Sunday, 29 March 2020

Sutton Hoo: Fortean Traveller

This article first appeared in Fortean Times issue FT390, March 2020. For copyright reasons the photos are different to the ones supplied by National Trust in the article in print.


Panorama of the Sutton Hoo estate, in a gale in August!





HIGH ON the slopes of the River Deben, near the Suffolk town of Woodbridge, lies Sutton Hoo, an estate with woods and a house with spectacular estuary views. On this property lies a cluster of mounds, from which one of England’s greatest archaeological discoveries emerged. Here on the eve of World War Two was uncovered the spectacular ship burial of an Anglo-Saxon believed to be King Raedwald of the East Angles, who reigned from 599AD to his death around 624AD.



A recently installed skeleton showing the dimensions of the ship from the Sutton Hoo ship burial

The original Sutton Hoo treasures – including a stunning decorated helmet, as well as gold jewellery inlaid with garnets from India and Sri Lanka – are now on display in the less atmospheric surroundings of Room 41 of the British Museum in London. But you can see replicas at Sutton Hoo and take woodland walks to visit Sutton Hoo’s impressive Royal Burial Mounds and the house once owned by Edith Pretty, who called in the archaeologists back in 1939.


The Sutton Hoo helmet in the British Museum's Room 41 in London. Replicas are on show at Sutton Hoo.

The Sutton Hoo estate, including the Royal Burial Mounds, the exhibition hall and the house (now known as Tranmer House) are today owned by the National Trust, who reopened the estate to the public in 2019 after a £4 million “transformation” – a refitted exhibition space and new footpaths including a River View Walk through the woods retracing the route along which the ship was dragged from the river for burial. By the time you read this, a viewing tower will probably have opened, allowing visitors a bird’s eye view of the Royal Burial Mounds.





Signage for one of the walks to the Royal Burial Mounds, with the viewing tower under construction in October 2019


My visit was in weather reminiscent of Anglo-Saxon epic poetry – during a gale, in August! Sutton Hoo’s Property Operations Manager Alison Girling bade me take a seat in one of Sutton Hoo’s many cafes while she got me a coffee, but it never arrived. After a long wait I caught sight of her through the café window, jogging as she talked urgently into a radio – she was shutting down the site as the gale took hold. It wasn’t safe that day for walkers to go into the woods by the mounds, I was told, branches of the tall pines would likely fall on them.



The story of how the treasures of Sutton Hoo came to be uncovered includes some fortean twists. Numerous slightly different accounts of what inspired Edith Pretty to call in freelance self-taught archaeologist and astronomer Basil Brown feature seances, spectral apparitions of warriors on horseback and a local “metal diviner.” It’s as if the gold and silver treasures lying beneath Sutton Hoo’s mounds were exerting a supernatural influence on their discoverers, as if the treasures were crying out to mortals to find them.


Mound 1 - the mound that contained the Royal ship burial.


But the legitimate excavations in what’s now known as Mound 1, the world’s greatest Anglo-Saxon ship burial, complete with the impression on the sandy soil of the timbers of a buried ship 90 feet (24.7 metres) long, weren’t the first. Tudor grave robbers had looted most of the other mounds long before the official dig, “ill-doers” had dug a “robber’s trench” into Mound 1 that came within inches of discovering the treasures of King Raedwald. Who were these Tudor grave robbers? Tradition has pointed the finger of suspicion at Elizabeth I’s astrologer and legendary occultist Dr John Dee.

At the time of the 1939 excavation, Basil Brown’s team came across Mound 1’s robber’s trench and found Mound 2 extensively looted. Brown’s team believed that this happened in the sixteenth century and there is still a commonly-held belief today that the robber’s trench and looting was the work of a team led by Dr John Dee (1527-1608). The robber’s trench was later firmly dated by the discovery in it of a Bellarmine jar (famous for its use as a “witch bottle”) . A tradition also seems to have taken hold that Dr Dee sought a commission to search for treasure on the East Coast. (Sutton Hoo’s just 12 miles from the sea.)


Portrait of occultist and court astrologer Dr John Dee, from A True and Faithful Relation of What Passed For Many Years Between Dr John Dee... out of copyright

One ability Dee believed he possessed was discovering hidden treasure, he had several misadventures in that field. Dee genuinely had some expertise in geology, surveying and metal assaying. In later life he leased and ran mines of his own in Devonshire, from which he received royalties. Dee’s writings made little distinction between mining for ores and digging for treasure, in a period when archeology was known as “gold mining.”

Dee’s scryer (spirit medium) Edward Kelley conned him with an elaborate hoax involving fake artefacts he claimed to have dug up at Blockley, Gloucestershire in 1583 (or from Glastonbury or from a Welsh bishop’s tomb, in other versions). These were a book allegedly written by St Dunstan, a vial of a red “powder of projection” and a scroll in coded Medieval Latin written by two exiled Danish princes. The latter included a map cryptically describing ten locations of other buried treasure. Dee was convinced this was all for real.

One of the numerous spirits that Kelley persuaded Dee had appeared to him instructed Dee and Kelley to dig up the treasure identified in the scroll. The spirit identified himself as “El”, opening up his chest to reveal his name written on his heart. El allegedly told Dee and Kelley that if they collected soil samples from each location mentioned in Kelley’s scroll, spirits could then recover whatever lay buried there. Dee found the money to send Kelley on a twelve-day voyage around England in 1583 to gather these “earths.”

According to contemporary belief, treasure buried in the earth was in the custody of demons, only discoverable with their help. The 1562 Statute against Sorcery carried the death penalty for persistent discovery of treasure “by the aid of magic.” Dee repudiated magic and believed he was using mathematics and the scientific exercise of supernatural powers to find buried treasure. He therefore sought Royal Letters Patent to protect him against accusations of sorcery in his endeavours.

So, prompted by his desperate finances, Dee wrote in October 1574 to Lord Treasurer William Cecil, Lord Burghley. Pleading for an annual pension of at least £200, Dee proposed a way to source it cost-free, by discovering buried treasure. He saw the appearance of a new star two years previously as foretelling “the finding of some treasure.” Dee’s letter explained how visions, dreams and “strange terrestrial emanations” pointed to hoards beneath the earth.

Dee’s letter requested a licence to seek for treasure on the Queen’s behalf, in return for half the spoils. Cecil Declined. Martin Carver (see bibliography below) suggests that Dee’s proposal to Lord Burghley could have been an attempt at “a portable antiquities scam”, presumably aimed at fleecing investors.


A table in the "Enochian" language said by Dr John Dee to be used by angels to communicate, inspired by the Book of Enoch in the Old Testament. From A True and Faithful Relation... out of copyright

Enthralling as the idea of Dr Dee grave robbing Sutton Hoo is, it’s alas supported by scant evidence. The cryptic “Danish scroll” apparently made no references to locations around Sutton Hoo. Carver describes a “systematic pillaging of mounds in Suffolk” starting from the time of the dissolution of the monasteries (some 20 years before Dee’s letter to Cecil), fuelled by a belief that corrupt monks had buried their ill-gotten gains. Landowners could apply for licences to dig for treasure on their own land – Sutton Hoo’s local landowners in Dee’s time were the Mather family, Sir Michael Stanhope and Sir Henry Wood, so suspicion falls on them rather than Dee.


Mound 2 - the mound looted by Tudor graverobbbers, now reconstructed to something like its original height.


In the lean, famine-afflicted 1570s, many in desperation turned to digging for buried treasure, especially in burial mounds – so much so that “hill-digger” became a term of abuse. So the intriguing idea of Dr Dee as a clandestine Sutton Hoo archaeologist begins to look less likely.

Some 350 years after Dr Dee’s alleged occult diggings in the vicinity, the mix of paranormal phenomena and archaeology returned to Sutton Hoo.

Edith Pretty, who lived at the house at Sutton Hoo, was involved in Spiritualism and donated money to the Spiritualist church in Woodbridge. When her husband Frank was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1934, Edith contacted well-known spiritualist faith healer William Parish, of whom she was reportedly so in awe that she later instructed her gardeners to plant tulip bulbs in the spots where Parish had paused while walking around the estate. Edith had already been England’s first woman magistrate, she’d volunteered as a nurse in France in World War One, travelled to Egypt, Sudan and South America and gone on a tour of Europe by car. With her husband gone, such an adventurous woman needed something to occupy her mind, her thoughts turned to archeology and the spirit world.

There is debate as to whether seances were held at Sutton Hoo. One account by a local source told of seances in a purple draped “telephone room”. It is known that a “tiny room” in the house was used as a private chapel where Edith could “talk to my husband” after his death. Maids described a crucifix and candles there. Archaeologist Charles Phillips in his memoirs records that Edith would go to Spiritualist meetings in Woodbridge every Thursday. She would “commune” with her husband through a medium. Other sources say Edith regularly attended seances in London, or that she was with the Spiritualist church in London Road, Ipswich, which still survives today as the Horley Spiritualist Centre. She also came into contact with medium and spirit healer Albert Charles Toft of Llanelli, who claimed to be directed by a disembodied Indian spirit diagnostician named Ranji.


Tranmer House

One story of how Edith was inspired to commission the Sutton Hoo dig was simply that it came to her in a dream. Edith told archaeologist Basil Brown when he was on the 1939 dig to go to spiritualist service in Woodbridge, where medium Florence Thompson was in attendance. According to Brown’s diary, Florence told him, “I see fields…. Now I see lots of sand… all sand… assert yourself… go on digging… and you will find what you’re looking for.”

Another story – recounted by Shiela Norman, daughter of the leader of the Woodbridge Spiritualist congregation – has a séance conducted or at least attended by Pretty, supposedly in London, in which a man on black horse materialised and told Edith to plunge a sword into the mounds.

In yet another version, an unnamed guest at Sutton Hoo saw “warriors atop the mounds” one morning from an upstairs window – another variation of the story had these as spectral “horsemen”. Yet another iteration of the story has a friend staying with Edith reporting a single “ghostly figure on horseback on the mounds” – it’s not clear whether this was the same friend who saw multiple figures – on horseback or otherwise – from the upstairs window.

There was a pair of buzzards flying over the Deben when I went on the guided walk of the Royal Burial Mounds, led by Mark Brewster, my guide from the Sutton Hoo Society. He related what he described as a “ghost story” in which – during a seance in the long “seance room” on the top floor of the Sutton Hoo house – a guest rushed to the window after seeing from the corner of her eye a single figure on horseback holding a sword ride over a mound. Brewster reckons it was probably just a poacher, heading down to the Deben ferry. East Anglia’s sudden thick mists can play tricks with the eyes. A more prosaic explanation for Edith’s motivation to cause a dig to take place on her land is that her father had been an amateur archaeologist.

There was also a tenant living on the Sutton Hoo estate known as “Old Pettit”, who was said to be a metal diviner – he assured Edith that “fabulous treasure” lay under her garden, gold and silver, especially in the larger mound.

If you stand outside Tranmer House today and look up, you can the upstairs windows from which Edith’s guest allegedly saw at least one spectral horseman on the mounds. Now only the ground floor’s open to the public. The top floor bedrooms have become holiday apartments. While the other mounds aren’t visible from the ground floor of Tranmer House, you can see the top of Mound 2 through the ground floor windows. Mound 2 – the one looted by Tudor grave-robbers, possibly something to do with Dr Dee – was built up with earth in the 1980s, party so visitors could see something of the mounds from the house, but also in an attempt to reconstruct how the mounds might have looked before a millennia and a half of ploughing and erosion reduced them.

From one of these top floor windows, a house guest is alleged to have seen at least one spectral figure on horseback on the mounds

There was a faint smell of woodsmoke when I visited Tranmer House. One room has become a wood-panelled cinema, with film and radio recordings showing of the 1939 dig. The National Trust have made a good job of evoking 1939 – among the facsimile documents on the desk that visitors can handle is a telegram sent by Brown to archaeologist couple the Piggotts. Peggy Piggott was a much more experienced archaeologist than her husband, but in 1930s Cambridge women couldn't take full degrees, only “diplomas”, so she was the less qualified junior partner of the couple. The telegram tells her husband Stuart they’ve found a “VIKING SHIP” (what they first thought they’d found) and instructed him to “BRING WIFE.”

As the Sutton Hoo dig team were sorting through their finds, a planned open day to showcase some of these was cancelled as World War Two broke out. Work on the dig stopped, the “ship trench” was hastily covered over with bracken. In today’s Tranmer House drawing room you will hear Neville Chamberlain’s tones on the radiogram saying he had “received no such assurances… so I have to tell you that from midnight tonight, we are at war with Germany.”

Edith donated the finds to the British Museum – faith healer William Parish was apparently influential in Edith's decision. Only when her executors were clearing up after Edith’s death did they discover the letter from Winston Churchill offering her a CBE for her generous gesture. Edith declined. The archaeological finds were shipped to the British Museum’s underground safe storage facility in Aldwych Underground station for the duration of the war.

At Sutton Hoo in wartime, the mounds were filled back in, only to be be damaged by armoured vehicles driving over them, destroying much of the impression in earth left by the huge ship in which King Redwald had been interred. The anti-glider trenches dug across the estate (well clear of the mounds) to stop German paratroopers landing are still visible. Edith Pretty died suddenly in 1942, her house became a hostel for Land Army Girls (some carved their names on the fireplace) and smaller buildings on the estate became a refugees’ school.

The archaeologists were back at Sutton Hoo in 1985, in a series of digs that yielded the remains of a noblewoman cremated in two bowls, and also the remains of a dog, horse, goat and sheep.

Unearthed in Mound 17 were the bones of young warrior buried together with his horse in full ornate harness, the horse apparently sacrificed to accompany his master to the afterlife. (You can see them in the exhibition hall, together with a replica Saxon sword that you can try lifting – it’s surprisingly heavy!) These burial practices hinted at a culture in transition from paganism to Christianity – King Raedwald converted to Christianity himself and raised Christian altars, but on the advice of the women of his household kept the altars to the pagan gods in place as well.


Mound 17 - from which the horse burial was excavated

Were the apparitions on horseback seen by Edith’s guests something to do with the warrior horseman buried in Mound 17? England’s man-and-horse burials are almost exclusively from Suffolk – others were discovered at Eye, Mildenhall and Snape. There’s also a legend in the Suffolk village of Blythburgh – 22 miles up the coast – about a ghostly horse that used to burst forth from a mound to canter around the local common. (The mound’s long been lost to erosion and ploughing.) Could Blythburgh's equestrian phantom have been inspired by a long-forgotten Saxon horse burial find?

Other excavations, including the digs in the 1980s and 1990s, unearthed mysterious “sandmen”, blackened stick men with vague features, they melted away to nothing soon after being exhumed.

These, it turns out, were the victims of medieval executions dumped in the earth. Coastal Suffolk’s sandy, acid soil meant the bodies quickly rotted away, the spaces in the sandy earth were then filled with black, sandy silt. These mystery figures, basically made of sand, fell apart on contact with air. Like the impressions of the victims of Pompeii, there’s one black-painted fibreglass cast of a “sandman” on the Sutton Hoo site, Brewster said he thinks the other sandman casts are somewhere in British Museum storage.

Now the archaeology’s happening four miles down the road at Rendlesham (better known as the epicentre of the UK’s best-known UFO incident of Boxing Day 1980) where a team of detectorists with the permission of the landowner are sweeping the fields where the seat of the Kings of East Anglia once lay. Brewster told me he’s heard Sutton Hoo has more – as yet undisturbed – mounds somewhere among the trees near the river.

© Matt Salusbury








A full-size seaworthy reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo ship is currently under construction in The Long Shed Woodbridge (the nearest town to Sutton Hoo) using ancient shipbuliding techniques. It's regularly open to the public, for opening hours see here.


The frontispiece of A True and Faithful Relation, which describes Dr John Dee's alleged communication with spirits.

FURTHER READING

Edith Pretty: From Socialite to Sutton Hoo
, Mary Skelcher and Chris Durrant, Leiston Press 2006

The Dig, John Preston, Penguin, London 2008.( In September 2019, a Netflix crew were spotted in Suffolk filming the forthcoming TV series The Dig, based on this novelisation of the 1939 excavations and starring Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan.)

“Sutton Hoo - An Archaeography”, Martin Carver, in Great Excavations, Shaping the Archaeological Profession, John Schofield (ed.), Oxbow, Oxford, 2011

A True and Faithful Relation of What Passed for Many Years between Dr. John Dee and Some Spirits
And also the Letters of Sundry Great Men Kept in the library of Sir Tho. Cotton
, Preface by Meric. Casaubon D.D, D. Maxwell, London 1659

The Queen’s Conjurer – the science and magic of Dr John Dee, adviser to Queen Elizabeth I
, Benjamin Woolley, Henry Holt, New York, 2002

Edward Kelley’s Danish treasure hoax and Elizabethan antiquarianism”, Francis Young, Intellectual History Review, February 2019

“Dr John Dee”, Three Famous Occultists, G. M. Hort, Rider & Co London 1922
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
National Trust Sutton Hoo, admission £13.50 adults, for seasonal opening times see here

Nearest train station Melton (trains from Ipswich and Lowestoft) Greater Anglia. Sutton Hoo is a short (uphill) cycle ride from Melton, or by M&R Cars of Woodbridge.

Bus 65 from Ipswich and Woodbridge (not Sundays) has a Sutton Hoo stop, First in Norfolk and Suffolk buses.



'Trots in Space' - from Fortean Times, 2004

My first ever feature for Fortean Times, "Trots in Space" from way back in 2004, remains influential. Fortean Time's back-catalogue of feature articles has disappeared from its website, but you can read it on archive.org. (The photos take absolutely ages to load.)

I will post "Trots in Space", footnotes and all, together with never-before seen photos, updates and links, on this blog eventually.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Coming soon! My travel piece on Sutton Hoo for Fortean Times


My travel feature on Sutton Hoo for "Fortean Traveller" in Fortean Times, FT 390, will be in the shops soon and hitting doormats of subscribers at the end of February 2020.

The National Trust property at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk - site of the world's most spectacular Saxon ship burial - has just had a multi-million pound refit. Most of the tourists are unaware of the stories of supernatural phenomena associated with the discovery of the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial - rumours of Spiritualist seances, dreams revealing treasure and "metal diviners". There are also stories alleging that Elizabethan alchemist and court astrologer Dr John Dee was grave robbing at Sutton Hoo.
The article will appear on this website once the First British Serial rights of Fortean Times have expired.



Saturday, 11 January 2020

Colonel Charles Halt Returns to Woodbridge conference

Woodbridge Community Hall, Suffolk, 8 September 2019

This Conference Report first appeared in Fortean Times, FT387, Christmas 2019






The author (left) with Colonel Charles Halt (right) at the 2019 Woodbridge conference on the Rendlesham Forest UFO Incident



THE RENDLESHAM Forest UFO Incident (RFUI for short), which occurred over several nights in the last days of 1980, remains Britain’s best-known UFO encounter. Nearly 40 years on, there’s now a UFO Trail in the Rendlesham Forest – complete with a grounded flying saucer sculpture. The former RAF Bentwaters air base, the epicentre of the RFUI, is now the Bentwaters Cold War Museum. A conference on “Rendlesham” – featuring star speaker Colonel Charles Halt, RAF Bentwaters deputy base commander in 1980 – is now an annual event in the Community Hall of the Suffolk town of Woodbridge, six miles from the scene of the incident.

This year’s conference was opened by its organiser, local boy David Young – he runs the Paranormal Dimensions podcast. Next up was ex-police officer John Hanson, author of the Haunted Skies book series on historic British UFO encounters and more recently The Halt Perspective co-authored with Halt. Hanson has seen “numerous UFOs”, including two nocturnal encounters in Rendlesham Forest – a triangular craft and also “milky white orb” hovering off the floor of the same forest, shedding “pieces of fabric.”He passed around “aports” – stones that he said materialised in the air in Rendlesham Forest and landed – too hot to handle – with “thuds”.

Malcolm Robinson of Strange Phenomenon Investigations attributes his career as a paranormal investigator to “too many times on the ghost train as a kid” at his local fun fair. Robinson “started off as a bloody sceptic… how wrong was I?” (He still believes “the vast majority of UFO sightings can be explained,” while most Nessie sightings are “standing waves” caused by boats.) His scepticism changed after he was “slapped and kicked by… nothing” while investigating a haunted house in Sterling, where a “tremendous force pushed down on the back of his hand.”






Conference organiser David Young (right) in conversation with Colonel Charles Halt


Facebook star Sascha Christie, worked on the Capel Green Rendlesham documentary and knew Larry Warren. Warren was with the US Air Force Security Police based at Bentwaters at the time of RFUI and later co-authored with Peter Robbins probably the best-known “Rendlesham” book, Left at East Gate. Warren later stayed for a while on the Christie family’s sofa, Sascha helped him get Rendlesham-related talk radio gigs. But the title of Christie’s talk was “The Larry Warren Fraud.”

There were dodgy dealings in sports and pop star memorabilia. There was inaudible footage of Warren at other conferences. There was forensic critiquing of a photo put online in 2014, allegedly showing a UFO from “that night” in 1980. There were undoubtedly several different versions given by Warren of what he was doing and where he was on that weekend over Christmas 1980. Warren later admitted that his original account wasn’t his own, claiming he was covering up to protect other servicemen – in particular Sergeant Adrian Bustinza – from deep trouble if they told their stories about Rendlesham’s “underground bases”.

It’s good to see the UFO community doing basic journalistic fact-checking, more’s needed in this field! Christie’s efforts are to be commended (she took this year’s Ultimate Bravery in Ufology Award). But she ran through her thesis at breakneck speed, expecting the audience to be familiar with the confusing chronology around Skycrash (the original RFUI book, by Jenny Randles, Dot Cotton and Brenda Butler – the latter lives locally and was at this year’s event) then Left at East Gate and Bustinza’s account in You Can’t Tell the People by Georgina Bruni. It was all somewhat baffling.



The Woodbridge Community Hall, the conference venue - a short distance from Rendlesham Forest

Astronomer David Bryant spoke on orbs. Bryant admits “many orbs are just photographic” while some orbs caught on film “are clearly moths.” But he believes they’re “not all dust and raindrops.” He’s seen orbs with his own eyes on Track 10 of Rendlesham Forest. He recounted how George Washington at his disastrous War of Independence winter quarters at Valley Forge in 1777 was calmed by the sight of a “green orb” appearing before him.

Bryant believes orbs – “frequently associated with strange mists” – are some sort of living “hungry energy beings” that feed off our “alert expectation” that pumps electromagnetic energy in response to them manifesting in front of us. Bryant concluded that “we must strive to eliminate fraudulent, mischievous and dubious” data to arrive at “something which some day someone might take seriously.”

Hanson lamented the fact that “the media” still don’t take UFOs seriously. But there were a lot of slides showing our speakers posing with X-Files supporting actors or even members of the Bay City Rollers. Robinson at one point admitted “this talk’s gone all over the shop” while several speakers rushed slides of covers of their books past me so fast there wasn’t even time to read the titles. Most talks didn’t so much end as run out of time.

Despite some prior knowledge of RFUI and my journalists’ training, I still couldn’t follow such high-speed presentations. Attention to pace and timing is all it’d take for “the media” to take UFOs more seriously. Do ufologists now expect most punters to experience their lectures via their Facebook channel, with the benefit of a pause button?


Several conference-goers told me they were only here to hear “Chuck” – Colonel Charles Irwin Halt. Woodbridge Community Hall was draped with stars and stripes bunting in Halt’s honour. Unlike the self-taught ufologists preceding him, Chuck with his US Air Force officer’s training knows how to give concise presentations. He can also tell a vivid, compelling and credible narrative.

Joining the US Air Force while still in college, Halt ended up running the Pentagon’s jet engine operation. There followed a stint as adviser to the Shah of Iran’s Air Force – which he ended in time to avoid becoming a US Embassy hostage. He was heading for a command role with US forces in Norway when he was told RAF Bentwaters – then the largest base in the “free world” – needed a deputy base commander. This was in 1980, with a Soviet invasion of Poland feared, so “we exercised all the time – eight to ten hours in a gas mask.”

Over Christmas 1980, Bentwaters was “down for the holidays”, no flights scheduled. Following a routine Christmas Day dinner at Woody’s Bar at nearby RAF Woodbridge, Halt toured the base on his usual daily morning rounds on 26 December.This included stopping at the police base to pick up the police logs around 6.30am, where he found a laughing sergeant describing how three security officers had been “out in the woods chasing UFOs all night” after they “thought they saw a downed aircraft.”

There were two strands to the base police, explained Halt. “Law enforcement” wore blue uniforms and pistols – “they issued tickets.” Perimeter security wore camo fatigues and carried automatic weapons for “lethal force.” There were continual “behavioural problems” with security personnel, “it’s boring.”


Colonel Halt in conversation with local ufologist, Rendlesham investigator and contactee Brenda Butler


Jim Penniston, a security NCO, took a out a team off-base in a truck along a muddy track to investigate, leaving their weapons at the hut by the gate, as regulations required. Penniston reported “there’s something out there,” and that radios didn’t work. Halt told how Penniston had relayed back to security control that they “came across and object.” Penniston and another security policeman, John Burroughs, recalled chasing an object, “multicoloured lights, something.”

Halt “didn’t hear most of this stuff ‘till years later.” The security police involved were “drugged and hypnotised by the time I got to them.”

Following the debrief from the security police, Halt then attended the usual command post “morning stand up of senior colonels”. All were “sure there was a logical explanation.”

Over dinner the next night at Woody’s, Second Lieutenant Bruce Englund, commander of one of the two “flights” of security cops, came in white as a sheet, telling Halt, “I need to talk to you and the base Commander right now.” In the privacy of the cloakroom, he said, “The UFO is back.”

Halt went out in an jeep with Sergeant Monroe Nevels, who brought his Nikon camera. Halt took with him his “old micro-cassette recorder for taking notes” and asked Nevels to collect the Geiger counter.


A US Air Force Security Police vehicle on show outside the Frontline Club's tent at Byline Festival, summer 2019. While the USAF Security Police played a role in "Rendlesham", I've now way of knowing whether it's contemporary with Rendlesham. The sand-coloured camouflage makes me suspect not.

There were “15-20 cops running around with light-alls” (towed searchlights on trailers) when they arrived at the scene. Halt went forward in a group of five to check out whatever it was with their “first generation” light scope had seen. He was shown three indentations in the ground where he was told “the craft landed the first night”. (Halt showed us his plaster cast of one of the indentations.) Neville’s Geiger counter showed “nothing significant by way of background radiation.”

Then they “watched for several minutes” a bright red irregularly-shaped glowing object, in the nearby farmer’s field, bobbing up and down as it moved towards the forest, panicking the farmer’s livestock, and “glowing, dripping and sending off sparks. The object “suddenly silently explodes into five white balls and disappears.” Next came “multiple objects, moving in formation at 500 feet” which Halt followed. After that, they saw two objects at “two or three thousand feet”, one “comes over us and a beam comes out of it, you could see dust particles in… the beam – one of two of objects goes over the Bentwaters base, the beams fired into weapons store.” The Suffolk Police were called out too, but the local post office had been broken into and that took priority.




The wall of UFO-related press cuttings on show at the conference

The next day “the Wing Commander (Major General Gordon E. Williams) drives in.” When Williams heard Halt had made a tape, he asked for it, so he could take to it the next weekly Third Air Force meeting. When the wingco returned from his meeting, Halt asked, “Boss, do I still have a job?” Williams returned Halt’s tape recorder, telling Halt, “Everybody listened… What do we do? Nobody had an answer.”

Halt’s boss decided “It happened off the base it’s a British affair.” When the British liaison officer returned from his holidays, Halt wrote him a memo, the carbon copy of which “disappeared.” Then “nothing happened… I was relieved this was going to go away… this is not career enhancing.”

“Two years later, Mr Warren gets involved” with a Freedom of Information Act request for Halt’s memo. “We had to release it,” Halt then “had to go into hiding, no comment, no way, I don’t want to get involved.”

Halt told how he quit RAF Bentwaters not because of “the incident” but because of the new commander, Sam Morgan, who he claimed bore him a grudge after Morgan’s son, also in the US Air Force and stationed at Bentwaters, had earlier run-ins with the Security Police. Halt got a job in Germany, that worked for Dick Cheney’s Department of Defense. Of RFUI, Halt says it was fortunate it didn’t harm his career, as it did harm the careers of the NCOs.

According to Halt, there were “spook fingerprints” all over Rendlesham “from day one.” Halt later found out that the CIA’s Dr Chris Green, believed to be “liaison” to the White House on UFOs – flew into the base days after the incident without his knowledge. Years later, Halt received a letter from a man who was in the Bentwaters air traffic control tower during “Rendlesham”, who claimed to have seen “three clearly triangular craft with lights”. His source added that “everyone on air traffic control who reports a UFO has been decertified and becomes a cook or mechanic.”



Malcolm Robinson at the conference




* A possible 40th anniversary Rendlesham “special memorial event” is planned for Woodbridge in 2020, details will be at here.

* There’s a video of Halt’s 2015 visit to the site of the RFUI here .

This article was amended on 19 02 20 to correct some spelling errors in names, also to correct what "light-alls" are. I am grateful to Fortean Times reader Andy Robertson for pointing these errors out.

© Matt Salusbury