As war intensified in 1940, the Royal Air Force were looking to rapidly expand their airfields across the country. In Norfolk, officials from the Air Force were tasked with finding sites where it would suitable to quickly and cheaply build new airfields – usually by converting farmland. As the search across the county continued, suspicions were raised at a farm with Dutch farmers when they found an empty barn; no crops, no machinery – nothing. The land surrounding the barns had also been flattened with hedges cut down and any ditches filled in. It wasn’t exactly a crime but it raised suspicions enough for the workers, suspected to be German spies, to be sent off to be interrogated by MI5.
Some ten farms were found to have empty barns, all with distinctive red roofs. Investigations revealed that all of the sites were operated by the the Dutch-owned East Anglian Real Property Company. The Dutchmen claimed they needed the supersize barns to house corn and specialised grain machinery however the security services thought that their plot was much more sinister and that the land was actually being turned into a makeshift landing strip so that German paratroopers could land their aircraft on the flattened land and then hide the men, and possible the aircraft, in the barns.
It’s also been rumoured that chicken coups were organised in the shapes of swastikas. English Heritage military expert, Roger Thomas is said to have discovered articles at the Norfolk Records Office, raising questions as to how credible the information is. Possibly just rumours, or maybe the RAF were on to something. The Dutchmen were all released afterwards so one can only presume it was nothing of concern. Several of the barns still remain across Norfolk.
Sources: War History Online, The Mirror