Walk­ing through his­tory

The cen­turies col­lide at Eye Air­field, scene of war time ac­tiv­ity

EADT Suffolk - - Inside -

EYE in­dus­trial es­tate on the A140. It’s not ex­actly the first place you’d think of heading for a Suf­folk Sun­day stroll, let alone a week­day walk­a­bout. But leave your mind as open as the vast ex­panse of Mid-Suf­folk sky which awaits, and on the widest path­ways con­creted into the coun­try­side some 75 years ago, you’ll soon lose track of time.

Just a field mar­gin or four from the his­toric town’s crin­kle-cran­kle wall, huge hangar-like build­ings crouch low, be­neath pro­pel­lers high in the sky. Great trans­porters line up in ranks, ready to thun­der off down con­crete roads to far­away des­ti­na­tions. And at the ad­ja­cent busi­ness park, al­most in sight of tiny Brome’s oc­tag­o­nal church tower, oily en­gi­neer­ing work­shops and the lo­cal re­cy­cling tip clus­ter in the com­pany of smart of­fices and stor­age fa­cil­i­ties. It’s a mot­ley crew. A pur­pose­ful place. One full of mod­ern day echoes and con­crete re­minders of the past that’s al­ways been just a leafy lane from pars­ley fields, Laven­der Cot­tages and a ‘Mus­tard Pot’ manor. But above all, it’s a hugely im­por­tant Suf­folk spot, where the sheer scale of ev­ery­thing puts his­tory in per­spec­tive.

Dur­ing World War II, Suf­folk saw the con­struc­tion of many Class A air­fields fea­tur­ing three in­ter­sect­ing run­ways. Many were later dis­man­tled, oth­ers, like those at De­bach, Met­field and Halesworth, re­main dis­cernible in the land­scape to­day. But only Eye’s wartime aero­drome – ini­tially known as Brome Air­field, USAAF Sta­tion 134, home to heavy bombers, the B-24 Lib­er­a­tors and B-17 Fly­ing Fortresses – of­fers the op­por­tu­nity to walk great stretches of the run­ways and perime­ter track. It’s a unique chance to get a real feel for the size of the orig­i­nal air­field site and the prox­im­ity of our ru­ral Suf­folk her­itage to those brave souls who served there.

Fol­low­ing some of the 490th Bomb Group Memo­rial Pro­ject way­marked air­field trails, lo­cal foot­paths and the Mid-Suf­folk long dis­tance path, this cir­cu­lar route sug­gests de­tours to two key memo­ri­als and takes in ev­ery­thing from ser­pen­tine walls to the straight­est of east-west run­ways, from a his­toric fuse store to the re­mains of Vic­to­ria Mill and the Tu­dor tombs of the mighty Corn­wal­lis fam­ily in St Mary’s Brome.

THE WALK

1 START near Eye’s dom­i­nat­ing Vic­to­rian Town Hall, home to the air­field’s Roll of Honour. Walk along Lam­seth Street (B1077 to­wards Brome) past the his­toric almshouses (right) and crin­kle-cran­kle wall (left), then turn left into Castle­ton Way. Head up past both the hos­pi­tal and school (left). When the pave­ment runs out, con­tinue with care for a fur­ther 50 me­tres, then cross to pick up the foot­path (right - red and blue cir­cu­lar walk mark­ers).

2 LOOK­ING OUT to­wards the wind tur­bines, you are now fac­ing the WWII air­field site. A map panel in situ here clearly shows the A-shaped lay­out and dis­per­sal lo­ca­tions of the US air­force op­er­a­tional fly­ing squadrons – the 850th and 849th Bom­bard­ment Squadrons (ahead) and 848th and 851st (to the left around the area of/to the north of White­house Farm on the A140). A dump for bombs trucked in from the wartime rail­way halt be­yond ‘Rapsy Tapsy Lane’ was sited at the field end here. Head along the wide grassy foot­path be­tween two fields to­wards the run­ways.

3 A RARE wartime sur­vivor on this site, the lonely Nis­sen hut was a fuse store. Con­tinue straight ahead to where the con­crete perime­ter path joins from the right. Here, take the foot­path di­rectly ahead across the field (marker post on far side con­firms the route) to meet the great east-west run­way. Take a moment to ab­sorb the scale of things - to imag­ine not just the thun­der­ing bombers, but the vast task be­hind the air­field’s con­struc­tion; the per­sonal sto­ries in the air and those buried be­neath your feet…

4 DE­TOUR TIME? The 490th BG Memo­rial lo­cated on Progress Way is a must. It’s half a run­way’s walk away (point 5) but it’s also ac­ces­si­ble by car from the B1077. To walk (about 1 mile re­turn), turn right along the

run­way to­wards its end at the lorry park. Take the path left to reach Progress Way. Turn right to find the memo­rial.

5 THIS MEMO­RIAL to the Amer­i­can Ser­vice­men of the 490th Bom­bard­ment Group was ded­i­cated in 2016. Re­trace your steps to point 4. Turn left down the run­way where the pro­pel­lers of wind tur­bines rather than heavy bombers whir in the sky.

6 LOOK FOR a way­marker (right) at the run­way’s end, guid­ing through scrub onto the im­pres­sive north-south run­way. Stay vig­i­lant for ve­hi­cles. Turn right to fol­low the high steel fence.

7 A GAP( gate) in the steel fence leads to a wide grassy path shel­tered be­tween hedges. Be­yond this, fol­low way­mark­ers to cross the perime­ter path and head right – par­al­lel to the A140 - on the grass area, past ponds, through more steel fences, across park­ing bays, along the en­tire front of the in­dus­trial es­tate and be­yond.

8 AT THE END of Eye In­dus­trial Es­tate go right along a field mar­gin, then across the old air­field hard stand­ing, once re­served for vis­it­ing air­craft, near the end of the north-south run­way. In front are the low-lying units of Brome In­dus­trial Es­tate. Con­tinue across the hard­stand­ing/scrub land to reach these build­ings on Lib­er­a­tor Way. Turn left to­wards the B1077.

9 SPOT the Rom­ney hut (curved, sim­i­lar to a Nis­sen hut), prob­a­bly a WWII work­shop, re­lo­cated af­ter the war. As the air­field’s tech­ni­cal site, this area would have in­cluded the con­trol tower. Turn right onto the B1077 for a few me­tres, cross­ing to take the signed foot­path (‘Nick’s Lane’ on the map). Along this straight, well-main­tained farm road past houses and fields, look out for Brome church tower peek­ing through the trees.

10 DE­TOUR TIME 2? Charm­ing Brome St Mary’s is only a 0.75 mile re­turn, with links with the Corn­wal­lis fam­ily. Charles made the fi­nal sur­ren­der to the Amer­i­cans at York­town in 1781 and Ed­ward founded Hal­i­fax, Nova Sco­tia. At the end of the straight track, fol­low it left into the farm­yard (mind the trac­tors!) and straight along to the road. Turn right to find the church a lit­tle way along on the right.

11 THE LIT­TLE Nor­man round-tower church is home to a fine USAAF suf­folk­mag.co.uk

memo­rial plaque, plus Tu­dor tombs, Vic­to­rian stained glass and stone carv­ings by Ip­swich sculp­tor, James Wil­liams. Re­trace your steps to point 10. Turn right – left, if you’ve done the de­tour – over a hard­stand­ing area to pick up the foot­path (right) by the end of the hedge. The path ducks and dives, first left of a hedge, then through a gap to the right of the hedge, then fol­lows an arable field to meet a firm track. Go right a short way, then left at the foot­path sign by a small weir onto a field mar­gin track.

12 WHERE THE TRACK meets Brome Av­enue op­po­site hot spot, Mus­tard Pot Hall, (signed Mid Suf­folk Foot­path, MSF), turn right to get a whiff of Camomile, Laven­der and Pine Cot­tages. Just be­fore the B1077, turn left past the en­trance to Eye Bowls Club, fi­nally reach­ing a field edge path junc­tion through a gap in the hedge. Take the foot­path right, along the field mar­gin (views left to St Peter & St Paul’s mighty tower). The wide path emerges onto the B1077 where Lang­ton Green be­comes Vic­to­ria Hill.

13 TURN LEFT along the road briefly. Cross to pick up the way­marked foot­path. This leads right along field mar­gins to meet the air­field’s con­crete perime­ter path. Left again here (signed green trail), heading to­wards those mas­sive pro­pel­lers once more.

14 TAKE THE FIRST foot­path left heading to­wards the hos­pi­tal build­ing with its dis­tin­guish­ing bell. It be­comes a field path, ducks through a hedge gap to­wards al­lot­ments to re­veal the brick re­mains of a Vic­to­ria Post­mill, al­ready di­lap­i­dated dur­ing the air­field’s hey­day. Fol­low the foot­path or res­i­den­tial streets down, to emerge back on Castle­ton Way. Turn left, then right by the crin­kle-cran­kle wall to wend your way back into Eye.

On the east-west run­way

Signs of the times

Walk­ers in Brome Av­enue

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