The spring of 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of my first visit to The National Archives in Kew, southwest London – the guardian of some of the UK’s most iconic national documents.
It also marks ten years since I began my stint as consultant/curator for the release of the Ministry of Defence UFO files, part of a project involving The National Archives and Sheffield Hallam University.
On 8 March I returned to Kew to present a public lecture on completion of my research into the extensive British Government UFO document archive.
During the presentation I listed my personal ‘Top 10’: what I believe are the most significant and important historical documents in the collection at Kew. These were:
- Prime Minister Winston Churchill‘s memo to the Air Ministry, 1952: ‘What’s all this stuff about flying saucers? What is the truth?’ (PREM 11/855). His request followed a spate of sightings over Washington DC that were widely reported in the UK and international media.
- ‘Unidentified Flying Objects’: report produced by MoD’s Flying Saucer Working Party in 1951, used to brief Churchill (DEFE 44/119)
- ‘Unidentified Objects at West Freugh’, the Air (Tech) Intelligence report on UFOs tracked by three ground radar stations in Scotland during April 1957 (AIR 20/9320)
- ‘Unexplained Lights’ in Rendlesham Forest, near RAF Woodbridge, Lt Col Charles Halt’s report to MoD, dated 13 January 1981 (DEFE 24/152)
- RAF Troodos operations record book, October 1983, reporting UFO sighted by USAF RC-135 spyplane over the Mediterranean (AIR 29/4933)
- MoD DI55 UFO Policy – ‘Causes of UFO Reports’ 1967 (DEFE 24/119)
- MoD DI55 UFO Policy – Extra Terrestrial Objects – UAP briefing papers 1995 (DEFE 24/3153)
- MOD DI55 ‘Release of UFO reports to members of the public’ (DEFE 24/3152)
- MoD DI55 UFO Policy – briefing on UAPs to Head of Defence Intelligence 1995 (DEFE 24/3153)
- ‘Unidentified Aerial Phenomena in the UK Air Defence Region’ (the Condign report), 2000 (DEFE 24/3127/1). This 3 volume report ended the MoD Defence Intelligence interest in UFOs that began half a century earlier with the Flying Saucer Working Party report that was used to brief Winston Churchill.
A collection of the original versions of these documents were placed on temporary display for the event. This gave visitors a unique opportunity to examine some of the most famous – and lesser known – records from the files of the so-called ‘UFO desk’. These included the original version of Lt Col Halt’s memo reporting sightings by USAF airmen in the Rendlesham Forest, filed alongside other more run-of-the-mill reports received in January 1981 by DS8 at Whitehall.
The event was organised as part of the National Archives’ spring lecture programme and the public engagement evidence will be used as part of my submission to the REF 2021 research exercise on behalf of Sheffield Hallam University.
The UFO files project was funded by the MoD and resulted in the release of more than 60,000 pages of reports, correspondence and policy issues to the public under the Open Government/Freedom of Information Act.
In all, 210 files were scanned and are available as PDF downloads from the National Archives UFO page.
The project website received more than 3.7 million visitors from 160 countries and mass media coverage brought news of the release to an estimated global audience of 25 million people.
Three books were published as part of the public engagement aspects of the research. These included The UFO Files (Bloomsbury/TNA 2012), Britain’s X-traordinary Files (Bloomsbury/TNA 2014) and UFO Drawings from The National Archives (Four Corners 2017).