempt to record the buildings of the station, the focus moved to a much more volatile record, that of the people who served here.Looking back, I am now sad that we weren’t able to put much more time into making a record of the buildings but all of us had families making other demands!

I have now edited the video and included an aerial picture of RAF Watton to help orientate you on the journey. The red ‘sonar’ indicates the approximate filming position. When we embarked on this project we knew nothing about making documentaries and very little about the history of the station. So please excuse the rather variable quality!

The people you will see and hear are Rod Rumsby, then Station Engineer, Paul Lincoln who narrates the video, the occasional shot of of one of Paul’s friends, Ken Pickering and the voice of Nell Horn.


  • Can anyone remember watton and District karting club? It would have been in the early sixties that a racing circuit was on the base I can’t remember exactly where as I was only about 7-8 years old. I know we used to have a great day out as my dad raced there many times till its closure.

  • That brought back a few memories for us too! Sue and Bernie Kennedy, married in 1974, we moved into 6 Halton Road as our first home together. Bernie worked on the Buccaneers at Honington.

    Our home was the yellow door shown in the video towards the end after the bit about the odd air-raid shelter. The chain-link fence separating the AMQs from the airfield didn’t exist then.

    When we were there, the Officers’ Mess housed both the Officers’ and the Sergeants’ Mess (half each) when we lived there. Bernie used to have to spend 2 weeks each year as the Duty Barman in the Sgts’ Mess Bar.

    We moved to 47 Teddar Road a few years later when we started a family and left Watton in 1982 when we bought a house in Thetford (that cut down the commuting).

    We’ve revisited the old camp several times including cycling through to Griston on the “new” track. It’s changed so much especially when you see the extra houses built on what where pleasant green spaces in between the original blocks of houses.

    Well done for making this record for posterity….

  • A little internet surfing whilst taking a break from some dry online study (PPL Air Law); thinking back to my days at Eastern Radar and hoping to find an image or two of the buildings I knew. Then I find this treasure!
    Not only an image or two, but a video, and at the time I was stationed there (1986-late 1988).
    As a junior rank AATC, I had a room in the one-time Sergeant’s Mess, renamed Watton Lodge (some good memories!). When was the video shot? I moved into Akrotiri Square MQ in May ’88.
    Excellent shots of the SHQ Building, which I can now show to friends after a recent conversation about aerodromes/ghost stories!
    One of my duties at Eastern Radar (a perk to some of us) was to staff the reception room/desk (can’t remember its proper title) overnight in the SHQ (window to right of the entrance). A big desk and armchair by the sliding window to greet overnight visitors/issue keys etc.
    I recall a few dark stories attached to this building and encountered a few strange/unexplainable experiences in the dark hours (with colleagues present). Does anybody else have such memories of this building?
    I still find it hard to think that 28 years have past, watching this, it seems like last week.
    Only one criticism of the video, you could have provided some better weather!
    Many thanks for making this available.

  • i can remember having our yearly camp there when i was in the royal observer corps

  • Great video; it’s such a shame to see most of it gone now. Do you recall what that building seen at 25 minutes and 25 seconds was used for? It’s one of the only buildings left there now and I would greatly appreciate any information you could give to me about it.

    • Hi Tyler – yes that was a gymnasium. Around 1967 I used to go on the camp there for Judo club. I would guess it was built early 1960’s

  • I forgot to mention in my last post, the video. I was amazed to see my old AMQ still standing. It was the end one with a side door. The old oak tree is still standing, O my goodness. I remeber moving there from a hiring in Mundford and after about 6 months, Works and Bricks wanted to install central heating. They moved us to a house across the street just 2 months before my posting to Singapore. Well I never. Bob

  • The post by Terry Day got me thinking so I thought I would add a little more to the 1965 Eastern Radar intake. After Shawbury I too was posted to Eastern Radar A watch. The SNCO was Sgt Williams, later WO. The JNCO was Cpl Pete Sinclair who later became SATCO at Cranwell. The OC at the time was Wing Commander Donald “”Noddy Newall”formerly SOO at Ulster Radar posted to MATO then in 1968-71 HQ MATO then posted HQ NATS as DDCP2 and in 1974 back to Uxbridge as OC MATO Southern Region. His number two was Squadron Leader Merriman. These two officers would always buy the lads a drink in the Crown pub Watton. I bumped into both at LATCC and CAA House as a civilian. Two great officers. Other names at Eastern at the time were Mick Lane, Les Buckle, the Rutter twins and so on. Some of the controllers who served as aircrew in WW2 used to tell us youngsters some hair raising & humorous stories about their experiences. Eastern was a good unit to be at.

    • I was at Eastern Radar from ’66 – ’69 having re-mustered to AATC and a Shawbury course. I remember the Rutter twins and Pat McKenna, but my memory needs to be jogged some more for others. Remember Shirley Grieve and her dog? Who was the F/L had the Alvis? I’m sure it’s the same car that’s been on TV. I got posted to Singapore in ’69 and returned to Marham in ’71. They theatened to send me back to Eastern for a quickie course, but I managed to skive off that. O, the Patel twins too, and Rick who sold me his Morris Minor for a fiver. Sad thing though, I lost my eldest daughter in a RTA whilst there. Memories, Bob

      • Hi Bob,i am the Rick that sold you the Morris Minor.I too remember the Ruttters.Patels, Shirley [whom taught me to play bridge on nights] also remember the Alvis not the name

        • Hey Rick, I remember you well. Thanks for the Morris Minor, best deal I ever did, wish I still had it. remember your Dad as well. Shirley yes and the Patels. How’s things with you? I live in BC Canada now, retired and well. Nice to hear from you. If you have in st a g r am I’m smartrobby.

  • I served at RAF Watton as a National Serviceman during 1951 to 1952 and enjoyed myself . I work on daily servicing Mosquitos and did occasionally fly in them. This. has brought back a few memories . Thanks a lot.

  • Few signs of the a/f left now…progress? I don’t know…visited Watton or passed many times as a civilian working at Colt 76 to closure. Also after Colts demise I had a job working for Severn Trent and had to water sample in the glider hut where all the honours boards now hang….great footage by the the way

  • In late June 1965 i was given my first posting from trade training in ATC at Shawbury to the soon to be opened Area Radar Unit named Eastern Radar.I along with two other Leading aircraftmen: Joe Bose and John Cossins we arrived on a drab rainy day not very impressed with Watton. We were to be billeted adjacent to the parade ground along with many others that eventually followed in the coming months to swell the camp population. The three of us presented ourselves at the unit that was in the progress of transition from a missile tracking station to an area air traffic control operation. We were met by a florid faced Flt Lt Dando who was temporarily in charge during the refurbishment and shortly to retire. There was nothing for us to do at this point so we were told to clean and polish the floors of the adjacent type 82 radar head.I remember looking out from the floors of the radar head at the camp half a mile distance on bright hot summer days contemplating on our great start to service life! We can safely boast that we were the first oicks to be present and waiting for duty at Eastern Radar. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay both in Norfolk and at Watton in particular; many good memories and friendships. Bizarrely i was on holiday in Norfolk in 1993 and paid a visit to the camp and was quite shocked at its demise i took photos inside the grounds only to lose the film prior to it being developed!!? So very pleased to see this web sight.

    • Thanks for the memories Terence. I worked at Eastern myself (for Airworks) ’77 – ’82 spent many happy hours there. Great place to work. Julian

    • Terence,please don’t take this as criticism or nit picking of your interesting entry. As time goes on our memories do need occasional assistance, I know that mine does, so this is really a well meant correction. You refer to the previous incarnation of what was about to become Eastern Radar as “a missile tracking station”, it was not. Fylingdales and similar were, and presumably still are, missile tracking stations as part of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System. What used to be 24 Wing Headquarters was the Tactical Control Centre for the three Bloodhound Mark 1 Squadrons in 24 Wing, 242 at Marham, 263 at Watton (Griston) and 266 at Rattlesden. The Early Warning Master Radar Station, in this instance Bawdsey, would pass information on potentially hostile approaching aircraft to the TCC which would then locate the target(s) using the Type 82 “Orange Yeoman” Radar. The TCC target selection officer would then pass the target to the appropriate Bloodhound Fire Unit which would then locate the target using the Type 83 “Yellow River” Target Illuminating Radar (TIR). When the target was within range the TIR would be locked on to it and the selected missiles would be turned on to the same heading. When the target was strong enough, the missile radars would be activated and, if the target had not been identified as friendly by this time, the decision would be taken to launch the missile(s) which would then pass through the sound barrier within seconds of leaving the launcher(s). The Air Defence Operators in the TCC would have no interest in following the track of the missile(s) as they may well have been looking for further incoming targets. If the MRS was disabled the TCC could operate autonomously and if the TCC was disabled so could the respective TIRs, by that time things would really be getting serious. You mention Flt Lt Dando, would that be Fred Dando? If so he was formerly the 263 Sqn A Flight Commander though not mine, I was on B Flight and my Flt Commander was Flt Lt Ron Minette.

      • I do apologise and stand corrected;however your article was far more interesting than my own and i was ignorant of those facts so thank you.I am slightly embarrassed because my future father in law had been a radar engineer at Staxton Wold and associated units in the late fifties and sixties. Ft Lt Dando would have been in his mid fifties in June 1965.He mentioned he was retiring that year,i didn’t know his Christian name.( I thought i had replied earlier but the web page didn’t respond)

    • Hi Terry glad you have the same fond memories as myself and a good tour at Laarbruch. Some of us lucky ones were detached to Watton Twr then Lindholme and back to Eastern Radar thereby avoiding the bull.I shared a room with Joe Bose. Do you remember the laughs we had sharing various abodes whilst at LATCC. Hope you are well and retired from NATS.

      Barry Davidson

      • Hi Barry,
        I wondered if someone from that time at Watton would pick up on my memories and reply! Good to know you are still kicking cant believe i am 70 this year. Yes good memories of Eastern Radar and camp life and our time at Laarbruch and Latcc.Should get in touch and catch up.

        • Hi Terry: Tried to meet up with you at EGCC when on a training mission but it was your day off!!! Contact me at aufkleve(at) Was looking at some old photos of us lot the other day and wondering what happened to some of the others.

    • I remember you Teremce and John Cozzins too. I arrived there somewhat later after re-mustering to AATC. You probably have seen the post from myself and Rick Soar. Remember how we used to build up a “fund” from takings in the crew room for egg banjo’s and cheese and onion buns? Didn’t we all mosy on down to Lakenheath a couple of times to the 21 club there?

  • I went to Watton in 1949 after getting through an electrical course at Melksham and earning the dizzy rank of AC1, arriving midwinter and having to live in a nissen hut in watton green the dampness put me in the dock for a week, my next visit to a hospital was at the age of 82 with heart failure which shows that the rations slopped out stood me in good stead for a lifetime.
    I was billeted in the first block on the left behind the guardhouse, useful for LAC Lake who often spent the night there after a barney with corp callaghan a small irishman with a big ego.
    My workplace was in No 4 hanger daily service for a mixed bunch of Lancasters and Lincolns, we worked in the mornings and had rides in the afternoons when the demoted wartime pilots taught the new pilot officer types how to reverse course with a violent jerk of the stick, vertical wings and no loss of height! on one open day I saw a wingtip not ten feet from the ground. the Conningsby boys are green with envy!, the trouble with opendays was that they had a flypast on one engine and guess who had to change boiled over batteries afterwards and wipe up the acid? Happy days,I enjoyed my national service and all for thirty bob a week and I still remember 2437365.

    • Thanks for the memories Keith – sounds like you had a great time 🙂

      • Hi Julian
        In 1993 I was on a cycle tour of norfolk and deviated at Norwich toward Watton to see what 41 years had done to it, as I cycled along I was composing a line of bull- to get into the base but as I passed the married quarters I observed weeds growing on the parade ground – no bull needed but I did have an interesting visit to the guard room museum, were you the curator I met there that day ?
        or was it your father ?
        I have in front of me my discharge form 1394 dated 29 june 1951 signed by S/L S. Ghibent ? who I had the honour ofbeing let off a fizzer for not locking up No 4 hanger properly, he still noted that I had been a good lad !, his head whip was F S binns who chased us out into the snow to do services and made sure we signed the form 700s and then sent us out to do the test flights in the afternoon, there was always a rush to get into one of the gun turrets or stand behind the co pilot, for a youngster that was heaven now I stand outside supermarkets in Bournemouth collecting for the Poole branch of the RAFA, not so thrilling but still satisfying as we often get widows of battle of Britain bending our ears as we pretend to be trick cyclists

        • Hi Keith. Yes that would have been me – or possibly dad who died a year later or possibly Slim Trew an ex Wop/AG from 21 Sqdn 1940. If it was me I would have been the youngest of the quoted options:)
          I do recall a visitor telling me about having to fly air tests after singing the 700! Good to know you are still going strong.

          • This has started latent memories,I had a ziese icon camera which I used on camp and built a flash unit for it and required a 12volt meter. Near the tower was a lanc sans engines and an airframe so twisted as to be u/s so I liberated a meter from it, in 1959 it moved into a new morris 1000 which is still in use in Johannesburg and I have told my son that it is the only morris in the world sporting a meter that had seen operations over Germany!,The african sun has faded the AM arrow and 1943 date and he has instructions to risk his life to remove it in case of fire1
            One day in December the sqadron leader stuck his nose into the crewroom door just as we were soldering together a row of 12V bulbs for xmas tree lights, hearts dropped,” Ah,make me a set please”, Icould not decipher his name from his signature what was it?One night I was roused out of my pit, given a new fuel tank float and told to fit it to a mosquito for early morning take off so there I was on my own at 2 AM squeezed in the 12 inch space above a full tank of fuel- where oh where was the Elf and safety boys when you want them? at least I was not being shot at as I would have been 5 years earlier, it was all a great game to us youngsters

          • Hi Julian, without thinking about it Squaron Leader Nisbet came to mind and I still cannot remember what I did yesterday.

          • It’s funny how the mind and memory work Alan! You are not alone 🙂

  • The Roya Air Force Boxing Team were based here throughout the 1980’s, the ‘Golden Years’. It was the home of RAF Boxing We spent a fair few months training on and around the camp, the old GEF workshop was kitted out as our boxing gym. Some funny and great times, always remember the locals looking rather bemused by 20 or so puffing and panting blokes running around the village twice a day for no apparent reason.

  • Brilliant. I lived on Beechtree Park for a few years, in the 90s, and had a few nights out in the NAAFI. My daughter went to Treetops Playgroup on the camp too. Great memories, thank you

  • Thanks to all involved, especially Julian, Paul and Nell, for preserving this piece of history. I have met a great many people on my travels who have lived in Watton as their husbands were serving at the base and their first question is, “Is it still there”. Really appreciated.

  • My father was stationed at eastern radar from 1976 to 1981. I grew up on this camp as a kid. We lived a 1 Harris Road till 1979 before being moved to 3 Akrotiri Square. My mother was a cleaner at the lodge for many years with Shirley and Betty. I remember going there on a Sunday morning to watch a kids film.

  • Simply brilliant footage, it goes to show how utterly important it is to film, photograph and record Airfields as they MAY not always be here and they can change dramatically.
    I’ve had a huge interest in Airfields for a few years, the Expansion Period sites (like Watton)are of particular interest to me and i had the foresight to photograph the original Control Tower, A merican version and Hangars in 1996 when the last Breckland Family Show was held.
    Just to let you know, later in the video as you filmed the gun butt there were two small green sheds. These were actually very rare Robin Sheds.

    • Hi Jason – yes indeed they were Robin Sheds and were on site until the mid-90’s. The video is a bit deceptive the butts were actually at the eastern end of the airfield and the Robin Sheds were at the west facing the west doors of Hangar 1.
      When we shot the video it was windy so when i digitised and edited I cut he pan across which would have given a better understanding.
      The other point is we filmed this right at the start of the project and we were learning too which is why we never identified the for what they were (we didn’t know!)
      I so agree about recording places – and given your interest in airfields you will enjoy the record of Bodney when I can get the time to sort it.

  • Very good I thought

  • Thank you very much for this video. We spent many happy years at Watton. I have shared it with my family strewn around the globe.

    We arrived at Watton around 1963 from Cyprus. We had a large family of 7 kids and lived in Cardington Road (7). Spent many a happy day at Watton walking on the Airfield on a Sunday when it was closed and also getting milk cartoons from the NAAFI entrance just off the parade square.My Dad was a cook in the Airmens’ Mess, we left around 1968 for Brize Norton. Would be nice to make contact with anyone who lived in the same road as us.


  • I found this extremely interesting. I was stationed at RAF Watton from 1961-’63 on 263 Bloodhound Squadron at Griston so recognised many of the views. I remember the heavy snow of 1963 and coming back from the Airmen’s Mess through the snow covered main entrance, turning left just inside the main gate and passing the post box and telephone box to reach the 263 Squadron Barrack Block which was immediately opposite the NAAFI (I’d forgotten that it was called the Shirley Club). Station Sick Quarters at that time was presided over by the infamous SMO, Sqn Ldr Eastick. With regard to Pay Accounts, said to be downstairs in SHQ, I clearly remember having to go upstairs and occasionally having to queue on the stairs with others who hadn’t received leave pay or credits etc. The Station Warrant Officer would not have had his office in the Guardroom whilst the RAF Police were in occupation, as they were during my time there, as I remember well, having been ambushed by them whilst going to the Airmen’s Mess in mixed dress. The one and only time I went to the SWO’s office, when I was clearing, he was in SHQ which was not unusual, the SWO being required to be near the Station Commander, even when GD Flt. ousted the Police from Guardrooms and ran them as Discip. offices and receptions, the SWO usually remained in SHQ, his Sergeant being i/c Guardroom/Discip. office/Reception. One criticism, in the original written description of this film, the Japanese Nissan company is given the credit for Major Nissen’s famous invention, the NISSEN hut. Overall, though, many thanks for putting this on.

    • Good spot Martin – have corrected that spelling mistake.
      I have no doubt about your going upstairs for pay. I have learned over the 30 years or so of research that many people have different memories about details. In many cases it just seems to be a matter of when in time one was there.
      It is good to be able to record your memories and thanks for adding to the archive.

  • Excellent video especially now that (as I understand) it has all been redeveloped. I was at Watton in early seventies and remember well the Shirley Club and Watton Lodge. Also did duties in the old guard room which I understand held a German prisoner during the war.

    • I used to live near the base on Norwich Road Carbrooke . Was friends with a number of junior ranks going to dances at the Shirley Club and others at MARHAM , HONINGTON and COLTISHALL ,and SUNDAY Football .i meet my wife at the Shirley Club when the HOLLIES performed there

      • In the film Paul was talking about people crossing the A/F . My Grandfather got permission for his workers from Caston and Griston to cross even when the Americans were here . They use to cross on the old Carbrooke to Griston road which came out onto the B1108 crossed over into Mill Lane and to Carbrooke Village

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