“Over 40 airfields, it hardly scratches the surface.”

Whilst catching up on old links and updating pages, something occurred to me – “How many places have I visited since starting this journey through Britain’s past?” So, I went through the list of airfields, the list of museums and to my surprise there were 40 different airfields and 20 different aviation museums.

Hardly a scratch really on the enormous range of sites that were developed pre, during and indeed post World War 2.

But, it dawned on me. Many of these sites housed something like 1,500 men and women from all nationalities: British, Canadian, American, Australian, New Zealand, Polish, French, the range is endless, and each one coming together in a common cause – to fight the Nazi terror.

Many of these were youngsters, some as young as 18, most in the their teens or early twenties; and yet here they were, laying down their lives against a common enemy.

The life they led was not the life of a teenager. The burden of responsibilities they carried was more than most adults could even think about let alone bear, the trust, discipline and pure dedication to their cause was second to none.

Many of these young men would die horrific deaths. Witness terrible events, lose ‘buddies’ and friends on a daily basis, to the point that they quickly learnt not to make ‘friends’ at all.

They would live in tents, wooden huts or metal Nissen huts, assembled quickly to increase capacity and provide a meager shelter from the weather. Yet still, at any hour of the day or night, day after day, night after night, they would eat a slimmed down meal, climb aboard their trusty aircraft, prepare their guns, run through checks and begin the long cold and often brutal journey to foreign fields. Their aim, to kill other young men who in many cases were just as dedicated as they were. ‘To kill or be killed’

As you stand amongst the fields, watch the birds fly over vast open spaces, wander industrial units and delve amongst the weeds, you can imagine the sounds and smells of yesteryear. The voices of those so young, the roar of engines as bombers laden with death and destruction laboured to lift off the earth to blue skies above.

Wandering amongst old, drafty, run down buildings the sounds of lost voices still resonate in their walls.You can hear the voices, orders barked, jokes told, goodbyes said. To be ‘Hollywood like’, the scenes from “Memphis Belle“* or the opening of “Twelve o’clock high” whilst not factually accurate, nonetheless add meaning to these places.

Many of these places have thankfully ended up as museums and many of those I have visited, hold a morbid collection of bits of metal, twisted and charred engines, old uniforms; each one a personal memento of an individual’s fate. Each one has a history, tells a story, speaks of lives many now gone.

To return to my opening point, 40 airfields in the short time I have been recording this journey. No it doesn’t scratch the surface, but it is an enormous tale of life gone, of events now passed and of moments in time seared deep into the history books and an age of yesteryear.

An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

I know that I shall meet my fate,
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

* The orignal poem was written by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats in 1918 and is believed to be about Major Robert Gregory, a friend of Yeats, and talks of his forthcoming death. It originally refers to battles between the British and Irish in the struggle for independence of Ireland. The references to Ireland were left out when the character Sgt. Danny Daly in ‘Memphis Belle’ reads the poem to his crew mates.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Irish_Airman_Foresees_His_Death

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A Fire so Fierce it Took Four Hours to Extinguish

In November 1944, a Mosquito of 608 Squadron, RAF Downham Market, returned from a mission to Gelsenkirchen, Germany. A successful mission overall, but this was to be the last time Mosquito KB364 and its crew would fly.

The night was cold and possible icing may have prevented Pilot Officer James McLean and Sergeant Mervyn Tansley, from maintaining altitude. Their flight was about to end abruptly.

Bawdeswell, a small, quiet village in Norfolk, believed to be home to Geoffrey Chaucer’s uncle, was about to make history once more. Find out what happened that night over Norfolk.

Bawdeswell Village Sign Reflects the Incident that Night.

The Bawdeswell village sign reflects the incident of that fateful night.

“If I can’t shoot them down, I’ll scare them down” – Trail 8

“If I can’t shoot them down, I’ll scare them down” Major John Meyer, of the 487th Fighter Squadron, 352nd Fighter Group RAF Bodney, prepares to take off on another sortie against the Luftwaffe, in his P-51 Mustang ‘Lambie II‘.

Today, Bodney is an Army training barracks operated by STANTA. What little remains of the airfield is run down and overgrown.

The 352nd became known for their determination and valour and earned themselves the name of the ‘Blue Nosed Bastards of Bodney’ because of their distinctive blue nosed P-51s.

Read more at…

P-51 Blue Nosed Mustang ‘Princess Elizabeth’ Lt William Whisner 487th FS Bodney, Seen at Duxford.

One of the lowest loss records of the Mighty Eighth……

By the time the war had finished, the 490th had completed 158 missions losing only 22  aircraft in combat; one of the lowest records in the whole of the Eighth Airforce. Immediately after cessation of the conflict,  the 490th continued to fly, supplying food and supplies to the people in the Netherlands and other humanitarian operations involving allied POWs across Europe.

The 490th also had another less salubrious claim to fame…

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RAF Eye, Suffolk

 

What’s the answer?

Whilst on my trails I find it disheartening to see so many of our former airfields disappear under builders machinery or industry looking for a cheap alternative to building their own premises. Using the guise of ‘recycling’ old sites, they fail to understand the history, importance or significance of these ‘brown field’ places.

These airfield were not simply a place where aircraft took off and landed a long time ago, but they are places where people died, suffered terrible injuries. were traumatised or lost loved ones and friends. It’s where young men, many away from their families for the first time, spent their last days on gods earth before giving themselves up in the name of peace.

Yes I see the relevance and difficult balance between the building infrastructure, jobs and housing needs against the desire to preserve small areas of heritage, history and desire to respect the need to preserve what are important marks that represent a major tuning point in the worlds development. It is hard, and not one that any political or historical follower takes lightly I’m sure. But if it were not for volunteers, people with a real understandings of the relevance of these matters, we would have very little to show for what was an incredible and turbulent time in world history.

Is there an answer? I don’t know, I wish I did. It would be easy to say “save every airfield” but for what? To rot, to be a time capsule soaking money form important public areas like health and education. Or is it dig them up, we don’t need them it was a long time ago, let’s move on!

All I know is, with each visit I make a little more of history disappears, a memory is lost and as the years roll on, a veteran passes away. Something needs doing and it needs doing soon.

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At 20 yrs old, this RAF Pilot fought his aircraft bravley.

On the morning of 30th, Manser and another pilot were instructed to collect two Manchesters from Coningsby, Lincolnshire. As many of these aircraft were drawn from reserves and training squadrons, it was inevitable that many would be in poor condition. Manser’s was no exception, it had no mid upper turret and a sealed escape hatch.

manserWhen the order came and Manser took off, his aircraft L7301 ‘D’ Dog, an Avro Manchester Mk1, with a full bomb load of incendiaries, was now difficult to manoeuvre and he was unable to reach an altitude of more than about 7,000 ft. Hoping the main bomber force would attract the greater concentration of  flak, he decided to continue on.

What happened to this young 20-year-old as he flew with his crew? find out…

Why I love Aviation – My Inspiration

As a young boy life was tough. His mother died when he was 6, his father when he was a young teen, he was brought up by his sisters and would watch the Luftwaffe bomb Glasgow using the Clyde as a guide. On joining up, he was posted to Egypt where he met first hand the brutality of war.

After serving 10 years in the RAF he would experience a wide range of aircraft in both the Middle East and here in his native Scotland and Lincolnshire. He tells his stories today with great detail and perhaps occasionally a little ’embellishment’.

But he is the man who gave me my love of aviation.

Who is he and what did he experience?

My father in his early days in the RAF

My father in his early days in the RAF

She’s up!

After much planning and organising the Canadian Warplane Heritage Avro Lancaster Mk X (KB726) C-GVRA has finally taken off on her epic once in a lifetime voyage, to join the only other airworthy Lancaster at RAF Coningsby, England.

The two aircraft will fly around a number of airshows and events commemorating the Canadian involvement in World War 2.

The aircraft will fly over the North Atlantic and the crossing will include en-route stops at Goose Bay, Labrador, Canada, possibly Narsarsuaq, Greenland, and Keflavik, Iceland, prior to arriving at RAF Coningsby on Thursday 8th August.

It is intended the tour will last for about 2 months which will include maintenance, hangar tours and displays including flypasts over a further Lancaster at East Kirkby giving a total of 12 Merlins running simultaneously.

A full list of tour dates are available from the website or here.

An incredible achievement that will be welcomed by many people both in the UK and world-wide.

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‘For the Fallen’ – Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)

On the anniversary of the Start of World War One, we remember those who gave their all.  In remembrance, we use a verse from the Poem ‘For the Fallen’ written by Laurence Binyon in 1914.

A poem of 7 stanzas, it was first published in September of that year. This is the poem in its entirety.

For the Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death August and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

(Published in The Times newspaper on 21st September 1914).

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For the Fallen – Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)