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Milton Hall and the Jedburghs

1943

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Built towards the end of the 16th century, Milton Hall is the largest private house in Peterborough.  Once home to the Fitzwilliam family, it is now resided in by the Naylor Leyland family who inherited it from the 10th Earl. The Hall was used by the military during both world wars, a hospital being established in World War I and initially in World War II, the Czech army occupied part of the house and stable block. In December 1943, 300 volunteers from the Special Operations Executive (SOE) were brought together and trained at Milton Hall.  From there they were sent to join small teams to arm, train and co-ordinate foreign resistance fighters in preparation for the D-Day landings in Normandy in May and June 1944.  Codenamed the Jedburghs, the volunteers came from army forces based in Britain, France and America with small contingents coming from Holland, Belgium and Canada.  Between D-Day and VE Day they carried out 101 operations in Europe. In May 1996 surviving members attended a special service at Peterborough Cathedral where a memorial plaque was unveiled to commemorate the 37 men who lost their lives during operations in Europe and the Far East.





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First Purpose-Built Prisoner of War Camp

1797

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The first inmates arrived at the Norman Cross Prisoner of War Camp in 1797, which was the first purpose built camp of its kind. Its location was chosen because it was within reach of London, close to the Great North Road and accessible from a river, but deemed too difficult to escape from easily. It was built primarily of timber in the style of an artillery fort and divided into quadrangles which contained barracks for the prisoners. During the Napoleonic Wars and at its height, it housed over 6,000 low-ranking soldiers and sailors from France, Belgium and the Netherlands, which dwarfed the population of Peterborough. Higher ranking and well-respected officers paroled outside the camp, mostly in Peterborough and local towns and were free to live as citizens. The camp was not designed as a correctional facility, so there was the chance for prisoners to make and sell goods locally, get access to education and entertain themselves with a theatre, drinking and gambling. All of the buildings and equipment were auctioned off in 1816 a couple of years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Many fine examples of the delicate bone, wood and straw work objects created by the prisoners to earn money can be viewed in Peterborough Museum in an interactive gallery dedicated to the Norman Cross prison.





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Outbreak of the Second World War

1939-1945

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The Second World War (WWII) was a war that lasted from 1st September 1939 to 2nd September 1945 ( though there were related conflicts which began earlier and some that went on later). The vast majority of the world's countries were involved and eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities. It included the genocide of the Holocaust, bombing that destroyed towns and cities, massacres of soldiers and civilians, starvation and disease for millions and ultimately the first use of nuclear weapons. The Allies:                                                                                                                                                                                                                      In 1939 the Allies consisted of Poland, France, the United Kingdom and dependent states, for example British India, and the independent Dominions of the British Commonwealth: Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. In 1940 they were joined by the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece and Yugoslavia (after the German invasion of North Europe). In June 1941 the Soviet Union joined after being invaded and in December 1941 the United States joined after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour (though they had been providing materials before this). The Chinese had been in a prolonged war with Japan since 1937 but officially joined the allies in 1941. In 1945, the Allied nations became the basis of the United Nations. The Axis:                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The Axis consisted of Germany, Italy and Japan. The Axis members agreed on their opposition to the Allies but cooperation and coordination of their activity was not great.





Start of the Battle of Britain

1940

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The Battle of Britain was a major air campaign fought over southern England in the summer and autumn of 1940.  Germany aimed to invade Britain but in order to do so they had to secure control of the skies over Southern Britain and remove the treat of the Royal Air Force (RAF). The battle for control lasted from July 1940 until October 1940 and airfields around Peterborough were much involved. The men of the RAF who fought were named 'The Few' by Winston Churchill. They numbered nearly 3,000 and while most of the pilots were British, Fighter Command was an international force, men came from all over the Commonwealth and occupied Europe, from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Belgium, France, Poland and Czechoslovakia. There were even some pilots from the neutral United States and Ireland.





Thomas Hunter, the Lonely ANZAC

1916

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Thomas Hunter was born in County Durham in 1880 but emigrated as a young man to Australia where he worked as a coal miner. At the outbreak of the First World War, he, like many young men enlisted, in his case in the 10th battalion of the 10th division, ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) forces. He fought at Gallipoli and then in the trenches of France and Belgium. In 1916 during the Battle of the Somme, Sgt Hunter was badly injured, so severely that he was shipped back to England for surgery. He was put on a train for Halifax with other wounded but on the journey his condition worsened badly so he was taken off the train at Peterborough and brought to the infirmary where, sadly, on the 31st of July 1916, he died. As he died away from home and his comrades he came to be known as the 'Lonely Anzac'. His death touched the hearts of Peterborians, in a way he came to represent their young men away fighting. A public subscription fund paid  for his funeral and a memorial. The mayor and civic dignitaries led the funeral procession to the Broadway Cemetery and the entire town came to a stop to pay their respects. A two metre tall granite cross was placed on his grave, and a brass plaque to his memory mounted in the military chapel in the cathedral. Every year on ANZAC day, April 25th, a civil ceremony is held at his graveside, attended by the mayor, civic dignitaries and a representative from the Australian High Commission.





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Britain Leaves Europe!

8000 BC

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Britain's split from Europe began more than 200,000 years ago during an ice age. At this time Britain was a peninsula of northwest Europe. Melting water from vast ice sheets filled a giant lake in the southern half of the North Sea. It was held back by a chalk ridge stretching from the southeast of England to the northwest of France.
A Lot of Water
Eventually this glacial lake filled up with so much water that the dam burst at the Strait of Dover, unleashing vast torrents of water in an enormous flood. The flood was so violent it ripped through the chalk ridge and gouged a deep valley from the Dover Straits to past the Isle of Wight. That valley became a new waterway, the Channel. It drained the rivers of northwest Europe into the Atlantic and severed Britain from the mainland.
Britain Becomes an Island
The final division from Europe was settled about 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age, when rising temperatures again melted ice sheets, sea levels rose and the plains (Doggerland) connecting Britain to Europe were flooded in what became the North Sea, while the Channel River became the Channel. Britain became an island separate from mainland Europe.





Flying Ace of World War I

1891

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Noel Keeble was born in Thorpe Road on 6 April 1891. He  was a flying ace of the First World War and is credited with six aerial victories. Keeble joined the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and in 1915 was assigned to a squadron in No. 1 Wing. They were based at Saint-Pol-sur-Mer, Dunkirk, France. In January 1916 he gained his first victory while flying a Nieuport single-seat plane. He managed to force down a German seaplane.  In October 1916, flying a Sopwith Pup, he destroyed another seaplane. For this he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. His citation read: Distinguished Service Cross. Flt.-Lieut. Noel Keeble, R.N.A.S. For conspicuous gallantry on the 23rd October, 1916, when he attacked four German seaplanes and brought one of them down in a vertical nose-dive into the sea.

Service in the RAF

On 1 April 1918, the Royal Naval Air Service was merged with the Army's Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force. Keeble became part of No. 202 Squadron RAF and flew a two-seat plane. His observer/gunner was Captain Eric Betts who went on to become an Air Vice Marshal in World War 2. He went on to bring down four more planes. His other great achievement, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, was to obtain 1000 valuable photographs of enemy positions behind enemy lines. His citation read: Distinguished Flying Cross.Lieut. (T./Capt.) Noel Keeble, D.S.C. (Sea Patrol). This officer (with an observer) has obtained 1,000 invaluable photographs of enemy positions miles behind the lines, and has brought home extremely important new information during this period. He has destroyed eight enemy machines, including one biplane during the past month. Captain Keeble is a most capable and gallant Flight Commander. Keeble remained in the RAF with the rank of flight lieutenant until August 1934, when he was placed on the retired list. He returned to RAF service during the Second World War and finally returned to the retired list with the rank of Wing Commander on 31 October 1945. Sadly two of his three sons, who had followed him into the RAF died in combat missions during the Second World War. Noel Keeble died in 1963.

References: 

The London Gazette, 11 May 1917 The London Gazette, 20 September 1918 Peterborough & The Great  War project  





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