Sentimental Journey to old 8th AAF airfields in England

Discussion in 'WWII' started by PADDY, Sep 27, 2005.

  1. PADDY

    PADDY I'll Lock Up Bartender

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    Not so long ago, I had the chance to go to the Control Tower museum of the 100th (Bloody Hundredth) Bomb Group at Thorpe Abbotts in East Anglia (UK). Volunteers bought and 'did up' the control tower and some old Quoson huts on site over the years from the early 80's. They now have a lovely (free) little museum, with many A2's and uniforms and AAF memorabilia that has been donated by former members of the group. They have even dug up old Hershey bar wrappers and Coke bottles on site from the war years!! I'd really recommend a visit to this little corner of America, on English soil.
    Pic of me on the control tower, sweating those birds in!!

    So what famous bases or landmarks have you got to share...? and are there still ghosts around....?
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  2. ITG

    ITG Call Me a Cab

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    Do ya have more pics from your trip? Thanks for sharing!
     
  3. MikeyB17

    MikeyB17 One of the Regulars

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    Cornwall, UK
    Although we don't have the big 8th AAF bases down this way, we have several ex-WWII airfields, ranging from fighter bases to Coastal Command, of which, as you can imagine with Cornwall sticking out into the Atlantic, there are quite a few. My favourite is RAF Davidstow Moor, the highest airbase above sea level in the UK when it was operational. Davidstow was used several times by the Eighth as a refuelling stop before bombing the U-boat pens at Brest and St.Nazaire, and I've spoken to guys who have relatives who can remember B-17s and B-24s overhead. Martin Bowman has used a photo in one of his books of Pappy Moore and some of the boys from the 44th Bomb Group down by the sea at Newquay, and he tries to make a connection between Newquay and King Arthur, trying to make out that Tintagel, where Arthur supposedly lived, is nearby. It's nowhere near it-has to be 20 miles at least! Davidstow is also the place where Squadron Leader Ken Gatward of 404 Squadron was based when he took a lone Beaufighter and strafed the Gestapo HQ in Paris before dropping a French Tricolor on the Arc De Triomph. The control tower still stands, as do a lot of the station buildings, and quite a few bomb shelters and hardstandings also remain, although I wouldn't want to land anything on the runway these days, what with the amount of potholes in it! It's very evocative to stand at any of these places and imagine the aircraft taking off for a long mission, and coming back, maybe damaged. Another place with a claim to fame is RAF
    Predannick, down on the Lizard peninsula (nowhere near Land's End as more than one writer has said) where Staff Sgt. Maynard 'Snuffy' Smith's B-17 landed after the mission to St.Nazaire on which he won the Medal of Honour. Many of these places are full of old memories, although I don't know of any recorded ghosts. Paddy, if you don't have it already I recommend Jack Currie's 'Echoes in the Air' which is all about aviation-related ghosts and a damn good read. If you want to know about eerie, though, one of my other interests is Cornish mining and the remains of the many tin and copper mines that still stand. A while ago I went down to Levant mine on the Land's End peninsula, one of my favourite places, and looked down the man engine shaft, where in 1919 the man engine, the machine by which the miners travelled up and down the shaft, broke and plummeted down the 266 fathom shaft, and took 31 miners with it. Now that is an eerie place.

    MB17
     
  4. PADDY

    PADDY I'll Lock Up Bartender

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    Debach USAAF Air Base (Suffolk, UK)...ONE ghostly place..!

    THIS little visited WW2 airfield out in the sticks of rural Suffolk has more than a few ghosts wandering about the huts and aerodrome! More so as much of it is still standing, thanks to the protective work of the local farmer who now owns the land.
    Things are still being dug up as the land is tilled, such as bullet cases, uniform buttons, key to a London Hotel, perspex domes, dog tags, zippo lighter, pop bottles..etc, etc! A whole story lies in the earth around this field.
    The farmer, who has an original WW2 Willy's Jeep, took me on a personal tour down the leafy lanes from the control tower and admin camp across to the living quarters and mechanics area. These lanes haven't changed in centuries, so it was rather nostalgic to be travelling at break-neck speed in an open topped Willys sporting an A-2 flying jacket!!
    So, my American cousins, if you ever make the journey across, there are still hidden gems of 8th AAF airfields waiting to be discovered that have been lovingly protected by individuals who appreciate the ghosts that wander the peri tracks and gave their lives that we might be free.

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    In this old hanger, the farmer was preparing for a WWII style hanger dance, with a live Glenn Miller style band! But rather eerie in there!
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    The Control Tower, that has been restored (undergoing still) by the farmer and some local boys and girls who are interested in preserving this little corner of the US in rural Suffolk!
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    Just to give you an idea of how much of this 8th Air Force operational base is still intact, even many of the signs are still where they were originally bolted on!

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  5. Jake

    Jake One of the Regulars

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    Great stuff Paddy, thanks for the look....if I can only make it overthere someday....Jake
     
  6. Hondo

    Hondo One Too Many

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    Lots of ghosts for reals, thanks for sharing, I'll take a look a map but how far is Suffolk from London? I have friends in London and hope to visit next year or 2007, depends of funds available. Reminds me of the beginning of "12 Oclock High" Dean Jagger hearing the ghosts, bet you can still hear them (B17's) Thanks :cool:
     
  7. Maj.Nick Danger

    Maj.Nick Danger I'll Lock Up

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    Behind the 8 ball,..
  8. What - no pictures of Bassingbourne????
     
  9. EdinLA44

    EdinLA44 Familiar Face

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    Los Angeles
    I was about to ask the same thing. My Dad flew B-17s out of Bassingbourne (91st Bomb Group) in the early part of WW II. I have a nice video about that base and I believe the original control tower is still there and it's also an active RAF base today.

    Ed
     
  10. PADDY

    PADDY I'll Lock Up Bartender

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    Some great old AAF airfields still to visit in UK >(Photos)

    I have spent holidays in East Anglia just searching out these old places that just over 60-years-ago were buzzing with the activity of an operational American airbase involved in the largest single air campaign in history. You can feel the ghosts and the atmosphere in these places guys and it's just great! I'd really recommend, if you ever have the chance, to get over, as so often these places are being levelled on an annual basis by unsympathetic farmers and property developers!

    1. Rackheath
    2. Seething
    3. Old Bucks (Jimmy Stewart was Exec Ops Officer here) no control tower now.
    4. Hardwick (my fav, as off the beaten track, and probably the most intact of all the accomodation, admin and mess blocks in the UK! Even still has the officer's squash court!! and the CO's house still lived in).
    5. Shipdham (Flying 8 balls). Had to jump over a fence and be kind to a Rottweiller to get into this one, now in an industrial estate!).

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  11. Maj.Nick Danger

    Maj.Nick Danger I'll Lock Up

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    Behind the 8 ball,..
    That's really cool that the farmer would bother to preserve all that. :eusa_clap
    A lot of people would probably not bother, judging by the state of disrepair some of the airfields are now in.
    In the grand scheme of things, 65 years is really NOT that long a time, yet it was time enough for nature to reclaim the airfields. And now they are archealogical sites!
    I suppose these facilities were hastily built for the most part, so they are difficult to maintain.
    I wonder exactly how many were built, and how many remain today?
     
  12. greyhound68

    greyhound68 A-List Customer

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    Didn't get to go to any of the airfields when I visited England a few years back but have made many trips to Hawaii. Got to stand at the tower on Ford Island which was part of the focal point of the attack on Ford Island on 7 Dec 41. Same tower was used in the movie "Pearl Harbor". Got to walk the airstrip on Ford Island and still see the bullet holes from the attack. Later on I visited the Pacific Air Force Headquarters building which still has all of the bullet holes from the attack which were never removed and left as a reminder of what happened that day. Also saw the flag that was flying that day over the Hickam Airfield. All in all a pretty neat experience.
     
  13. Mike K.

    Mike K. One Too Many

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    Paddy, your photos are mesmerizing! If only more people would take interest in preserving our history. Hopefully someday soon I'll be able to make a trip across the Atlantic to visit these old airfields. I've discovered that a few (Page & Buckingham Fields) here in southwest Florida were actually old AAF training bases (even found a WWII color photo of Page Field). I must say, having flown out of these old airfields myself sure conjures up some nostalgic feelings. Also, I recently met some elderly ladies who, as young girls during the war, recounted the "crash boats" used to rescue downed airmen. They also told me about how the beach communities had to black out their windows because of patrolling German u-boats off the coast. Paddy, have you ever considered publishing a book on the ghost airfields of England? I'm sure you'd have a number of buyers!
     
  14. Zemke Fan

    Zemke Fan Call Me a Cab

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    On Hiatus. Really. Or Not.
    Not to let the cat out of the bag...

    ... but I predict that there will be at least one more great movie made about the 8th AAF and one or more of those fields, Paddy, will be renovated and restored to look like it did at the time! How do I know this? Well...
     
  15. Zepp

    Zepp New in Town

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    More hints, please, Zemke Fan!

    If only an 8th AAF version of "Band of Brothers" could be made.
     
  16. DiabolicalAngel

    DiabolicalAngel One of the Regulars

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    Central London
    This side of the water in the UK on 11th June there will be an open day at Debach Airfield home to Helton's Hellcats 493rd BG (H). The control tower has been restored as with some other buildings surrouinding it. No doubt it will be a fun day out and I look forward to taking my kids with me. They are having a hangar dance the night before but I can't make that unfortunately but it looks good !
    :)
     
  17. Alan Eardley

    Alan Eardley One Too Many

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    Midlands, UK
    WW2 airfields

    Coincidentally, I'm doing a study of WW2 airfields in my local area (North Staffordshire and North Shropshire). There are a surprising number, some of which have good evidence remaining. Most of them are ex-RAF (including RAF Cosford which is now the RAF Museum) and won't therefore be of much interest to most people on this forum*, but Atcham was a P-47 training and conversion base (495th Fighter Training Group). Although no WW2 buildings survive, the 'PR campaign' that the group undertook has left many interesting photographs in the archives of the local newspaper (the RAF discouraged press coverage)

    One interesting artifact is a memorial to 1st Lieutenant Leslie Brown who gave his life by staying at the controls of his P-47 when his engine cut over Nantwich. In doing so, he narrowly avoided a school and crashed into fields on the outskirts of the town. A very brave and selfless act, which was much appreciated by the townspeople. Lt. Brown has a street named after him in the town and his grave is still tended by the local Brownie troop.

    * The control tower at RNAS Hinstock has been turned into a 'bed and breakfast' hotel - probably one of the few instances where you can stay at a WW2 airfield in relative comfort (I usually camp out when visiting sites).
     

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