My second day out with the Rural Coffee Caravan – see Suffolk Online Rural Coffee Caravan – took me to Beck Row. Lovely people, an excellent turnout and talks from the council agencies that help with insulation, water butts and the like, made it yet again a fascinating trip.
Beck Row has lived hand in hand with the military for many years. There were plans for an airfield here as long ago as 1922 and though it didn’t open until 1933 the design of many of the buildings has a 1920s feel. During the Second World War it was an RAF bomber station but in 1948 it became the gateway for US forces in the UK and now covers around 100 acres. Unfortunately, post 9/11, the base has been less accessible for villagers who used to join in many of the social activities there.
The village itself however seems to have a strong sense of community of its own, and a lovely church, and we were fortunate enough to get a low down on local history from our hosts who directed us to the churchyard where there are a number of military graves.
Reading the detailed history of St John’s Church, in a booklet we were given when we left, we see that the “war graveyard consists of 76 graves of airmen from the air forces of the Commonwealth – 51 from the UK, 14 from Canada, 5 from Australia and 6 from New Zealand….Among the graves is that of Pilot Officer Rawdon Hume Middleton of the Royal Australian Air Force who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery. During a bombing raid over Turin, in November 1942, Middleton sacrificed his own life, to enable his fellow crew-members a better chance of survival, by staying at the controls of a stricken Stirling bomber whilst they bailed out.” Middleton’s grave is in the picture with the wooden cross in front of it.
We suggest you visit Beck Row to get hold of a copy of the booklet on the history of St John’s Church as there is just too much interesting information to repeat here. However here are a few more snippets:
1. The church’s oldest possession is a fine Jacobean pulpit, formally housed in the the mother church of St Mary in Mildenhall.
2. The church proudly displays the Colour Standard of Number XV Squadron, Royal Air Force. The standard is unique, in itself, for bearing its number in Roman Numerals rather than Arabic numerals. Special permission was granted for this as the Roman numerals were significant to the squadron’s history.
3, The church also has an impressive propeller memorial to the crew of a Stirling bomber. The memorial is a blade from the propeller of “Y” Yorker of Number 90 Quadron, Royal Air Force whose nine crew died in a training exercise nearby in 1943.
Try the following links for more information and many thanks to our hosts and the Rural Coffee Caravan Project for the chance to learn more about Beck Row: