Gloucester – RAF Stoke Orchard

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An original Bellman Hangar, rusty but in use.

It’s always good to receive comments and have interaction with readers on trails. Contact from such a reader promoted a good discussion around the state of many of these airfield and the changes seen in relatively short periods of time. It surprised both of us how much had changed and not for the better!

A fellow enthusiast and reader, Steve Darnell, kindly offered to share his photos with me and take me to a local but little known about airfield within a few minutes of his home near Gloucester – RAF Stoke Orchard.

RAF Stoke Orchard

There is little information available about Stoke Orchard, but it is known that a small number of units were based here between September 1941 and January 1945: No 3 GTS, (Glider Training School), No 5 MU, (Maintenance Unit) , No 10 EFTS, (Elementary Flying Training School)  along with a WAAF Officers’ School all utilised the site during this time.

Having a relief landing ground at Northleach, Stoke Orchard airfield was built with four grass runways: N/S – 1,090 yds, NE/SW – 1,160 yds, E/W – 1,160 yds, and NW/SE – 1,125 yds. It had a number of hangars: 4 Bellman, 8 double Blisters, 1 treble Blister and four single blisters. Accommodation was provided for 645 RAF personnel and 201 WAAFs. Other buildings on the site included the accommodation blocks, technical buildings, hospital, AA defences and a wooden Control Tower.

As a training station, there were around 50 Tiger Moths based here, which were later replaced by gliders.

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Bellman Hangar door runners.

After the war, the site quickly closed, and Stoke Orchard fell into disrepair. However, the Gloster run factory across the road at the northern side of the site, continued to use the airfield to ferry aircraft away from the site. The aircraft were maneuvered over the road and through a gate onto the airfield; the gate now a gap in the hedge and the factory used for research into coal.

Several parts of the perimeter track still remain today, now used by farmers, they mark the extent of the site which for its origin and purpose, is quite large. The four Bellman hangars are also still in situ, three of them having been substantially reinforced and refurbished, the fourth being in its original shell. Even with the refurbished covers, the internal structures are evident as are racking points, evidence of additional work being carried out on them during their original use.

The Hangar door rails can also be seen embedded in the concrete floor, and a large concrete area, to the front of the sites is where the control tower stood along with other technical buildings.

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Part of the Perimeter Track.

Part of the site is now a waste disposal site and along this road can be found examples of both a Cold War relic, the Royal Observer Post, and a bunker, a rare type called a ‘Seagull Trench’ due to its shape. These trenches were used for airfield defence in the case of attack or invasion. Both are intact, but the bunker has had several fires lit inside it severely damaging the internal structures.

A number of brick mounds are also embedded in the hedgerows, bits of pottery and other remnants can also be found for those wishing to get in amongst the thorns and delve deeply.

Little else survives of the airfield, and little is known or recorded about its activities. There are mentions of ex-POWs using it as a ‘squat’ post war and families living in its accommodation blocks, but it appears that Stoke Orchard is another site that has quietly disappeared leaving only small relics behind to remind us of this once active airfield.

My sincerest gratitude goes to Steve and Michelle for their generous hospitality, and for opening their home up to me. I would also like to thank Steve for the loan of the books, CDs and for giving me the many photos for safe keeping.  A real gent.

Stoke Orchard is also very close to the Jet Age Museum based in the corner of Gloucester Airport, formally Staverton, and is open on certain days in the summer.

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A Seagull trench used for Airfield defence.

 

15 thoughts on “Gloucester – RAF Stoke Orchard

  1. As Chairman of the Stoke Orchard and Tredington Parish Council, I have written several pieces on the history of the site but am now embarking on a seriously researched Booklet. I have a picture of a flag which states it was No 7 Maintenance Unit. I have actually flown out of Stoke Orchard with the then Chairman of the Parish Council Raymond Savery whose family owned the land at that time – 30 years or so ago. In my time I remember it being used as a microlight field, a training ground for the National Sky diving Team and for a Plane spreading fertilizer on nearby arable land. There is a small reservoir in the middle of the field which was filled with gravel during flying days but did server the village of Stoke Orchard by a framework of Cast iron Pipes. 2 years ago, there was suddenly an eruption in Stoke Road which went one fro several month until I found out what it was – the overflow to the Reservoir. Severn Trent it was too pure for their water as it contained no chemicals and Highways had no drains anywhere near!! The Parish Council is just updating the village playground with WW2 them. The centre piece will be a half size Horsa Glider. When the booklet is ready I will let you know.

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    • Hi Richard that’s great news, I hope your research goes well, you sound like a seasoned writer on the subject! The playground sounds like a fabulous idea too much, I hope it all pays off. Do please let me know when the booklet’s ready I’d be fascinated t see what you turn up! Good luck with it!

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  2. Very interesting………during ww2 my father was due to ship out when he contracted tonsillitis and was sent to the hospital at Stoke Orchard for treatment and so missed his convoy……….he eventually shipped out a month later.
    His original unit went to Singapore and ended up as POW’s of the Japanese…….Dad was sent to North Africa as part of the DAF and was away for 3 years fighting in North Africa, Sicily and Italy and eventually returned home safe and sound…..he always said it was a lucky illness……..I drive past the site every day and often try and imagine where the hospital was situated.

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    • Hi John, he certainly was lucky, being a prisoner of the Japanese was not a pleasant experience. The site is very different today from the 1940s it must have been quite busy back then. Thank you for sharing your father’s experiences it’s nice to add personal stores to these places.

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    • Hi John. I used to live in the old RAF huts at Stoke because of housing shortages in the area in the 1950’s. If you look at the most recent photos you will see 4 old hangers, opposite the entrance to those was where the huts were. Behind the huts was where the hospital was situated. Long gone now. We moved out of there in the early 60’s to a house in Cleeve View.

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  3. hi from Canada, I was talking to a friend in his 90s today at my local airport in Guelph Ontario. he Geff Royston and his wife Blanche were newlywed squatters living at the airfield as there was no where else after the war. They scrounged boxes for furniture and a carpenters bench and one of his fellow squatter mates was proud of the metal topped table he found complete with a central trough built into it , straight from the morgue …

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    • Hi Gerry, that’s really interesting to hear. We know little about the airfield certainly post war, but were aware that both this and many others were used both officially and unofficially for housing in many of the original buildings. If you or Geff are able to shed any more light on the site, the buildings or their time there, I would be most interested and very grateful. If you can please feel free to email me. Thank you so much for reading the post, and for leaving the comment about Geff and Blanche it certainly adds a personal touch to the history of this historic site. Andy.

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