by Robert Veitch
To mark Remembrance Sunday we visit Airman’s Grave near Nutley, learning a little about the history of the area along the way.
Leaving the Friends car park on the Crowborough Road walk north through the ditch towards Friends Clump, which is one of many Scots Pine clumps on Ashdown Forest. The first pines were planted in 1825, although none of the original trees remain. Across a second ditch turn sharp right just before the clump. The wide grassy path ahead gently rolls downhill between the gorse that lines it on either side.
After 400m, a car park appears on the right. Ignore it and keep walking, as the path will soon enter a tunnel like glade of oak and silver birch, which leads to Ellison’s Ponds. At this time of year it might be difficult to spot any inhabitants, but it’s rumoured that goldfish having outgrown their tanks in nearby homes, are given their freedom here. Turning right, walk towards the road, towards Cedric Harrison’s bench at the car park entrance.
It was here I met Beth, an Explorer Scout in the ‘272 Unit’ with recent memories of Remembrance Sunday. She’s also a Young Leader in her hometown troop.
Crossing the road by the solitary dragons teeth tank trap, we wandered through the Hollies car park and out the other side. The path eased around a gentle left hand curve, remaining fairly flat for 200m or so. Passing woodland on the right, glance into the coppice and see if you can spot more rustic shelters than the five we saw.
Beth recalled carrying the flag at Remembrance Sunday, “you have to pay attention, be alert and also, although it’s a solemn occasion… remember not to poke anyone with it.” Awarded ‘Scout of the Year’ in her local troop, she got to lay a wreath during another Remembrance Day service, “it’s an honour to be selected to do this, they just forgot to tell me what to do!” Like a good Scout she was prepared and “I used my common sense to work it out.”
The path drops away gently over a brow and the landscape opens up to show the full majesty of the South Downs. It’s easy to imagine Virginia Woolfe wandering across the horizon almost a century ago, lost in a blizzard of literature. From Wilmington Hill in the east to Kithurst Hill in the west, the panorama extends for 35 miles on a clear day. Hard luck if it’s cloudy!
Walk downhill into the Misbourne Valley, trying not to stumble while admiring the view. At the green sign with white text marked Horses stay left as the arrow indicates and keep rolling downhill. Away to the right journeys quest is visible. Beth remembered walking down here for the first time when she was just nine years old. Soon enough the path reaches the diamond shaped enclosure, home to the understated memorial, known as Airmans Grave.
On the final day of July 1941 a Wellington Bomber departed RAF Binbrook in Lincolnshire, dispatched on a bombing raid to Cologne. Aircraft W5364 was one of 62 Wellingtons amongst the 116 aircraft. It was the crews’ 13th mission.
Upon return, the crew reported, “Cologne believed hit.” However, only one of the two engines was still working, leaving the crew in desperate need of a runway. It’s possible that as they descended into the Misbourne Valley, the lights nearby at Kings Standing fooled them. Losing height by the second they would not find the runway they were searching for and the Wellington hit the ground at 04:55, killing all aboard.
Mrs. Sutton, who lost her son Victor that night, came to live nearby in Nutley, and she erected a wooden cross where her son had died. In 1954 it was replaced with a stone cross. In 1971 Ashdown Forest Rangers surrounded the memorial with a stone wall. These days it’s a memorial to all six crew.
None of the crew is buried at the site, nothing of the aircraft remains. A Remembrance Sunday service is held here annually, it’s well attended and the road is usually closed from 9am-12pm. Weather permitting, an aircraft flies overhead, dropping poppies.
RAF Binbrook was part of Bomber Command and later featured in the film Memphis Belle. It closed during the 1990s, being redeveloped as housing and an industrial estate.
Leaving the memorial behind, continue downhill until the red water of the iron oxide in the stream flows before you. This little tributary of the River Ouse need not be crossed, just bear right across the stubby, railway sleeper bridge.
Downhill becomes uphill, which may be a rude-awakening. The shock to the system is brief – just fill your lungs, shorten your stride and hopefully all will be well. The path briefly levels out, then bearing right, continues uphill into the distance. Some might think a ski lift should be installed on the path, but surely the fresh air is healthier?
After three-quarters of a mile the ascent is finally ending, the gradient diminishes and traffic becomes apparent a little way ahead. The path emerges to a wide open space ahead, across which is Barnett and Olive Fields bench, where it’s worth heeding their words, maybe taking the chance to rest. Beyond the ditch is Stonehill car park, and across from that is Crowborough Road, Friends car park and your transport home.
Remembrance Sunday at Airman’s Grave takes place on 12th November. Please note the road to the Airman’s Grave will be closed on that morning.
Map: Ordnance Survey Explorer OL135
Parking: Free parking in the Friends car park
Public Transport: None
Whilst Les Campbell is recuperating from an accident, Robert Veitch has taken on the role of being Les’ legs. We hope that Les will be back out and walking again soon and wish him all the best with his recovery. Robert has tested the route personally, making sure it is suitable for walking. However, even he cannot guarantee the effects of the weather, or roadworks, or any other factors outside of his control. If you would like to send your feedback about a local walk, please email firstname.lastname@example.org