Orford Ness is so secret a place that most people have never even heard of it. Yet, the role it played in inventing and testing weapons over the course of the twentieth century was far more significant and much longer than that of Bletchley Park. Nestled on a remote part of the Suffolk coast, Orford Ness operated for over eighty years as a highly classified research and testing site for the British military, the Atomic Research Establishment and, at one point, even the US Department of Defence. The work conducted here by some of the greatest 'boffins' of past generations played a crucial role in winning the three great wars of the twentieth century - the First, Second and the Cold.
During another great presentation, Paddy shed some much needed light on the mysterious and most secret goings on at this haunting strip of marshland off the Suffolk coast, used by the army to test bombs and to spy on the Soviets, and on which enigmatic structures jut from the shingle: barracks, armouries, listening stations, beacons, watchtowers, bunkers, and two huge blast-chambers nicknamed the pagodas, Nissen huts and a lollipop lighthouse.
In the Middle Ages Orford Ness was used for grazing, though the RAF drained it to make it suitable for their use; however, since purchasing it, the National Trust has now returned some of the land back to grazing.
During World War I the RAF station had some 600 personnel and operated two grass airfields, whilst from 1914 to 1993 it was used by the Ministry of Defence, originally as an airfield and later for weapons research.
After World War I, Orford Ness tested parachutes, armaments, bomb designs and aircraft bombing formations, though Paddy advised us that the parachutes "were not intended for aircrew" but simply for use in dropping flares to permit aerial photography - aircrew were not issued with parachutes until 1925!
In 1935 work began on radar design and development, which was subsequently moved to Bawdsey after proving at Orford Ness; Paddy noted that airborne radar was developed which was so successful that, to hide this success from the Germans, the RAF announced that pilots were eating carrots to improve their eyesight - it seems the Germans might even have bought this subterfuge!
During World War II captured enemy guns were fired at our aircraft to find out how their defences could be improved whilst captured aircraft were also shot at with our guns to determine what changes were needed to inflict the greatest damage upon them.
In the mid 1950's a test range was constructed to test the Bluestreak missile, whose flight was monitored on cameras after firing in order to perfect the trajectory.
Many of the buildings standing today were built for the testing of atomic bomb triggering mechanisms. Paddy advised these tests were to perfect safety features and to guard against false detonation of the bombs, which came as some comfort to those old enough to remember going through the cold war; apparently such environmental testing included heating, freezing, vibrating, accelerating and decelerating to a high ‘G' force in order to check that the firing mechanism did not malfunction. This testing finished in 1967.
The National Trust site is now open to visitors under the careful guidance of Paddy and other colleagues who ensure that potential dangers are avoided.
After another great evening, Little Waldingfield is now looking forward to the next LWHS talk on “Punch and Judy" in their 350th anniversary year, and will take a light hearted look at its history and traditions, including a show, though this is intended for adults only, on December 5th at 7.30 pm in the Parish Room.
This much loved puppet show has its roots in 16th century Italian commedia dell'arte, with the figure of the Neapolitan character Pulcinella anglicised to Punchinello (a manifestation of the Lord of Misrule); later this became Mr. Punch, who made his first recorded appearance in England on 9 May 1662, which is traditionally reckoned to be his UK birthday.