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Page last updated at 14:14 GMT, Thursday, 22 April 2010 15:14 UK
New Forest airfield history interest after Obama link

There were 12 airfields in the New Forest during World War II

Documents released by the US Army have shown that Barrack Obama's grandfather was based at a New Forest airfield, 66 years ago.

The revelation has brought renewed interest in the role the New Forest airfields played during World War II.

There were 12 airfields in the New Forest at the height of the war. The location near the south coast and the flat terrain made the forest the ideal location for fighters and bombers.

While holidaymakers today will see little physical evidence of the airfields, they are part of the heritage of the forest.

New Forest war

The New Forest National Park Authority picked up on the recent revelation that the grandfather of US President Barrack Obama, US Army Sergeant Stanley Armour Dunham, arrived at RAF Stoney Cross in the New Forest in 1944.

Stanley Armour Dunham and Barrack Obama in 1979
US Army Sergeant Stanley Dunham was Barrack Obama's grandfather

He was part of the 1830th Ordnance Supply and Maintenance Co. (aviation) which supported the US 9th Air Force for D-Day in June of that year.

John Levesley, secretary of the Friends of New Forest Airfields group, said: "Sergeant Dunham's job was to basically look after the Bomb Dump, get the bombs brought in, look after the ammunition, store the ammunition, maintain it and deliver it out to the aircraft so that the ground crew could actually load them up and arm them for their missions."

Now the New Forest National Park Association has written to the White House inviting the president to visit the area.

As of yet the White House has not responded to the invitation, but it is hoped pulling on some heartstrings could bring a presidential visit in the future.

John Levesley added: "If the president decided to come he would certainly not be the first grandson of an American veteran to come and visit the New Forest."

Forgotten airfields

The main runway at RAF Stoney Cross was 1.8km (1.1 miles) long. Part of the old runway now forms part of a local road.

A sign marks RAF Stoney Cross
There is very little to mark that RAF Stoney Cross was ever there

It was just one of 12 runways dotted around the New Forest, nine of which were built specifically for World War II.

Many of the wartime airstrips were temporary and very little of them and their buildings remain. Only Hurn airport survives as a working airport today - more commonly known as Bournemouth International Airport.

The first airfield in the forest dates back to the early years of flying 1910 in East Boldre. It was used as a training centre by the Royal Flying Corp during World War I.

One of the largest airfields in the New Forest during World War II was on nearby Beaulieu Heath which had three runways. It is still possible to see the outline of the site on maps and aerial photographs.

Although the base was closed in the 1950s, large sections of the concrete runway and perimeter road remain. It is now a popular location for flying model aircraft.

Untold story

Jim Mitchell, interpretation officer for the New Forest National Park Authority, said that often there are only a few clues as to the forest's aviation history.

At the site of RAF Stoney Cross he said: "One of the big things about this area is that it's been completely returned to New Forest habitat.

"So now you see the New Forest ponies grazing here, we've got the fantastic gorse in flower, and it is very much just part of the New Forest.

"There were lots of buildings - large hangers, there was accommodation, there was even a glider factory here, and all of this is completely gone... so it's really nice for people who visit the area to realise how different it was."

"We think it's quite a good story that people aren't aware of, and also it helps us tell the story of the New Forest airfields and what an important role they played."

The authority has also recently released an audio tour that can be downloaded and played while walking around the site.

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