How 'the friendly invasion' transformed North Norfolk

David King, who leads the North Norfolk U3A's Military History Group, with his dog Dexter at the Langham Dome. 

David King, who leads the North Norfolk U3A's Military History Group, with his dog Dexter at the Langham Dome. - Credit: Supplied by David Riddle

In the latest of a monthly series of columns, David Riddle
North Norfolk University of the Third Age (U3A) delves into north Norfolk's rich military heritage.

Since ancient times the North Norfolk coast around Weybourne has been considered a potential site for invasion because of the deep water.

In the second world war special defences were built around North Norfolk to keep Hitler out. In the event, the only invasion that occurred was 'The Friendly Invasion' of the US 8th Airforce, bringing 50,000 young Americans to our county from 1942 in a way that transformed both the landscape, and the social life of our area.

The Langham Dome which was used as an anti aircraft training centre in the Second World War. 

The Langham Dome which was used as an anti aircraft training centre in the Second World War. - Credit: Supplied by David Riddle


The huge legacy of the military presence during the Second World War is still all around us in airfields and museums across North Norfolk.

Not just legacy, but a current presence too. Norfolk is home to operational bases at RAF Marham and Robertson Barracks at Swanton Morley, as well as the Stanford Training Area (STANTA) .

USAF airmen at Rackheath during the Second World War.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

USAF airmen at Rackheath during the Second World War. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant


There are around 2,000 serving personnel and their families based in Norfolk, and 80,000 serving personnel use the Stanford Training Area each year. There are an estimated 41,000 veterans living in Norfolk.

David Riddle in a red baseball cap. In his column, Mr Riddle asks if you have been a victim of 'fashion agism'? 

David Riddle from North Norfolk U3A.  - Credit: North Norfolk U3A

It is no surprise then that one of the popular interest groups in North Norfolk U3A is the Military History Group.

This group is led by David King, pictured here with his dog Dexter, at the excellent museum of air gunnery at the Langham Dome.

David had no military background or family connection, but when he moved to Fakenham a few years ago he saw how important this aspect of our history was, and became so fascinated that he set up a group for like minded U3a members to share their interest and passion, and learn more together.


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Members bring a wide range of interests and experience. Some have served with the forces while others have had very different careers. All are keen to learn more about what happened, why it happened and what it was like to be there.

The focus is a monthly meeting with a speaker. Since Covid hit us, these have continued online and have also been supplemented by regular newsletters giving information on a number of subjects and highlighting other relevant material.

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Not surprisingly many topics have a local flavour. The group have looked at Edith Cavell’s contribution during the First World War, Norfolk’s links with D-Day and the impact of the Cold War as reflected in places such as the Air Defence Radar Museum at Neatishead, Langham Dome, and the Stiffkey Whirligig.

The World War II room at the RAF Air Defence Radar Museum at Neatishead. Picture: Archant

The World War II room at the RAF Air Defence Radar Museum at Neatishead. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

Other talks take us further afield with subjects ranging from Lawrence of Arabia to the 1994 Chinook crash on the Mull of Kintyre and from Cyber Warfare to Berlin during the Cold War.

Family history can also play an important part.

For example, one group member gave a fascinating presentation on their family’s involvement in the Dutch Resistance while another shared the content of a family diary which gave a unique insight into daily life during the Blitz on London.

David King said: ”For me, joining U3A was a great way to meet people and make friends after I moved to North Norfolk, and it has been tremendous fun diving into this interesting area of our history”

If you are interested, contact David King via our website www.northnorfolku3a.org.uk.

Ageing Better in North Norfolk

U3A members across the country are joining forces with the Centre for Ageing Better to call for an end to negative and damaging views of later life, shifting the focus to positive, more realistic depictions instead.

A national survey of U3A members found that nearly 40pc had heard offensive ageist language used about their age group. This contrasted strongly with how members saw themselves.

Sam Mauger, CEO of the Third Age Trust, said: “U3A represents a diverse and enthusiastic group of members who are wonderful examples of what it means to age well.”

Louise Ansari, Centre for Ageing Better, said: “Ageism affects us all, limiting our perceptions of what we can do as we get older, and leading to discrimination against those in later life. With all of us living longer, it’s vital that we work together across society to combat harmful stereotypes so we can all make the most of our later years.

In North Norfolk, our 700 U3A members aren’t “wrinkly” or “decrepit” or “frail” and certainly not “past it”. In fact U3A members get younger in spirit every year. 

You can see what we do, and join, at www.northnorfolku3a.org.uk. On September 15 we will be resuming our normal monthly meetings at Blakeney Village Hall, with a talk about Sir William Hoste – himself part of our military history as one of Nelson’s protégés and one of the great sea captains of the Napoleonic wars.


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