Archaeologists reveal finds from first survey of Britain's largest First World War airfield

By Ben Miller | 10 December 2014

Officer's mess and hangar remains found in first major search at Britain's largest World War I airfield

A photo of a shard of white military pottery
A red-brown stamped porcelain NNAS NAAFI emblem from the mess office location at RAF Narborough© West Norfolk and King's Lynn Archaeological Society
With the weather against them, working across eight grid squares which each took 20 minutes to fieldwalk, archaeologists and enthusiasts carried out the first significant survey of RAF Narborough, the military aerodrome which became Britain’s largest airfield during World War I.

A systematic search across parts of a site which spanned more than 900 acres, the excavation focused on ploughed arable fields near the control tower of RAF Marham. Reinforced anti-bomb glass, copper, nails, scrap metal and pottery have been washed, sorted and weighed from ten muddy bags.

“Even in sheeting rain, with very heavy muddy soil and a handful of people, we managed to locate finds and map them across 20 metre by 20 metre squares,” says Dr Clive Bond, the Chair of the West Norfolk and King's Lynn Archaeological Society.

A photo of two people looking at archaeological artefacts on a table
Serving airman Corporal Edward Stanley, RAF Marham (left) and Ian Iosson, Finds Officer, Archaeological Society (right), sorting and weighing finds.© West Norfolk and King's Lynn Archaeological Society
“The result has been to relocate a World War I hangar in one field – the first of a line along the hedge and road alignment.

“In another field we located rich, high-class porcelain used to serve officers like those brave pilots who took to the sky to defend Lynn against Zeppelin attacks in 1916.”

Aerial photographs from the period underline Narborough’s military importance between 1916 and 1918. Porcelain was found in two spots in a field adjacent to a memorial stone commemorating the conflict.

“The pottery was all from a field related to officer quarters and mess huts,” explains Dr Bond.

“The metal objects, building material and stone all came from the hangar location south of the Marham Road, adjacent to technical or machine works where biplanes would have had replacement parts machined.
“So despite the fields and hedgerows today looking like any other ploughed arable field in Narborough and Marham, this soil does offer up finds from the World War I Great Aerodrome.”

A selection of the artefacts have gone on display at True’s Yard Fisherfolk Museum in King’s Lynn, where the objects were initially examined.

A photo of a piece of dark green circular pottery
A wrought copper and brass join recovered from land where a hangar once stood off Marham Road© West Norfolk and King's Lynn Archaeological Society
A photo of a shard of white military pottery
Blue stamped porcelain from government issue wares at the mess office site© West Norfolk and King's Lynn Archaeological Society
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