LOOKING BACK: Agriculture, airmen and inspiring countryside

Hard at work
Hard at work

The East Dean & Friston Local History Group is staging a new exhibition in association with the National Trust and opening this weekend.

Called Shepherds & Spitfires, it takes place at the National Trust Visitor Centre, Birling Gap near East Dean, and is open from May 2 until June 7 from 10am-5pm.

Aerial view

Aerial view

Admission is free although there is a parking charge at Birling Gap for those who are not members of the National Trust.

Lloyd Brunt said, “Today the inspiring countryside in and around Birling Gap is used mainly for agriculture and recreation but, along the way, its uses have been many and varied.

“These include the mining of flints for tools, lime burning, agriculture, the protection of shipping and even military training and defence in time of war.

“Our exhibition tells the story of two of these very different uses.

Christmas menu

Christmas menu

“One tells of the slow, bucolic life of a Victorian shepherd working on the Downs. Shepherd Blackmore spent many long, lonely hours on the Downs and discovered hundreds of worked flints, as he walked with his flock.

“He became so good at finding them that Charles Dawson, of the Sussex Archaeological Society, said that Stephen Blackmore had ‘one of the finest collection of Neolithic flint implements in private hands in England’. We hope to have some of his finds on display at the exhibition.

“In total contrast, the other story recounts the fast and furious pace of air warfare at RAF Friston more than 100 years later.

“Although little remains today, there was an airfield at Gayles Farm near Friston during World War Two.

Flint implements

Flint implements

“At the beginning of the war it became an Emergency Landing Ground. Later some squadrons flew from there but its use declined during the Battle of Britain because its proximity to the coast made it vulnerable to surprise attack.

“However, in May 1941, as the threat of attack diminished, it was promoted to a forward satellite airfield. Many RAF and allied squadrons flew missions from there in support of the D-Day landings and the liberation of Europe.

“These photographs help illustrate the stories and many more will be included in the exhibition. One shows some of the Neolithic flint tools found by Stephen Blackmore on the Downs around East Dean and Beachy Head.

“From 1941 to 1945 RAF Friston was home to aircrews of many nationalities. At times conditions at the airfield were primitive, with many ground crew living in tents, like this Polish group in one of the photos.

Summer at RAF Friston

Summer at RAF Friston

“In late 1944, with victory in sight, there was time to enjoy Christmas celebrations.

“This menu shows that although tea, biscuits, celery, oranges and coffee were ‘off’ there was still plenty of other treats, including beer, cider and cigarettes, to cheer things up.”

Under canvas

Under canvas