BARNEY DAVIS looks at the varied history of an ex-prisoner of war camp that housed a former Town Mayor and now is the base for specialist anti-terrorist helicopters.

The plot of land that evolved into Lippitts Hill Camp in High Beech was once the home of a small rose nursery.

But the outbreak of the Second World War saw workmen arrive to erected some of the first war structures, including bunkers and anti-aircraft guns.

The Grade II-listed bunkers are still there today, along with two of the guns.

British and American anti-aircraft artillery crews based at the site, documented in wartime records as 'ZE7 Lippitts Hill', to guard the eastern approaches of London from German bombers.

Once the last shots were fired, it was converted into a prisoner of war camp.

From the main gate a carved concrete statue of a man by Rudi Webber during his incarceration as prisoner number 540177 can still be seen.

In Christmas 1946, a group of Quakers led by Loughton resident Henry Francies, of the Peace Pledge Union, reacted to news of post-war mass starvation in Germany, by launching an appeal for people willing to invite one of the prisoners into their home for Christmas dinner.

Karl Öettinger and Fritz Kübler were picked at random from the camp and joined Mr Francies and his wife Nancy at their home.

They also attended a local church Christmas party, where they sang Silent Night’ with the congregation.

The Francies and Kübler friendship continued for many generations, with both families paying regular visits to each other.

One of the other German prisoners, Walter Weiland, eventually became a naturalised Briton and rose to hold the post of Waltham Abbey town mayor between 1988 and 1989.

The late Mayor caused controversy when he was seen to represent both sides in the annual Remembrance Sunday celebrations, and received a salute from Royal British Legion members.

When the prisoners were released, the site fell into disrepair but was eventually acquired in the 1950s when the Metropolitan Police, looking for a new training camp, took over the site.

They placed military cadets, police horses, firearms and dog training facilities at the base, which started to cause residents concern about noise.

The firearms and dog training were eventually moved out under local pressure, but in 1967 three Bell 47G Sioux helicopters were lent to the police by the army for daylight trials over London.

These trials led to similar police helicopters being housed on a permanent basis at Lippitts Hill from 1976.

Today, three quieter £5million choppers with abseiling equipment, Nitesun searchlights, a Skyshout public address system and heat-seaking sensors are based there to help police all over London.

Cllr Syd Stavrou has said the "uneasy truce" between the Met and residents could end when the National Police Air Service (NPAS) takes over the site in April and established no-fly zones end.

She said: “The residents understand the importance of the aircraft in protecting national security but they don’t want the buzzing to disturb them at night or when they are sunbathing in Summer.

“So far there has been an uneasy truce with the base and the Met have been responsive and have had an open dialogue with residents."

Although two of the four gun emplacements have been demolished, due to security supplied by the police ZE7 Lippitts Hill remains by far the best preserved heavy anti-aircraft gun site in Essex.