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May 11, 2021 29 mins

On Christmas night, 1980, a light is observed descending into a forest just outside RAF Bentwaters, a British military air base on the eastern coast of England. Three American servicemen leave the base and follow the light into Rendlesham Forest. What they see marks the beginning of a three-night incident known as Britain’s Roswell.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:02):
Strange Arrivals is a production of I Heart three D
audio for full exposure, listen with headphones. What do you
think of when I say the words Area fifty one,
I think of aliens and government cover up. I think aliens,

(00:23):
I think military. I think government cast site for secret
aircraft projects where they're also might be UFOs being stashed
after US who crash in the United States secret place
the government hypes things. There was this big thing. I

(00:44):
don't know if it was last year or the year before,
but there's this whole thing about it. Area do you
Want Raid? The military has kind of confirmed that there's
top secret stuff going on there, just with how they've
reacted to the people trying to storm Areas fifty one
and stuff like that. Admit it pretty clear that they
don't want anybody there for at this point decades. There's

(01:06):
been various references till UFOs and creatures that were found there.
Even if you have no interest in UFOs or government conspiracies,
you know about Area fifty one. It's the secret base
where the government supposedly houses crashed UFOs. It's where advanced

(01:30):
alien technology is used to create aircraft whose capabilities defy
the laws of physics as we know them, and it's
evidence of a profound government conspiracy. Chris Carter had these
cultural understandings in mind when he created the X files.
We took a lot of what people knew about aliens

(01:53):
or believed about aliens and UFOs, extraterrestrials and the government conspiracy.
And there was a certain fascination with Roswell with areat one.
They were part of the extraterrestrial alien abduction UFO lore.
So how do you know about Area fifty one? Do

(02:13):
you remember when you first heard about it, when you
heard about it again and again. It's not from the
government until recently. The government hasn't said anything official about
UFOs since nineteen sixty nine. What we think we know
about UFOs didn't come from any authoritative source. Instead, our

(02:35):
understanding comes from unofficial sources within the culture. It is
a kind of modern folklore. Now, folklore might make you
think of myths or fairy tales or things that aren't true,
but that's not necessarily the case. Folklore is just knowledge
that it is transmitted through non formal means, like jokes

(02:56):
or urban legends or rumors. Whether that knowledge represents something
real or not. Is almost beside the point. What is
important is how that information is created and why it
catches on. On this season of Strange Arrivals, we'll look
at how that cultural understanding of UFOs evolved, beginning with

(03:19):
the case known as Britain's Roswell, a series of encounters
that stretched over three nights. We'll look at the initial
story of the encounters, what the explanations might be, and
then how the accounts changed and grew after the fact,
zooming out. How was our understanding of UFOs formed beginning

(03:41):
in the late nineteen forties, and how does it continue
to influence the way we look at strange things in
the sky. I'm Toby Ball and this is Strange Arrivals

(04:11):
Episode one Boxing Day A variety of entertainment, but Christmas
comedy with Little and Large Yard Wild to Christmas Show
this year she set fire to the turkey and stuff
the Christmas pudding, Christmas Magic contlusion with All Daniels. Now
we've got all these practice from the Christmas tree and

(04:34):
it's a festive blanket event. Oh look the place scattered
with empty boxes of entertainment for Christmas with BBC One
Christmas Night at Royal Air Force bent Waters in Air
Base seventy five miles northeast of London on the North
Sea coast. R A F. Bent Waters was technically a

(04:59):
British base, but since World War Two had been under
the control of the U. S Air Force. Three miles
from Bentwaters was another Royal Air Force based under US
control called R A F. Woodbridge. Surrounding these bases was
a tract of English land called Randols from Forest, and

(05:19):
it was on this tract of land that the sidings
known as Britain's Roswell occurred. There were a number of
witnesses to these events, but we will hear from the
three who had the most direct experiences. Two of them
in this episode. Well, it came on duty. It was
Christmas night. It's kind of a late back night. They

(05:40):
were actually playing some Christmas songs on the radio and
one of the frequencies. The story of the first night
starts with John Burrows. My name is John Burrows, retired
United States Air Force. I was involved in an incident
in that was at our fl Honors. I was a

(06:02):
law enforcement so I was like a city cop. So
I was stationed there. From we worked twenty seven about
oh three hundred on which his Boxing day in the UK.
While patrol, I was riding with my supervisor. Just got
to the base and he wanted to ride around for
a little bit. We were out doing some checks and

(06:23):
one of the checks was going down by the East Gate.
We were driving down towards the East Gate when he
saw something strange in the sky. Wanted for the forest.
Later was quoted as saying it landed and didn't crashed.
Because I had been stationed there for almost two years,
he got my attention and asked me if i'd say
anything like that down there in that vicinity. And I

(06:44):
looked at what he was looking at and they said no.
There was like a coloring in the forest like orange
is reddish, like a white light. Burrows Supervisor Sergeant Bud
Stephens decided that they needed to investigate this further. This
meant leaving the base. He decided that we were going

(07:06):
to open up the gate, go down to the end
of the road where there was a t whether or
you were right there where you make a left or
right left to go to Bell Waters, and then the
forest was right across the road. Leaving the base was
not a decision to be made lightly once they stepped
foot off base, they were on English land. As we

(07:26):
will see, it can be a very big deal to
have US military acting on English territory without permission. On
this night, they left the base, so he drove down
to the t. He did like a U turn, so
the vehicle was partially handing back towards the gate. I
opened my door. When I opened the door, you can

(07:48):
see the light was a white light. There was advancing
towards us. There was a statical electricity there. At that point,
both in the and I decided it was time to
get back on the base because no one knew we
were off base and hall and what was going on.
We went out to the gate, called it in the
It was a direct line to the law enforcement desks.
The death sergeant at the desk, I played some practical

(08:11):
jokes on him, so he actually didn't totally believe me.
But Stephans got on the phone and reinforce it. But
the desk sergeant still wasn't sure, so he transferred the
call to Central Security Control or CSC. We went ahead
and briefed c SC on what was going on. At
that point. They said the security supervisor down to the

(08:34):
gate that would have been Sergeant Peniston. My name is
Jim Peniston the United States Thereforce. Retired Sergeant Jim Peniston
is the second of the main witnesses. I was assigned
as a security police flight chief. We worked on the
main operating base, which was pent Waters, but that night

(08:55):
I was working as flight chief over a Wooden Reach base.
My job was the protection of all the priority BE
and C resources over there, and also the base personnel
and their property. And I doing a parimeter lighting check
for the base, which ones burned out. Really mundane stuff.

(09:19):
I completed all that, I met up on starte with
McCulley at the chow hall on the base. This is
around twelve o'clock midnight. As we'll see, the eyewitness stories
are not always consistent. To make the narrative easier to follow,
will start by looking at the basics of the story,

(09:39):
the things they agree on. We'll examine the differences later.
For now, though, it's important to note that Burrows and
Peniston disagree about a very important and fundamental part of
the story, the timing of events. Burrows talks about the
sighting beginning around three in the morning. Peniston puts it

(10:01):
at midnight. I promise we'll take a look at why
this matters later in the season. But Burrows's timing is
consistent with other statements given at the time, So for clarity,
we'll use Brows's timeline, and that means when Penniston talks
about being at the chow hall at midnight, we're actually

(10:22):
talking about three am. Saron Colley says, you got a
call the Calle Central Security Control and I said, okay,
I missed it and went over to our direct lyne
there and I said what's going on? And they said
you need to go out to the East Gate immediately,
go code to code to ment, proceed with lights on

(10:43):
but no sirens. This indicated that there was some urgency
to the situation. Penniston asked, what was going on? So
will you be briefed after you get out there? Which
was odd. So it's about a five minute drive going,
you know. I get out there at the East skate

(11:04):
area and started Bud Stephens, he's a law enforcement supervisor.
I contact him. I said, what's going on? Bud? He
started pointing over towards Rendissrom Forest and I said, oh,
what's what's sad over there? I'm trying to figure out
what it is and he's not telling me. You could
see uh, glowing multicolored lights and white light over the

(11:29):
canopy of the forest. Peniston thought that the most likely
explanation was a plane crash. He'd seen a number in
his career. I says, you know, do you hear crash
or you know, do the land or he said landed.
That's that's impossible because the forest, all the trees are
about five to six ft apart, so there's nothing that

(11:52):
can survive a landing out there. Despite this strange comment
from Stephens, Peniston still figured it was probably an airplane crash,
and he used the direct phone line at the East
gate to call back to Central Security Control on base.
And so I'm on the phone with Darting Coffee, and

(12:13):
when you make a direct call to Central Security Control,
you have like five people on the line at the time,
and they're all doing different functions. I was talking to
a starting channel of the flight sergeant and I was
telling about what I was observing, and the starting Coffee
comes back online and says, yeah, I've contacted Eastern radar,

(12:35):
London radar and Bentwater's radar and we have lost the
contact with the Bogie and he says over Woodbridge Base.
That means that they didn't have a transponder on it.
It is probably military and he said about fifteen minutes ago.
So that created the emergency situation along at my visual

(12:56):
sighting that we had a possible aircraft down. With the
emergency condition existed, that gave us rights under the Status
of Forces agreement to deploye off base and to investigate
and to secure the crash site. So I took myself
a security airman and a law enforcement airmand with me.

(13:20):
The security airmen was named Ed Caban Sag. The law
enforcement airmen was John Burrows. There was no need to
take weapons off base for an aircraft crash. The British
were very sensitive about automatic weapons and stuff like that.
Being off base airmen John Burrows. We left our weapons

(13:42):
with Stephens, who didn't want to go in the first
place until we watched our weapons, and we proceeded off
based into the forest. So while Burrows is supervisor, Bud
Stephens stayed back with the other men's weapons. Peniston, Burrows
and Caban Sag piled into a jeep and drove towards
the lights, expecting to come across a downed plane when

(14:07):
as far as I could with my c J five
jeep that we had. That's where I set the ANSER
control point up aermon combands after the security Aermond. The
only other person had a radio interface radio was him,
so I set him up as an injury controller. I
was going to proceed to the actual crash site with

(14:29):
the law enforcement aermind Airmand Burrows. At that time, I
was noticing I was having a breakup of my radio,
which was impossible because we had repeaters all over the basis.
There's no way that we could have a radio problem,
but I was having him. So I told Cabanza, for
any recent control center doesn't read what I'm saying or

(14:50):
something like that, I want you to relay the information.
He said he'd do that, so, leaving Caban sag behind,
Penniston and Brows proceeded further into the forest towards the light.
Strange arrivals will return in a moment. We've heard John

(15:21):
Burrows and Jim Peniston tell us their version of what
led up to their encounter in the forest. Afterward, several
of the witnesses, including Burrows and Peniston, wrote statements to
describe what had happened that night. We will have actors
read from those statements where they helped to clarify the story.

(15:42):
This is from burrows handwritten statement. We crossed the small
open field that led into where the lights were coming from,
and as we were coming into the trees, there were
strange noises like a woman screaming. Also, the woods lit
up and you could hear the fire animals making a
lot of noises, and there was a lot of movement

(16:02):
in the woods again Sergeant Jim Peniston. And so we
get to the forest edge and I'm seeing the multicolored
lights has pretty much disappeared. I'm seeing mainly a white
light coming out from behind the trees. I entered the
forest and I started feeling different physical sensations, like I

(16:24):
could feel static electricity on my face and my hair
and my clothes, and that was unusual. I was finding
my movements labored. It would be like walking through a
pool water that that was wasty. They struggled to get
to a low embankment, which Burrows refers to as a berm.

(16:47):
As we came up on the top of the berm,
there was bright lights right in front of us. When
we saw the lights, we all hit the ground, and
whatever it was, it was really bright, dimmed down a
little bit, and all I remember was the lights dimming
down and going bright again. Burrows and Peniston have very

(17:08):
different stories about what happened next. We'll come back to
Peniston's account later in this season. Burrows account is very brief.
According to him, shortly after they came upon it, the
light began to retreat from them. Once the lights began
moving again, their accounts basically line up. Here's another passage

(17:31):
from Burrows's written account, read by an actor. Whatever it was.
After a minute or two, we got up and moved
into the trees, and the lights moved out into the
open field. Burrows handwrote his statement describing the events of
this night. Peniston's account was typed. Strangely, Peniston says that

(17:52):
he didn't even write the statement himself. He says that
he reported to Central Security Control after the event and
was handed a typed sheet. It was the official story.
He says he was told that this was his account.
He gave it a quick read, so I read through it.
Times are right, the information is right. I gave it

(18:15):
back to him. Peniston says the document was created based
on his radio transmissions during the incident. Apparently, even though
he was unable to receive transmissions at the time, his
words got back to base. Here from his typed statement,
he describes the craft leaving the forest. It was definitely

(18:39):
mechanical in nature. This is the closest point that I
was near the object at any point. We then proceeded
after it. It moved in a zig zagging manner back
through the woods, then lost sight of it again. Peniston
will have much more to say about this part of
the encounter later in the season. It's important to note

(19:00):
that Burrows says that he never actually saw a physical craft.
He just saw lights, though he doesn't discount the idea
that an actual craft was the source. At that point
in time, I was pretty much trying to regain some
sense of what was going on, and the airman was

(19:22):
twenty ft back to my right. It was beside me
at this point, and he's all excited. He's talking about
John Burrows. He says that he sees a craft, which
was impossible to see any craft at that point because
the woods so thick, and he took off, and so

(19:45):
I immediately started following because we had, you know, we
have to maintain a team concept, which was pretty hard
to do. The lights are you know, you could maybe
say object or whatever because the lights. But know, as
far as the craft, he called it a craft. I'm
not saying it wasn't. I'm just saying that's what what

(20:06):
I'm calling. I have no idea what it was. What
we did then was we got up and we could
see it. We were at the edge of the forest
before a field started a farmer's field. Then there were
some cottages farther down into the field. So we saw
something strange down by one of the houses of cottages

(20:28):
and we climbed over the fence, went through the field
and whatever it was was gone again. He was off
with a good pace and we maybe went maybe fifty
sixty yards. I had to jump to fences, one barbed
wa We got to a farmer's field and chasing him

(20:49):
and I fall down two or three times in the
middle of this farmer's field. I was wet, I was cold,
I was exhausted. It was the beginning of winter. A
layer of ice had formed over the field. Penniston got
past the farmers houses and caught up with Burrows, who
was watching the sky. Penniston asked bros. What he was chasing.

(21:13):
Burrows said he was chasing the UFO. Said where's that?
I couldn't gain a visual of it. And finally he
put his arm out and he said, look down on
my arm, he points in the opposite direction that we're
running in towards the coast. This is where is I

(21:34):
don't see it. You see, it's right there, right there
on the horizon. There that's the Orfordness lighthouse. That's five
miles away. That's not what we've seen. Then when I
turned back around, the craft was sitting above the tree

(21:54):
line over by Capel Green, which is more forest, and
and then it just started moving out towards the sea
at a sore of rate. I don't know. I can
guess the mate see me before, but you can at
least see it transverse the sky. Immediately after I lost

(22:15):
contact with that sighting of that, my radio was working.
I told him that I can receive him well, and
he says, go ahead and proceed to the east gate.
And that's what we did. Peniston's detailed description of this
conversation with Burrows about where the lighthouse was and where

(22:36):
the UFO was becomes important. Burrows it should be noted
mentioned in his written account that they actually saw that
the light they were chasing was coming from a lighthouse.
Both men mentioned seeing a blue light what Peniston just
referred to as the craft. Burrows wrote, we had just

(22:57):
passed a cree and we're told to come back when
we saw a blue light to our left in the trees.
It was only there for a minute and just streaked away.
The typed account approved by Peniston merely said, on the
way back, we encountered a blue streaking light to the left,
only lasting a few seconds. That was the end of

(23:17):
the encounter. On the first night. With the lights gone,
the three men returned to the jeep and drove back
to the base. It's kind of vague because I don't well.
I basically just remember as we came back, there were
some people waiting for us. I don't remember what we
said at the time, but there was kind of a conversation.

(23:39):
I don't want to call it. Said. He talked to
us about what went on, told us about the radar
contact and all that other stuff. Peniston meanwhile reported to
Central Security Control and I go with the security guys.
Arrived back at Central Security Control and started channel the

(24:00):
sergeant from Bett Horns is waiting for me. He says,
how you doing this? Is? You ain't gonna believe all
this early happened? He says, oh, yes, said I was
at the east Gate. He say, I've seen it all.
I says, wow. I said, I don't know what to say.
He was just about as perplexed as I was. He says, well,

(24:20):
when you've done turning in your weapon and stuff like that,
the flight captain who wants to see it in this office,
that's okay. Before meeting with the captain, Peniston was shown
the pre type statement about the incident and approved it.
I go back out to see Captain Vernal and Burrows

(24:42):
is standing as you've come with me. I just don't
say anything. I'll report in for us. And I knew
that I had to keep it simple with There's certain
things you at the time that you would never say
in the Air Force. Be could be an end of
your career. And one of those terms is UFO. You
don't use that. So I came up with a term

(25:05):
that would best describe it, you know, without lyne. I
called it the craft unknown origin. Captain Moronald, how, I
don't think we report this, he says, uh, you know
blue Book, And in sixty nine he says, I don't
think there's a way to report it. The captain was
referring to Project Blue Buck, the last of three Air

(25:28):
Force programs investigating UFO reports. The first projects signed began
in nine. In nineteen sixty nine, the Air Force officially
closed the program. From that point on, air Force policy
was to no longer take UFO reports. People who called

(25:50):
in with sightings were referred to local law enforcement. Because
of this policy, it wasn't clear what to do with
the reports of the events of that night. The captain
was stunned. He said, I'll tell you what to do.
He says, just go home. He says, take three days
off and let me handle it. I said, okay, and

(26:14):
that's what I did. So I got back in the vehicle,
and at that time I was going to give Burrows
right home. And we lived down in ipswich As about
twenty miles away. Burles says, we gotta go back out there,
and said, oh no, I said no, we should look
at it in the daylight. And he says, okay, okay.

(26:34):
He's pretty adamant about it, but you know what it
made sense, well back out there, private owned vehicle and
walk back through the woods and we're looking at you know,
the area we're at, and burrows fine cy landing site,
take off site. He's over here over here, and I

(26:55):
go over and looking there's three intentions in the ground
that really really craft was the sitting. I said, we
would be a better just get out of here. You know,
that's enough. That's at all I wanted to see. As
they walked back towards Penistin's vehicle, they ran into a
group of superior officers, including a Major Drury, who were

(27:19):
walking towards what Peniston calls the landing site. Major Dury says,
what are you doing out here? And so we just
wanted to look at this in the light, and he said,
you guys need to go home. We're going to handle it.
I said, okay, no problems, sir. So that's what we did.
And at that point then that was the end for me.
At night one, you know, I went home and I

(27:40):
went to bed. Penistin, though was unable to sleep. He
asked his landlord, who was apparently a contractor who did
painting and light repair work on houses for some plaster
of Paris got all pre mixed and stuff like that. Bags,
got my backpack, went back out there. I didn't run

(28:00):
anybody going out there. They were all gone. I took
impressions with the plaster of Paris of the ground landing
cod area waited out there at the time. I smoked.
I think it took three cigarettes. I waited for it
to dry. When the casts were dry, he packed them

(28:20):
into his backpack and left the site. On his way
back to where he had parked, he once again ran
into Major Drury, this time accompanied by a half dozen cops.
This was not a great situation for Peniston, since he
had been ordered home previously. He said, I thought I
told you to go home. I said, I was. I

(28:41):
just wanted to check it out. Against you go home,
he says. That's the order. He says, I once you realized.
Peniston went home with his Plaster of Paris casts and
finally got some sleep. The first encounter was finally over.
There was no way he could know that the sightings
had just begun next time on Strange Arrivals. Strange Arrivals

(29:09):
is a production of I Heeart, three D audio and
Grimm and Mild from Aaron Mankey. This episode was written
and hosted by Toby Ball and produced by Miranda Hawkins
and Josh Thame, with executive producers Alex Williams, Matt Frederick,
and Aaron Mankey, with voice acting by Joe McCormick and
Jeff Williams, and special thanks to Wendy Connors, creator of

(29:30):
the Faded Discs archive of UFO related audio on archive
dot orgs. Learn more about Strange Arrivals over at grimm
and mild dot com, and find more podcasts from my
heart Radio by visiting the I Heart Radio app, Apple Podcasts,
or wherever you listen to your favorite shows
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