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Local History Month: Chadwell Heath's John Barfoot on being a local historian

PUBLISHED: 10:00 29 May 2017

Chadwell Heath historian John Barfoot

Chadwell Heath historian John Barfoot

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Readers of the Ilford Recorder may be familiar with my trips down memory lane, in the History & Heritage column.

John (on the right) with friend Peter Craig at IWM Duxford. Peter was nephew of Lt George Craig MC, the first fatal casualty of No.44 Squadron at Hainault Farm aerodromeJohn (on the right) with friend Peter Craig at IWM Duxford. Peter was nephew of Lt George Craig MC, the first fatal casualty of No.44 Squadron at Hainault Farm aerodrome

But what does being a local historian entail?

There is the obvious pleasure of being able to help people with my knowledge, as founder member of the Essex Chapter of Cross & Cockade, which grew into Cross & Cockade International – The First World War Aviation Historical Society.

In the aftermath of enlisting my help with the successful Hainault Farm and Fairlop Airfields exhibition in 1988, Redbridge Library invited me to compile a book about Ilford airmen and aerodromes during the Great War, to be published with council funding.

With the aid of large bound volumes of the local paper, loaned one at a time by the Ilford Recorder, and numerous visits to the then Public Records Office at Kew and the Archives Department of the RAF Museum, I presented the library with my manuscript.

To cut a long story short, my first book Over Here and Over There, dedicated to Ilford airmen and aerodromes of the Great War, was eventually published by Ian Henry in 1998. My second book, Essex Airmen 1910-1918, published by Tempus in 2006, paid tribute to the airmen of my county. In my eighties, I realised I was not only a local historian, but also now part of local history hence Memoirs of a Little Blighter 1934-1946, published by Colin Huston in 2012, personal recollections of pre and wartime Ilford.

My articles and books have not only brought inquiries but also friendships, for example Peter Craig, nephew of Lt George Craig MC, the first fatal casualty of No.44 Squadron at Hainault Farm aerodrome. On his visits from Canada I took him on a tour of the Hainault aerodrome site and was instrumental in the family recovering George Craig’s long-lost Military Cross.

Readers will find an excellent site dedicated by the family to Lt George Craig MC on the internet.

On February 27, 1992, the Ilford Recorder published a photograph of Pc Jim Mitchell holding a wooden cross that I identified as the original Amiens grave marker of 2nd Lt Herbert Musgrove Beck, an Ilford airman killed in a flying accident on January 22, 1918. Further details can be found in Redbridge Museum archives, Redbridge and the First World War by Gerard Greene and Over Here and Over There.

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