The Bisterne Airfield: the war recorded in the pages of a Guest Book

(above, Thunderbolt P47D of 371st Fighter Group, image courtesy of the American Air Museum in Britain)

Bisterne Estate hosted part of the 9th US Army Airforce in WW2 by providing land for an Advanced Landing Ground. The 371st Fighter Group was operational on the new strip (technical map) for a mere three months, before the Group moved to Beuzeville in France, and then fought to end the war at Stuttgart in Germany.

As early as Nov. 9th 1941, men of the US Civilian Technical Corps came to Bisterne Manor for baths and relaxation – a month before Pearl Harbour on 7th December and America’s entry into the war on December 11th. Many people signed the Guest Book.

The Bisterne Guest Book

The manor still possesses that Guest Book, which covers the years 1919 forwards. The fourth name is that of Lt. Col. Bingham Kleine, who received a DFC in a wartime ceremony in Brixey’s Farm, where the 371st Fighter Group HQ was sited, and the officers had their quarters.

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The units passing through sound a drum roll describing the local war in France through all its stages: preparation, building of the landing strips, active combat and departure for a new forward base in France. On the family side, the American (Tuck) branch of the family living in Belgium were forced to escape to the USA as late as 1940 and then return to their house in Belgium after the war. Here are the entries grouped by date:

1941
US Civilian Technical Corps – Nov 9 1941
US Army – Nov 18
RAF (undated)
Pearl Harbour – 7 Dec

1942
US Civilian Technical Corps Dec 211941 – March 29 1942
US Naval Reserve Jan 17 1942
US Army Air Force Oct 14

1943
Royal Australian Air Force April 9
Royal Canadian Air Force (USA) April 1
American Red Cross (undated)

1944
USNR Capt. William Tuck over from Washington – Feb 26
US Doctors and Nurses Ringwood Hospital – Feb 6
371st Fighter Group – 14 March arrival
83rd Service Group – 9 April
39 Field Hospital – 7 April
53 Field Hospital – 23 April
371st Fighter Group – 24 April
83 Service Group – 31 May
D – Day 6th June
“From Ringwood Hospital” – 18 July
US Navy – 9 Sept
Corps of Engineers- 17 Sept
151st Engineers – 5 Nov
1343 Engineers – 19 Nov
Somerley Convalescent Hospital – 26 Nov
417th Infantry – 17 Dec

1945
Ringwood Hospital – 1 Jan
358 Fighter Group – 23 Jan
Tuck Family visits from USA – 17 Feb
Ringwood Hospital – 1 April
War ends in Europe –  8 May
Tuck Family return here and then back to their house in Argenteuil in Belgium

Bournemouth Echo reports 50 years later

A PLAQUE on the wall of a farm yard barn at the end of a dusty gravel track on the outskirts of Ringwood has been unveiled as a lasting memorial to the men and machines who flew from the wartime Bisterne airfield.

In the spring and early summer of 1944 the rural idyll of the Avon Valley was shattered by the roar of American P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bombers operating from the advanced landing ground at Brixey’s Farm.

One of the young American pilots flying from the mesh-covered grass airstrip and living in tented bivouacs in surrounding woods at Sandford was Willis “Wally” Walling who, 60 years later, returned to Bisterne to unveil the commemorative plaque.

He vividly recalled his time at Bisterne in the run-up to D-Day and the immediate aftermath flying sorties in bomber escort and ground attack roles.

But he spent D-Day itself in hospital recovering from injuries sustained a month earlier when his plane crashed on to a wooden WI hut at Rockford while flying his Thunderbolt into Ibsley airfield.

Wally was back flying with his squadron before it left Bisterne for France at the end of June 1944 and the fields were returned to farm-land by the end of the year.

But the wartime role of Bisterne has not been forgotten by Wally, now 83, and a the local residents and aviation history enthusiasts who attended on Wednesday.

Designed by Alan Howard the plaque features the badge of the 9th US Air Force, a map and brief history of the airfield, and a roll of honour of the pilots killed in action during the three months Bisterne was operational.

Land-owner Hallam Mills – whose grandparents gave up their Bisterne Manor home to be used as the American officers’ quarters – helped Wally remove the Stars and Stripes flag covering the plaque which was given a blessing by Vicar of Ringwood, the Rev Canon John Turpin.

First published: June 4 2004


371st Fighter Group war history

371st Fighter Group 

Aircraft
1943-1945: Republic P-47 Thunderbolt 

Timeline
25 May 1943                  Constituted as 25 May 1943
15 July 1943                   Activated
Feb-March 1944            To Britain and Ninth Air Force
April 1944                      Combat Debut
May 1945                       Combat ends in Germany
Oct-Nov 1945                 To United States
10 November 1945       Inactivated

 Commanders (with date of appointment)
Col Bingham T Kleine, who received a DFC whilst at Bisterne.
27 Jul 1943; Lt Col William P McBride, c.
Sep 1945-unkn.

Main Bases
Richmond AAB, Va:                                  15 Jul 1943|
Camp Springs AAFld, Md:                       30 Sep 1943
Richmond AAB, Va:                                  18 Jan-14 Feb 1944
Bisterne, England:                                  Mar 1944
Beuzeville, France:                                   Jun 1944
Perthes, France:                                       18 Sep 1944
Dole/Tavaux, France:                               1 Oct 1944
Tantonville, France:                                20 Dec 1944
Metz, France:                                           15 Feb 1945
Frankfurt/ Eschborn, Germany:           7 Apr 1945
Furth, Germany:                                      5 May 1945
Horsching, Austria:                                16 Aug 1945
Stuttgart, Germany:                                Sep-Oct 1945
Camp Shanks: NY,                                   9-10 Nov 1945.

 Component Units
404th: 1943-1945
405th: 1943-1945
406th: 1943-1945

Assigned To
1943: Philadelphia Fighter Wing; I Fighter Command; First Air Force
12 March-15 April 1944: 100th Fighter Wing; IX Fighter Command; Ninth Air Force attached 15-21 February 1945: 100th Fighter Wing;
22 Feb-May 1945: 100th Fighter Wing; XIX Tactical Air Command; Ninth Air Force

Information credited to:  Rickard, J (Fighter Group (USAAF) , 25 July 2016), 371st http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/USAAF/371st_Fighter_Group.html

The Thunderbolt P47D: the ultimate fighter-bomber

Engine: R-2800-59
Horsepower: 2000 (2430 in War Emergency setting)
Span: 40ft 9.25in
Length: 36ft 1.76in
Weight: 10,000lb empty, 17,500 max take off
Speed: 428mph at 30,000ft.
Ceiling: 42,000 feet
Range: 1,030 miles at 10,000 feet
Armament: Eight .50 calibre machine guns

2 thoughts on “The Bisterne Airfield: the war recorded in the pages of a Guest Book

  1. Good day.

    I read of the guest book at the Bisterne Estate on bisterne.com.

    My father was an officer in the 371st Fighter Group, 404th Fighter Squadron while at Bisterne. Seeing the signatures in the guest book naturally piqued my interest in whether my father’s name is to be found there. Have the names of servicemen who signed the book been imaged and kept in a file that might be emailed? I am a retired archival conservator and certainly don’t want the volume to have to be manipulated.

    Finally, my wife and I are planning a trip to visit your area in September of next year. Can the Estate be toured by appointment with sufficient prior arrangement?

    Thank you very much for your time.

    Douglas Harrison
    9238 Cal Road
    Baton Rouge, LA 70809
    dougharrison@cox.net

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Douglas,
    I’ve found him I think! I about four from bottom of page.
    Really good to hear from you. I will reply properly from my desktop.
    Of course you must come here, it’d be a real pleasure.
    Best regards
    Hallam Mills

    Like

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