The Hidden History of Longbenton
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By Flt Lt G G Richards - 2344 (Longbenton) Squadron
A missing local second world war RAF base has led to North Tyneside youngsters embarking on an historical mission that may unearth a secret. As the young detectives delve deeper into their history their inquisitive nature is being tested to its limits. Secrets, espionage and explosive tales may come to the surface so can you help?
The youngsters, who are Air Cadets at 2344 (Longbenton) Squadron, enjoyed the opportunity to visit the Tyne and Wear Archives at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle.
After learning about the archives, the cadets had the opportunity to learn about their squadron’s history as well as the Benton, Longbenton, Forest Hall, Killingworth and surrounding areas and how it was affected by both world wars.
The young air cadets are situated on Marquis Close, Benton – the site of Second World War Balloon Command base, RAF Longbenton, which protected the North-East’s skies until its closure in 1963 when RAF Boulmer opened.
The Longbenton Squadron is celebrating its 60th anniversary and also the 75th anniversary of the RAF Air Cadets and is looking to its past as part of its commemorative events.
However, the investigations conducted so far have proved to be inconclusive with more questions raised by the youngsters than answered! Consequently, the young cadets are undertaking more research and are asking for past serving personnel or past squadron members and their family members to get in touch.
“At the archives, we got to look at maps from the mid 1800s until after the Second World War and we could see how the area grew and developed,” explained Cadet Sarah Craigs, 14, of Forest Hall.
“However, RAF Longbenton had been omitted from the archives and we are all very intrigued as to why,” added Sarah.
Research revealed that information about military units were often absent from public eyes in order to protect them. The research has also found that RAF Longbenton may have a link to the use of radar when it was first used, as Fighter Controllers were based there.
“We thought that it was only a balloon base during the Second World War,” said 14-year old Robert Hodgson, of Benton.
“But we contacted the RAF Museum and found out that the base housed 3508 (County of Northumberland) Fighter Control Unit and 14 Maintenance Unit,”
“We are hoping that there are some people out there who will get in touch to answer the many questions that we now have which the archives can’t answer,” added Robert.
Jack Sanderson, 17, of Killingworth, added “It was really interesting looking at the area as it was years ago. There were four letters from 1940 about a fence next to Benton Methodist Church which was used by the MOD as a shelter during World War 2. They showed an argument between people about a fence being damaged and no-one fixing it.”
“It was quite strange reading the letters over 75 years on as in today’s world the letter would have been written via email or text message and may not have even been documented,” added Jack.
15 year old James Douglas added “A lot of us went to St Bartholomew’s school on Front Street.”
“We learnt that in the early days of the school the Ship Inn was a sweet shop and the women who owned it was also the lollipop lady. We found our houses and found that Forest Hall had a train station. However, we couldn’t find RAF Longbenton and know that it was there and that our Squadron was on the base!” added James.
The Longbenton Squadron is now asking the local community and relatives of those who may have served at RAF Longbenton or attended the Squadron in its early days to come forward and share any information that they have. Please contact the squadron via www.2344.org.uk.
For more information please visit the Squadron website