Some of the most fascinating items in our collections have a local connection, and in 2018 we acquired a sports shirt made from parachute silk and a collection of photographs taken by Eastleigh resident Dennis Leng, whilst he was on active service during World War II.
At a time of clothes rationing during the war, parachute silk provided a useful material for homemade clothing. After a German landmine hit Eastleigh airfield, Dennis Leng, (a sergeant from Flight 924 squadron), took the silk and asked his neighbour to make a number of sports shirts. A good idea you would think? However, as Dennis later said: ‘The material would have lasted forever… But they weren’t a great success- the fabric was just too heavy’.
Most interesting from a local perspective, are the collection of 167 photographs which Dennis took throughout the war. Initially he was stationed in Manchester, before being posted to Le Havre until the Allies' withdrawal from France. From July 1940 until the end of the war he was based at Stoneham Rectory, and was tasked with the defense of Eastleigh airfield from German bombers. He had to cycle between West Horn Farm, Devine Gardens, Eastleigh recreation ground, Chestnut Avenue, Stoneham Lane, the Concord Club, the Golf Links and finally Bassett Green in order to maintain 8 barrage balloons.
A barrage balloon is a large tethered kite balloon used to defend ground targets against aircraft attack. They raise aloft steel cables which pose a severe collision risk to aircraft, making the attacker's approach more difficult and thus useful for defending Eastleigh airfield.
In a hand written account, Dennis recalls the ‘Hush Hush’ experimental ways they tried to protect the airfield with these balloons. In 1942 they tried a ‘minefield’ in the sky, attaching a ‘dart board’ like mechanism onto them which would explode if contacted. He also remembered being told to dig by hand a 19,150 cubic ft hole outside Bassett Green to bed down a barrage balloon when, according to Dennis, ‘the correct way was on level ground…’ He remarks: ‘You can imagine our thoughts - who were these nutters!!’.
This collection certainly offers us rare glimpse behind Dennis Leng’s wartime experiences and is a worthy new addition to our local history collection.
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