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Page last updated at 11:56 GMT, Monday, 18 January 2010
Museum proposed at World War II site of RAF Langham

BBC Norfolk's Karen Buchanan
By Karen Buchanan
BBC Norfolk

Langham Dome, north Norfolk
Langham Dome was an important WWII structure in north Norfolk

If you've ever taken the back road from Langham to Wells in north Norfolk you won't have failed to notice a big black pudding-like dome.

As a child growing up in Langham I knew of this odd 25-foot tall, 40-foot wide Christmas pudding of a building on the edge of the airfield where my father, somewhat unsuccessfully, first tried to teach me to drive.

Like many who have come across it, I had no idea what it was or the important role it had helping Britain win World War II. Until now.

Local resident Patrick Allen is setting up the Friends of Langham Dome in a bid to preserve the building and turn a piece of RAF Langham's history into a museum - but why?

"It's a Second World War gunnery trainer - one of only six left in the country, although 40 were built," said Patrick.

Some 20 or so different squadrons were stationed here at various times during World War II. Langham grew from a village of 200 residents to a small town of 2,000 in the space of around 12 months!

"For the first few years it only had grass runways but in 1943 the concrete runways were laid," said Patrick.

"The first squadrons to arrive at the new concrete airfield were two squadrons of Beaufighters who flew against enemy shipping - one from New Zealand, the other from Australia," he added.

Patrick is worried that the importance of Langham Dome may be lost as time flies by and he feels the creation of a museum is the best way to preserve its heritage.

"There's no memorial to those that flew from here, never to return, and I'd like to create this museum as their memorial," he said.

"We have lots of contacts in Australia and New Zealand. Sadly, mostly their families now as anyone who flew from here would be well into their 80s.

"A lot of families come here and want to see where dad or granddad flew from - this would be the perfect focal point for them."

Across the globe

The Friends of Langham Dome, north Norfolk
The Friends of Langham Dome want its history preserved

People from across the globe have been contacting the Friends of Langham Dome to find out more about the history of the airstrip.

"I'm really busy putting people in touch with each other. It's fantastic, I feel like Cilla Black," said Paul Searle of the Friends of the Langham Dome.

The building has sadly fallen into disrepair, but it used to house a ground-to-air gun and a projector which showed films of 30 - 40 different types of aircraft onto the dome's walls.

The gunner would aim at the projected aircraft and be monitored by an instructor for accuracy. Later on in the war Wellington bombers moved into the area and carried out anti-submarine patrols.

After World War II the dome became a gunnery trainer and the airfield was swamped with Mosquitoes pulling Drones, which were then used as target practice by the gunners at nearby Weybourne and Stiffkey.

The land and the dome were recently donated to the Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust by Bernard Matthews.

Patrick, as chair of the Friends of Langham Dome, is now desperate to see the listed building (reputedly Britain's youngest ancient monument) restored to its former glory.

To do that he needs money - and to get the money from the Heritage Lottery he needs a show of hands - do you think this slice of heritage is worth preserving?

Let us know and we'll publish a selection of your comments here. To add your personal support, e-mail Paul Searle or Patrick Allen.

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The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.

This absolutely has to be preserved for future generations as it is so very unusual!
Clare from Weybourne

I served as ground crew with 489 NZ squadron at several RAF stations including Langham.

The bravery of the aircrews carrying out their missions under intense anti-aircraft fire from flack ships and escorts is something I admired. Many did not return.

I feel the dome is an ideal place for the bravery of those who returned and those who made the ultimate sacrifice to be recorded.
Walter Ricketts from Bolton

Yes, preserve it and perhaps open it as a museum.

A memorial sounds a good idea provided it remembers everyone involved and is not just a jingoistic war glory shrine.

It will remember all those who fell in the service of their country and the civilian casualties too.
Matthew Hodder from Martham

This type of thing must not be lost, it's as valuable as Nelson's coastal forts.
Jeremy Hall from Kenninghall

My father served in the air force and was based in Norfolk. He introduced my brother and I to this area in the late 1960s and we continue to visit on a regular basis.

A museum remembering those years would be a very fitting memorial to the many who died and could readily be linked to the Muckleborough Collection and the Stiffkey Circle.
Jim Buckley from Leeds

I always wondered what was in that dome, I assumed it was some type of radar. I can remember the Mosquitoes towing the Drones and we had one of the pilots stay with us at Sheringham while his house at Weybourne was being renovated.

The gunners would on odd occasions get pretty close to the plane towing the Drone and I can remember a fisherman friend who recovered one while setting up crab pots near Weybourne.
Patrick K Shepherd from Goulais River, Ontario, Canada

It's part of Norfolk's past and if it's not saved there will be another piece of our history gone
T Burrows from Old Catton

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