Wartime Beningbrough

Raf men in front of Beningbrough Hall WW2

During World War II, Beningbrough was requisitioned for use as a billet for aircrews stationed at the RAF base at Linton-on-Ouse. Lady Chesterfield moved out, into Home Farm, and the hall’s furniture and pictures were put into storage. Here are some of the stories from wartime Beningbrough.

One man's story

Sergeant Albert Henery of No 35 Squadron was a wireless operator and air gunner. The scene pictured is a real idyll of him relaxing on the lawn at Beningbrough before Bert experienced the horror of active combat. On 24 July 1941, his Halifax was shot down over France. All the crew survived and were taken prisoner. Bert survived the war and later revisited Linton on Ouse.
Sgt Bert Henery No 35 Sqn 1941
Sgt Bert Henery No 35 Sqn lying on the lawn at Beningbrough

An encounter with Lady Chesterfield

Clifford Hill, one of the men billeted at Beningbrough, recalls an encounter with Lady Chesterfield: I met Lady Chesterfield twice, both times in the grounds, once in the vegetable gardens … she accused my companion and me of treading on her beds. She was most irate. We apologised and Lady Chesterfield terminated our conversation with “Good luck, boys, and keep off my vegetables!”
 
" Good luck, boys, and keep off my vegetables"
- Lady Chesterfield

Race to the bar

All sorts of capers were dreamed up to relieve mission stress. If you could run from the bar, the full length of the house, up the stairs, along the top floor and then back down to the bar in one minute, you won a free pint. At bar opening time, there was a mad rush to get downstairs, usually on push bikes, and on at least one occasion, a motorbike to try and win the pint.
 
 

Domestic staff

RAF and WAAF domestic staff looked after the aircrew at Beningbrough, as cooks, kitchen hands, stewards, drivers and officer supervisors. There were about twenty girls and six airmen on the staff. In the basement of the hall, the WAAFs had bedrooms, a sitting room and a bathroom, alongside the kitchen and other utility rooms. The airmen had their rooms over the laundry.
 
Domestic Staff at beningbrough WW2
domestic staff outside Beningbrough Hall WW two

A wartime love story

WAAF Dorothy Preston (Gipsy) and Canadian airman Harry Olsen (Olie) met in 1942 at the Alice Hawthorn pub in Nun Monkton. “..it was love at first sight! Everyone who was there that night knew it!” But Olie’s plane was shot down over Germany and he was taken prisoner. After the war he returned to Canada, and sadly, they never met again. However, their love left a permanent mark on Beningbrough, in Olie’s graffiti on the drawing room fireplace and a love story to tell.
 

Memorial trees

To the back of the American Garden are three silver birch trees which were planted as a memorial by a British Army Officer. He married a German woman, whose German husband had died fighting the Russians on the Eastern Front. She showed him a photograph of his grave, marked only by two birch twigs. The British Officer planted two birch trees, in memory of his wife and her first husband, and then returned to Beningbrough some years later to plant one for himself.
 
 

Wartime memories

Recent projects on Beningbrough at war have resulted in a collection of people's memories and stories. Clifford Hill's room on the second, now house parts of this collection. The room acts as an open archive and can be visited by all who wish to learn more about the stories of those who served at Beningbrough during the second world war.
 
Sgt Barry Wood and crew Beningbrough
Sgt Barry wood and crew in front of Beningbrough hall