29 July 2017

The Mystery of the Red Barns in Norfolk

I came across a few interesting news articles from 2015 that, while a bit far afield from the story of Josef Jakobs, are intriguing nonetheless (see links below). The stories centre on some Dutch farmers in Norfolk who were apparently building secret airfields and hangers for Germany's invasion of England.

Barn built by Dutch farmers in Norfolk (from Daily Express article)
Barn built by Dutch farmers in Norfolk
(from Daily Express article)
For 4 years, commencing in 1936, Dutch farmers of the East Anglian Real Property Company had been building huge barns and apparently preparing fields to serve as air strips for the German invasion. The RAF, on the hunt for new air strips in 1940 saw that all the likely looking sites were already occupied by suspicious barns with red roofs, chicken coops in the shape of swastikas and fields devoid of crops.

The Dutch farmers were all rounded up, arrested and interrogated. While some newspaper articles call them "spies", this seems highly unlikely as all were later released. Although... some news articles note that some managers were kept in jail while "their children were found billets in local houses and later deported."

The 2015 articles all refer to English Heritage military expert, Roger Thomas, from the York area who came across an Air Ministry file at the National Archives by accident. None of news articles give the folio reference for the file, which makes it extremely difficult to corroborate the information. One would think that such a story might be published in a reputable journal with relevant references so other researchers can confirm and contribute to the story. So far... no luck.

Roger Thomas does work for English Heritage and seems to have a broad interest in military history, and architecture.

I am going to hazard a guess that this was one of those "pre-invasion jitters" stories that were so common in 1940. English folk saw evidence of Nazi spies everywhere... in strange markings on telephone poles, in lights flashing from houses, in German paratroopers dressed as nuns and obviously... in strangely shaped foreign-looking barns and weird farming practices by Dutch farmers.

One news article went so far as to suggest that Hitler may have had a bizarre plot to capture King George VI, given how close these suspicious farms were to Sandringham, one of the royal estates. Wild speculation I would suggest.

One of the comments on the Daily Express article noted:
"The story is both an old one, and also complete nonsense. It first came to light more than 20 years ago, and has not been 'recently unearthed'. The barns were built in the 1930's by a Dutch concern who built them to support the local sugar beet harvest. The beet were processed at the factory at Cantley - at the end of the road where the barns are lined up. If you looked at the fields surrounding them, you wouldn't land a helicopter there, much less a glider, and they are emphatically NOT hangars - their design precludes their use for anything other than storage. Fifth column? Didn't exist...." (BruceWG)

The Easter Daily Press article does have a few tantalizing details from the Air Ministry files but... sadly... no actual references for the files. A writer by the name of Steve Snelling has suggested that the stories were all part of the invasion scare and, given that the Dutch farmers were all released, suggests there was no truth to the stories.

An article on the Geograph website has a list of the remaining Dutch barns that are in existence and a short write-up of the furor generated by Roger Thomas. The author of the article, Evelyn Simak, notes: "A record of these events is apparently kept at the National Archives but confirmation of the buildings having been constructed in order to serve a purpose other than farming has so far eluded historians other than Roger Thomas." I think that says it all. Until such time as the actual reference number for the mysterious Air Ministry file is revealed, the story is pure speculation.

References

York Press - Did Hitler Hatch Bizarre Plot to Capture King George VI?

The Mirror - Revealed - Hitler's Plot to Invade England from the sky using secret network of airstrips hidden in Norfolk countryside
Eastern Daily Press - Was Norfolk at Centre of Hitler's pre-war invasion plans?
Daily Express - Hitler's Secret Airstrips that were built by spies in Norfolk
Lynn News - North Pickenham linked to Nazi invasion plot

Geograph - East Anglian Real Property Company farm sheds

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