Nissen hut project well under way

New base for South West Airfields Heritage Trust.

Ambitious plans to turn a World War Two Nissen hut into a visitor centre for the South West Airfields Heritage Trust are taking shape at Smeatharpe.

An enthusiastic group of volunteers is pulling out all the stops to provide a first class facility at the former headquarters of the 439th Troop Carrier Group, which was a C-47 Skytrain transport unit assigned to America’s Ninth Air Force and played a pivotal role in Operation Overlord.

Work on the project is at an advanced stage, but the trust is in need of funds to complete its mission.

Mike Venn, of the trust, said: “We desperately need �10,000. The insulation alone is going to cost �6,000.

“At the moment, we have spent in the region of �4,000.”

A generous donation from the Smeatharpe Ladies’ catering department was gratefully acknowledged by the trust’s committee last week.

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It revealed the Nissen hut, leased to the trust following negotiations involving Devon County Council, will be transformed into an archive centre, offering conference facilities and a film room.

It will also house material from the trust’s inaugural exhibition, staged in 2004, which is widely recognised as the event which launched South West Airfields Heritage Trust.

It is hoped that a wood sculpture, depicting a life-size Colonel Robert F Sink, who was commanding officer of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st American Airborne Division, can be crafted from part of a tree planted in the grounds of Musgrove Park Hospital by Americans in appreciation of the hospital’s war-time role.

The Eisenhower tree was brought as a sapling from America to Taunton.

The move to Smeatharpe will mark the end of an era for the trust, which has been based in Marcus Road, Dunkeswell, since its inception.

The charity has no connection to the former Dunkeswell Memorial Museum.

Ultimately, the trust has set its sights on acquiring the US Navy’s former operations block at Dunkeswell.

But, as trust committee member Robin Gilbert points out: “It is our ultimate goal, but we will need �100,000 to buy it.”

He has taken a keen interest in the Nissen hut project - the former US base sprung up “like a mushroom” on his grandmother’s former poultry farm.

Vic Bowsher MBE, the founding chairman of the trust, said: “Structurally, it is quite sound. It was used by the Royal Marines until the 1980s. There is so much scope there.”

Mr Bowsher said the trust is happy to give escorted tours of the airfields in return for a donation.

The trust was founded following an exhibition in Upottery, which led to a memorial being unveiled there.

Members’ next challenge was to bring back an original aircraft, followed by a visit from two of the original Band of Brothers - neither had been back to Upottery since the war.

The trust then commemorated the great significance of the historical role played by Exeter Airport - by unveiling a Battle of Britain pilot sculpture.

Trust members are planning to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day with a major event next year.

To make a donation towards the Nissen hut project contact Mike Venn on 01404 41382 or email

For general information about the trust email

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