Ketteringham Hall - 2nd Air Division Headquarters
Text © Copyright Evelyn Simak, August 2016
Ketteringham is a small village located about ten kilometres to the south-west of the city of Norwich in the district of South Norfolk, with Ketteringham Hall being situated approximately one kilometre to the south-east.
The hall is surrounded by 36 acres of gardens and lawns, a lake as well as wood and open park and grassland. Other features in the grounds are a recently restored 19th century ice house, a ha-ha, a summer house, and a wood sculptures trail which was created in recent years. The formal gardens include a late 17th century terrace and steps in front of the hall, a mid 19th century wrought iron rose pergola believed to have been designed by Thomas Jeckyll in about 1846, Greek statues and several 19th century garden urns. There is also a pet cemetery where the numerous dogs of the Boileau family are buried. Their graves are marked with ornamental memorial stones or statues.
A large window containing rare 16th and 17 century stained glass > Link graces the staircase opposite the main entrance into Ketteringham Hall. It was installed in 1844 by Sir John Boileau. The two large central panels are painted in the grisaille technique and are believed to have been imported to England in the first decade of the 19th century by the Norwich-based dealers John Christopher Hampp and Willaim Stevenson. The smaller roundels, believed to originate from the Netherlands, are presumed to also have been imported by Hampp and Stevenson. The coat of arms in the tracery dates to the 19th century and belongs to the Boileau family and was made specifically for the window.
The Ketteringham estate is documented to have existed during the time of Edward the Confessor (1004-1066), with the first hall having been built by Sir Henry Grey. Henry Grey (1418-January 1450) was the only son of Sir Thomas Grey, the 1st Earl of Tankerville, and on his father's death became the 2nd Earl of Tankerville when only one and a half years old. He married Emma Appleyard whose father, Sir William Appleyard, had acquired the manor of Ketteringham from the trustees of Margaret Bokenham. The public career of William Appleyard of Norwich, Hethel and Bracon Ash began in 1383, when he became the first mayor of Norwich under the charter of 1404, and spanned altogether 36 years during which he served three terms as bailiff and five as mayor. His name is first recorded in August 1367, when an inquest was held as to whether his father, Bartholomew Appleyard, his brother Edmund and William himself might effect an entail of certain lands at East Carleton which were held in chief by the remarkable service of providing the King with 224 herring pasties whenever he visited the region. Appleyard died on 4 September 1419, leaving his place of burial "to wherever it pleased God".
In the decades that followed, the village of Ketteringham became associated with the Heveningham family, as by the will of Sir Henry Grey in 1492 the property was bequeathed to Thomas Heveningham, who came from the Heveningham family of the village of Heveningham in Suffolk and had married Anne Yarde, Henry Grey's step-daughter. Their oldest son and heir, Sir John Heveningham, held the manor for another 36 years until his death in 1536. His son, Sir Anthony Heveningham, in turn inherited the manor, which continued to remain in the family until it was sold to Henry Heron (7 Dec 1675 - 10 Sept 1730), who in 1709 was the High Sheriff of Norfolk. Henry Heron came from Surfleet in Lincolnshire. In 1695, he married Abigail, a daugher of Sir William Heveningham. He died at the age of 54 and is buried at Surfleet.
The estate was then acquired by Sir Edward Atkyns, who in 1743 was the High Sheriff of Norfolk. He died in 1750. His son, also Edward, is probably best remembered because of his wife Charlotte, daughter of Sir Robert Walpole (who is generally regarded as the first British prime minister), an actress by profession and a spy during the French Revolution, who on Queen Marie Antoinette's imprisonment had made several (unsuccessful) attempts to rescue her, mortgaging Ketteringham estate in the process, after which she lived in Paris on a small pension allowed her by Louis XVIII. Charlotte is reported to have died, pennyless, in Paris in 1836. She was buried in an unmarked grave. In 1907 a tablet was installed in Ketteringham St Peter's church "by a few who sympathised with her wish to rest in this church". The "few" were Lucy Lady Boileau and her husband, Sir Maurice Boileau BT (of Ketteringham Hall, 3rd Baronet of Tacolneston); Lady Dorothy Nevill (an English writer, hostess, horticulturist and plant collector and the daughter of the third Earl of Orford); Prince Frederick Duleep Singh (of Elvedon Hall, the son of the deposed and exiled Maharaja Duleep Singh of the Punjab); the Earl of Orford (Robert Horace Walpole, 5th Earl of Orford); Sir Spencer Walpole (English historian and civil servant) and James Nevill. The inscription on the tablet reads: "She was the friend of Marie Antoinette and made several brave attempts to rescue her from Prison. And after that Queen's death strove to save the Dauphin of France."
After the death in 1825 of his wife of only one year, Harriet, who as the daughter of John Thomas Atkyns of Huntercombe House in Buckinghamshire and his wife (and cousin) Mary, the daughter of Edward Atkyns of Ketteringham, was the heiress of the Ketteringham estate, the hall became the property of William Nathaniel Peach of Bownham House near Stroud in Glostershire, who came from one of the leading clothier families of the Stroud valleys. When Peach senior died in August 1935, he left all his freehold property to his only son, also William Nathaniel, who in turn sold the estate in the following year.
After a fire had almost completely destroyed the hall, it was rebuilt to its present form by Sir John Peter Boileau who had acquired the estate in 1836 and whose family lived there until 1948. Sir John was created a baronet of Tacolnestone Hall in 1838, elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1843, and appointed High Sheriff of Norfolk in 1844. He also represented Norfolk as a Deputy Lieutenant and as a Justice of the Peace. The Boileau coat of arms with the motto 'De Tout Mon Cour' (with all my heart) can still be seen above the front entrance, and a large black exterior bell is still hanging high up on the west wall. It is reported to date back to the residency of Sir Maurice Colborne Boileau (1865–1937), who is said to have been in the habit of taking a walk before his evening dinner. On hearing the dinner bell chime he reportedly executed, for the benefit of the onlooking village children, a smart parade ground about-turn, shouldering his walking stick and marching home immediately.
According to another anecdote, strong animosity flowed between the manor house and Reverend Andrew, the rector of St Peter's church, perhaps mainly due to his refusal of having a memorial window for Sir John Boileau's wife, Catherine, installed in the church. The window was planned to depict Saint Catherine, but because of the great uproar in the parish apparently fanned by the rector, who is reported to have feared that the simple people of the parish might believe it was the Virgin Mary, the window was never installed. St Peter's church, which stands adjacent to the main entrance to the hall, does however contain a number of memorials commemorating the various owners over the decades, and the Boileau's mausoleum can be seen in the south-east corner of the churchyard. Sadly, the family no longer feel a commitment to maintain it and in 1991 a request was made for it to be demolished. The mausoleum has since been Grade II listed and is now looked after by the Mausolea and Monuments Trust. It is adjoined by many graves of members of the Boileau family. A number of headstones paid for by the Boileaus for servants in their employ also populate the churchyard.
From 1943 to 1945, Ketteringham Hall, located only about one kilometre to the north of RAF Hethel > Link , was home to the headquarters of the 2nd Air Division of the USAAF's 8th Air Force, which had previously been based at Camp Thomas in Old Catton (USAAF Station 108), a suburban village and civil parish to the north of the city of Norwich. During this time, Ketteringham Hall had been designated USAAF Station 147.
The 2nd Air Division evolved out of the reorganisation of the USAAF's 8th Bomber Command into the 8th Air Force. Initially the 2nd Bomb Wing, it became the 2nd Bomb Division, to which in September 1944 a Fighter Wing was added before it was redesignated the 2nd Air Division in January 1945. Six groups within the 2d Air Division received presidential citations for outstanding actions and five airmen were given the highest US award for bravery, the Medal of Honor (four of them posthumously). A total of 1,458 B-24 Liberator bomber aircraft were lost in action and 6,700 men lost their lives.
Today, a collection comprising over 30,000 images of original photographs, letters, memoirs and other documents has been accumulated by the Second Air Division Digital Archive. The archive was recently moved from the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library at the Forum to the Norfolk Record Office's Archive Center in Martineau Lane, adjacent to County Hall. It has also been digitised and is available online > Link.
The 2nd Air Division consisted of the following groups:
14th Shipdham - Link
20th Hardwick - Link
95th Halesworth - Link
96th Horsham St Faith
392nd Wendling - Link
445th Tibenham - Link
446th Bungay - Link
448th Seething - Link
453rd Old Buckenham - Link
458th Horsham St. Faith
466th Attlebridge - Link
467th Rackheath - Link
491st Metfield - Link
492nd North Pickenham - Link
355th Steeple Morden
Some members of the Boileau family who had refused to move out resided in a small side wing, whereas the remainder of the hall was converted for use as an operational headquarters. The Operations and Intelligence sections and the War Room occupied the ground floor, and the chapel, dating from 1840, was used as the Operations room. The office of the Division Adjutant General was situated on the first floor above the main entrance. Also on that floor were the offices of the Commanding General, the Chief of Staff and the Deputy Chief of Staff. One of the staff members in the summer of 1944 was the American film and stage actor James "Jimmy" Stewart who served as General Timberlake's executive officer and later as Chief of Staff.
James Stewart was probably the best known American and certainly the first famous American movie star to wear a military uniform in WW2. In December 1943, Stewart served at RAF Tibenham and in early 1945 he was transferred to RAF Old Buckenham, becoming the operations officer of the 453rd Bomb Group, which flew B-17 Flying Fortresses. When he arrived in a B-24 Liberator, he reportedly buzzed the tower until the controllers fled. Later Stewart became the 703rd Bomb Squadron's commander carrying the rank of captain. Having reportedly refused promotion to major, saying that he would only agree if his junior officers would get promoted from lieutenants, he was finally made a major in January 1944, by which time he commanded all four squadrons of the 445th Bomb Group. After completing 20 combat missions in July 1944, he was made Chief of Staff of the 2nd Combat Bombardment Wing of the 8th Air Force and promoted to colonel in April 1945. Stewart was one of the few Americans to rise from private to colonel in four years.
In April 1945, a court martial with Colonel Stewart as president of the court, was held at Ketteringham Hall. It involved 1st Lieutenant William Sincock and 1st Lieutenant Theodore Balides (both from the 392 Bomb Group based at RAF Wendling - USAAF Station 118) who on the occasion of a bombing mission to Germany on 4 March of the same year, due to bad weather and faulty navigational equipment, had inadvertently bombed the city of Zurich in neutral Switzerland. (The verdict was "not guilty".)
One of the men stationed at Ketteringham Hall was Raymond Strong, who after graduating from the Officer Candidate School in Miami Beach was sent to the 8th Air Force headquarters near London and from there to Norfolk. In his recollections, published in May 2004 on the WW2 People's War website he describes his time at the hall: "Just before Christmas in 1943, all of the Headquarters personnel and all of its functions were moved out to Ketteringham Hall. The Command Section, Operations and Intelligence sections were moved into the Hall itself. But dozens of various sized Nissen huts were erected all around the hall for offices, living quarters, mess halls, etc ... In the summer of 1943 we received our first WAC's. We got about 150 ladies of all kinds of talent. We got stenographers, linotype operators, truck drivers, and many other things that we needed. Later, we got another shipment of ladies and at top strength we had almost 300. This made many things run a whole lot easier than before."
The personnel, numbering about 700 people including up to 300 women, were accommodated at four campsites in the vicinity of the hall and the Administrative site (Site 1). Site 1 occupied the grounds adjoining the hall in the east, north and north-west, including Church Wood, part of the lawn opposite the main hall entrance, part of the cricket ground, and the area of the current car park. The buildings housed the Station headquarters, the Inspector General's and Provost Marshal's offices, a Signals unit, Engineers, Special Services, a Surgeon and a Chaplain. There was also a Photo laboratory and a number of buildings used as stores.
Site 2, one of the domestic sites, adjoined in the west and spread out all the way along an avenue of trees leading to the gate lodge at the western end of what once used to be a driveway, by the junction of High Ash and Church roads Link. The avenue is still clearly marked by the mature trees bordering it but the site has since been integrated into a large cattle pasture. Site 3, another accommodation site, was situated along both sides of a concreted track leading south from Old School Wood towards the hall grounds, and in the north was spread out alongside the southern edge of Old and New School Woods. The now disused Braithwaite water tank is still standing beside the old concreted road leading through the former camp. It is adjoined by a pump house. A short distance further to the south and near the south-western corner of Church Plantation the ivy-clad remains of a prefabricated concrete hut are still in place. A small quite dilapidated and overgrown toilet block or latrine stands nearby.
One of the WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) sites (Site 4) adjoined Site 2 and the adjacent lodge in the south-west. The concreted hut platforms have survived on this site. Site 5, also occupied by the WAAF and situated on the edge of Outerpark Wood, adjoined the camp's Communal site (Site 6), which was located in a field to the south-west of Hall Farm and east of Bean Belt. The WAAF had their own Sick quarters on Site 5 and a number of concrete hut platforms as well as the remains of blast shelters are still in place.
Although the official site plan mentions a second Sick quarters (building #194) and a Medical Inspection hut (building #195) on Site 6, these would seem to never have been built as their locations are not actually shown on the plan. The concreted track separating Sites 5 and 6 is still in place and all the concreted tracks have also survived on the Communal site, now in farm use. Brick-built blast shelters can still be found along the edge of this site and an overgrown M&E plinth has also survived here. The largest structure on Site 6 however is one section of formerly three large interconnected buildings with curved roofs of corrugated iron sheeting. It formed part of one of the Mess halls and, according to a local resident, also served as the station's cinema. All the Nissen huts and the adjoining temporary buildings have long since been removed but a few concreted hut bases can still be found.
With the departure of the American squadrons, RAF Hethel was handed over to RAF Fighter Command and Ketteringham Hall was acquired by the Duke of Westminster and used as a preparatory school until 1965, when Badingham College bought it. The college, however, failed to survive and had closed by 1968. In 1970, Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman, the founder of the sports car company Lotus Cars, who a few years earlier had bought the area formerly occupied by the Technical site of RAF Hethel, also purchased Ketteringham Hall and converted the former stable block into a factory service centre. The estate is still owned by the Chapman family and Ketteringham Hall has since been converted into offices. A memorial plaque dedicated to those who served in the 2nd Air Division during WW2 can be found on the wall of a sheltered seat adjacent to the conservatory.
Please note that most of the sites described are located on private land, as is Ketteringham Hall. Access is however commonly permitted, allowing interested visitors to see the commemorative plaque in a seat adjacent to the conservatory. A public footpath turning off Church Road and leading in northerly direction, where it emerges on High Street in the village of Ketteringham, leads past several of the former accommodation sites.