One of the documents that has received some attention in the latest release of UFO files by the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) is a long letter written in 1994 by Ralph Noyes, who headed Defense Secretariat 8 (DS8) in the early seventies, to Secretariat (Air Staff) 2a, in charge of UFO reports at the Ministry. The recipient’s name is censored but given the time frame it must be Nick Pope, who would later become one of ufology’s superstars. The letter discusses a number of UFO issues and attitudes going all the way back to 1952 and it’s not the only time that Noyes, who retired from the Ministry in 1977 with the rank of Under Secretary of State, would cross paths and sometimes criticize his former employer. This was particularly the case when both Noyes and former Admiral of the Fleet Lord Peter Hill-Norton challenged the MOD’s public stance that the famous December 1980 Rendlesham Forest UFO incident was of “no defence interest.”
Who was Ralph Noyes?
Ralph Noyes passed away in 1998, but I still remember vividly a fascinating informal meeting of ufologists that took place at his flat in London during a visit to the UK in December 1991. Among those present were Timothy Good, who had reported some of Noyes’s revelations in his bestseller Above Top Secret, John Michell, the great Fortean author and longtime friend of Noyes, and a visiting Russian ufologist called Nikolai Lebedev, who was writing for Tim Good’s The UFO Report series of books. Much of the conversation dealt with crop circles, which were then becoming a major sociological phenomenon in England. Noyes himself was quite involved in that mystery, earlier that year editing The Crop Circle Enigma, one of the first books on the topic.
Noyes published in 1985 a novel titled A Secret Property, which was a spy thriller dealing with UFOs and inspired by the Rendlesham affair, as he himself acknowledged it in the book’s Afterword. The jacket provided a lengthy biographical profile of the author:
Ralph Noyes was born in the tropics and spent most of his childhood in the West Indies. He served in the RAF from 1940 to 1946 and was commissioned as aircrew, engaging in active service in North Africa and the Far East. He entered the civil service in 1949 and served in the Air Ministry and subsequently the unified Ministry of Defence. In 1977 he retired early from the civil service to take up a writing career, leaving in the grade of Under Secretary of State. He has since published several pieces of shorter fiction, most of them on speculative themes.
For nearly four years, until late 1972, Ralph Noyes headed a division in the central staffs of the Ministry of Defence which brought him in touch with the UFO problem. Since his retirement he has become increasingly interested in the subject, among others which lie on the fringes of present understanding. He sees speculative fiction as the ideal mode for grappling with these unusual areas of experience. But A SECRET PROPERTY is not only fiction but also ‘faction’ – at least to the extent of drawing on Ralph Noyes’s lengthy background in the Royal Air Force and the Ministry of Defence.
The MOD letter
Besides the 3-page letter by Noyes to Secretariat (Air Staff) 2a, dated January 25, 1994, outlining all the experiences in his official career which involved the UFO issue, the latest release of MOD files also includes the following attachments: “Ralph Noyes Speaks,” a lengthy transcript of an interview published in the British newsletter UFO Brigantia in May 1991; “The Majestical Mystery Tour,” an article by Noyes about his experiences at MOD published in 1988 in the British ufological publication Magonia; and a long letter by Noyes, “Some Properties of the Ministry of Defence,” published in the Fortean Times also in 1988. All these pieces cover basically the same territory, but there is one paragraph at the end of the Brigantia article worth citing, as it conveys perfectly the problem that many officials face —in Britain and elsewhere—when dealing with the UFO issue in the course of their careers. Ralph Noyes says:
It is only since I left the MOD (in 1977) that I have seriously tried to consider what may possibly lie behind the “UFO phenomenon”. It was impossible to discuss it seriously within the Department: I would merely have “rubbished” my working relationship with the RAF and scientific colleagues if I had disclosed the interest I felt in the better reports which reached us. What I retain from my MOD experience – greatly reinforced by much that I have since read – is that the “phenomenon” is veridical and important, and that the expert methodology developed over the past century by scholarly people in the field of the so-called “paranormal” may possibly be relevant… All I can be quite sure of is that we, in ufology, are dealing with transient and somewhat insubstantial events of a bizarre character, and that we are not alone in doing so. I think they matter. I also think that we and the “parapsychologists” might have some useful exchanges.
Back to the 1994 letter to Secretariat (Air Staff) 2a, we reproduce it in full because of its important testimony regarding various events and attitudes that took place during Ralph Noyes’s long career at the Ministry. It all started in 1952 when he was the Private Secretary to the Vice Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Ralph Cochrane. British authorities seemed concerned with the flying saucer wave in the United States and particularly over Washington, DC in the summer of 1952, and this went all the way to the top to Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill. However, wrote Noyes, “the PM was advised that there was nothing in the ‘UFO nonsense’,” and the relevant files dealing with this matter have been released in previous MOD batches. The letter then mentions “the Bentwaters/Lakenheath events of August 1956, the events at West Freugh in the following year , and other subsequent events,” all of which “suggested to some of us that a ‘UFO phenomenon’ of some kind or other certainly existed.”
Noyes’s career went on and in 1969 he was appointed head of DS8, which included in part “the responsibility of responding to the public (including, of course, UFO groups) on unidentified objects which had been seen in the sky.” A little later comes the key paragraph dealing with an event which has elicited some attention over the years since it was first published in Tim Good’s Above Top Secret. Sometime in 1970, he writes, “a small party of us were invited by (I think) the then D. of Ops (AD) to view some photographic material in the sub-ground cinema during the lunch break… We were shown some slides, purportedly from aerial photographs taken by air crew. The highlight was a couple of brief clips of what I understand to be gun-camera material obtained as far back as 1956.”
Although Noyes clarified that the footage was “on the whole unimpressive,” the fact that such a screening even took place is rather interesting. He provides some additional details and comparisons to other footage from civilian sources like that obtained in Norway’s Hessdalen Valley or by Dr. Harley Rutledge in the American Ozarks, noting that “the evidence for the persistence of an odd phenomenon (occasionally with very strange effects) is abundant in the serious ufological literature.” Noyes then concludes the section about footage with this interesting observation:
That said, I can’t help feeling that there must be at least a scattering of good photographic material of unusual aerial objects obtained by the RAF over the years, perhaps backed by radar evidence. This could be of scientific value if released for outside study. Moreover, as I’ve suggested above, the mere fact that a government department was known to be adopting a non-dismissive attitude to these unusual phenomena might assist in getting the resources for serious research (eg. in the universities) which the ufological groups are unlikely to succeed in obtaining for themselves.
Here is the full letter by Ralph Noyes.
The files also include the January 27, 1994 response by Secretariat (Air Staff) 2a—almost surely our friend Nick Pope (the name has been censored)—to Ralph Noyes, in which he writes:
I was interested to hear the background to the gun-camera film saga, together with the more general insight that you gave me into policy and attitudes in previous years. The recent enquiries about the gun-camera footage presented me with a useful opportunity to look, more generally, into the whole question of what film and photographic evidence we might have built up over the years. It was unfortunate that this search failed to turn up any such material, but at least we can now say that we had a very thorough look.
This poses an interesting conundrum that has parallel stories in the U.S. and other countries as well. Here we have an MOD official making an in-house official inquiry for footage that was known to have existed some 20 years earlier, since the testimony of Ralph Noyes is absolutely trustworthy. And yet…nothing shows up, it’s as if the material—particularly when dealing with things like photographic or physical evidence—just vanished into the twilight zone! If the material existed at one time, it has to be stored somewhere since it’s very unlikely that it would just be destroyed. But where? There is not a good answer for this particular problem unless you consider a super-secret group within the governments that just scoops up these kinds of evidences, a group that is beyond the reach of normal government officials and freedom of information laws.
Noyes and the Rendlesham affair
Previous releases of MOD UFO files dealing with the famous 1980 Rendlesham affair included the efforts by David Alton, a Member of Parliament for Liverpool Moseley Hill from the Liberal Party who is currently a member of the House of Lords, to get to the bottom of this mysterious incident involving both the British and American military. Alton wrote in May 1985 to then Minister of Defence Michael Heseltine, enclosing a letter he received from Ralph Noyes about this matter, adding that “it seems to me that the points he raises are quite reasonable and merit a reply.” Alton and everybody else who inquired with MOD about this incident received the Ministry’s standard reply that the Rendlesham case was “of no defence significance.” Noyes thought this line just didn’t make sense if one considered the facts about this case.
I quoted briefly from the letter written on May 14, 1985 by Ralph Noyes to MP David Alton in the cover story about “The Rendlesham Forest Incident” published on issue 4 of Open Minds magazine in October/November 2010, in which he calls it a “puzzling and disquieting case.” The main gist of Noyes’s letter is his challenge to Lord Trefgarne, then serving as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at MOD and a member of the House of Lords, that Rendlesham was of “no Defence interest.” Noyes wrote:
I cannot accept Lord Trefgarne’s view that there is no Defence interest in this case. Unless Lt. Col. Halt was out of his mind, there is clear evidence in his report that British airspace and territory were intruded upon by an unidentified vehicle on two occasions in late December 1980 and that no authority was able to prevent this. If, on the other hand, Halt’s report cannot be believed, there is equally clear evidence of a serious misjudgement of events by USAF personnel at an important base in British territory. Either way, the case can hardly be without Defence significance.
You can view the 2-page Noyes letter in full so that you can see all the arguments and issues he raises:
Ralph Noyes revisited the Rendlesham case in detail in a long essay published in The UFO Report 1990, a book edited by Timothy Good. The title of his piece, “UFO lands in Suffolk – and that’s Official!” is the same headline of the famous front page story published in October 1983 in the now-defunct British tabloid News of the World. That story introduced this case to the public, publishing for the first time the contents of the now famous January 13, 1981 memo on “Unexplained Lights,” written by Bentwaters Deputy Base Commander, Lt. Col. Charles Halt to the MOD. Noyes analyzed in detail the Rendlesham affair in his essay, concluding the case was certainly real and making the following observation towards the end of the piece:
The Rendlesham case also confirms, at least for me, that governments and their official agencies are undoubtedly engaged in concealment and obfuscation – but that the cover-up is of ignorance and unease. (This was certainly the game which I felt it necessary to play, myself, during my own term as an official of the Ministry of Defence from 1949 to 1977.)
Noyes also dealt with both the Rendlesham case and other factual details of ufology in the Afterword of his 1985 novel A Secret Property, where he wrote:
The RAF Woodbridge case of December 1980 strikes me as one of the most interesting and important of recent years, anyway in this country – perhaps the most significant military sighting (or supposed sighting) since the celebrated events of 13/14 August 1956 near RAF Bentwaters and Lakenheath (both of which, are by an entertaining coincidence, quite close to Woodbridge in that much haunted county of Suffolk).
For an updated view of what happened at the Rendlesham Forest, you can consult the lecture given earlier this year.by retired Col. Halt at the International UFO Congress.