Airfields

Not on the Map

Entrance Road to RAF Finmere

The Monday Photo

This junction is shown on some post World War 2 maps as a sharp bend, but before the war it used to be a crossroads, not a ’T’ junction. But why did this happen? It’s all because of RAF Finmere.

After the airfield was built in 1941/2, the lane that goes from this junction to Tingewick (Leading towards the distant woods in the photo) was closed. From this junction during WW2 (and, I think, until the airfield closed in the 1950s) it went only to the main airfield entrance.

One of the runways, now almost parallel to the modern dualed A421, went straight across the course of our lane. The runway stops short now, but you can see it to your right as you turn off the A421 to come down the lane.

Details of operational RAF bases (and other things) were not shown on our maps because of the Cold War; why help the enemy? So as a part of RAF Finmere the road could not be shown until the base closed in 1956.

But before RAF Finmere was built this was a crossroads; what happened to the other road that led from here? Nearly all of it disappeared under the airfield, though a little bit was reused as an internal road. The lane joined another road at a ’T’ junction that one runway was built right on top of.

Before 1941 you could turn right at that 'T' junction and shortly reach the main road, now the A4421.

That spot is easy to find today because it became an access point to the airfield for maintenance or emergencies; there’s a gate there still. But if you turned left it wasn’t far to Barton Hartshorn.

With these changes Barton Hartshorn would become a village on a dead end road. They would have no direct access to the main road or Finmere railway station, and no direct access to Tingewick either. At a time when few owned a car or motorcycle and petrol was restricted anyway, this would have been a great problem.

The solution was to build a new road. From the bend at the West end of Barton Hartshorn it went across the fields, more or less following the hedgerows, to reach the main road close to Finmere Station.

What’s left of the old lane is now a private track, that heads North from Barton Hartshorn until it stops at the airfield perimeter.

The village still had an extra mile to go to reach Tingewick, one of the nearest villages of any size, but it was a much shorter journey by road to Finmere Station. The new road also just happened to mean a shorter journey from the station to the airfield...

What changes due to historical events have changed where you live?

This post's photos were taken with a Pentax camera and lenses.

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Living Round Here

Nissen huts  Great Horwood  Bucks

The Monday Photo

Quick to build, the parts easy to transport, and of flexible design, the Nissen Hut was an ideal solution for the many World War 2 buildings that had to be built in Britain.

They are easy to recognise, with their half round ends and corrugations following the curve of the roof.

RAF Little Horwood was just one of the places these huts were used, and these particular huts were used as living quarters for officers, sergeants and airmen.

As with many RAF stations in WW2, the site isn’t named for the nearest town or village, but for another one nearby. That’s why these huts are just off Winslow Road, Great Horwood.

A typical Nissen hut could be erected on a prepared concrete base in well under a day. They came in three widths; 16, 24, or 30 feet, and could be any multiple of six feet and half an inch long.

These huts are in the common size of 16’ wide by a bit over 36’ long. Made of curved corrugated iron with wooden ends, they were most likely lined but would have been cold in winter and hot in summer.

Some were lined with another skin of corrugated iron, this time with the corrugated iron running horizontally. WW2 photos show barracks huts like these with a pair of coal stoves.

Doors and windows didn’t have to be at the ends; they could be placed in the sides too. Nissen huts were transported almost as a flat pack, and even the curved sections could be nested together, to take up the minimum of space.

There were five other accomodation sites in Great Horwood, including one self contained site for WAAF personnel that’s now partly a mobile home site. Many of the buildings here on Site 3 are gone, but these huts are still hanging on.

I use Pentax cameras for many of the photos on the North Bucks Wanderer.

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Toys and Lights and Bikes

Here are just a few Second World War buildings you might not know about, in North Bucks.

Sticky Bombs

The Firs  Whitchurch  BucksIn 1940 this house in Whitchurch was requisitioned by a new department knows as MD1, Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.

It was ideal for their purposes. Tucked away in the country, it had plenty of outbuildings and a nice secluded garden they thought would be handy for “experimental demolition work” Lathes, workbenches and equipment were installed, and work began.

Here they invented and manufactured devices for both conventional and irregular warfare. The limpet mine, the PIAT (Projectile Infantry Anti Tank) and the sticky bomb, designed to be used against German tanks in the event of invasion were just some of them.

These devices for defeating German tanks might have something to do with stories I’ve heard about tanks being seen in the fields just down the hill from The Firs, by the big bend on the Aylesbury road.

Continue reading "Toys and Lights and Bikes" »

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Country Wellingtons

Runway  RAF Little Horwood

The Monday Photo

During WW2 tons of hardcore were delivered by train and lorry to Greenway Farm in Buckinghamshire, from bomb damaged London. It was all for the foundations of the runways, roads, and dispersal areas of a new airfield, RAF Little Horwood.

On 2nd September 1942 the airfield went operational, and this is one end of the main runway, made 150 feet wide and 2,000 yards long.

There was just enough room for it between two back roads. At this end the runway stops just 125 feet from the road between Winslow and Little Horwood. The far end nearly reaches the Great Horwood to Winslow road. There were two other, shorter runways, the three crossing each other at a 60 degree angle; the standard arrangement for these airfields.

Maps from after the war show no sign of the buildings of Greenway Farm, built in the middle of what was to become the airfield.

RAF Little Horwood was used by an Operational Training Unit, OTU 26, to train crews for night missions in the twin engined Wellington bomber. Aircraft also flew from there on “Nickelling” missions, dropping propaganda leaflets over occupied France.

There are two well known local crashes connected with the airfield. On 11th April 1943 a Wellington Bomber on night training approached this end of the main runway in heavy fog to make a third attempt at landing.

The plane came in too low and crashed into the water tower at Mursley; the crew of four were killed. There’s a memorial plaque by the tower and the crew are remembered each year on Armistice Day.

At Winslow in the early hours of 7th August that year another Wellington from RAF Little Horwood crashed into Winslow High Street, on their second attempt to land at the airfield. Of the crew of five only the navigator survived, but 13 civilians died in the crash.

I don’t know how many other casualties there were from RAF Little Horwood, but I do know that the RAF lost a total of over 8,000 men, in training accidents or during non-operational flying over the course of the war.

There’s not much left of the runways now but quite a lot of the perimeter track is still there. It’s hard to tell how useable it is; it’s on private land and I’m not able to explore it.

This is just one of several Second World War training airfields in North Bucks.

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Fifty Years Since We Stopped Wing Airport

Concrete Concorde

The Monday Photo

On a lane junction between Dunton and Stewkley is a circular spinney. Right on the edge of the spinney is a white painted piece of concrete in the shape of Concorde

Concorde was the loudest, fastest passenger aircraft half a century ago, and this spot marks the centre of the site where a third airport for London was then planned to be built. It would have changed North Buckinghamshire forever. 

If these plans had come to fruition, North Bucks would have been a far less pleasant place to live, but a hard two and a half year battle against the proposals by the Wing Airport Resistance Association resulted in success, fifty years ago today.

Under the Flight Path

If the ideas on a 1970 map of proposals for the airport had come to pass, the villages of Cublington, Soulbury, and Stewkley would be gone. They’d be buried under twenty square miles of an airport more than six miles long by three wide, lying diagonally across North Bucks.

Whitchurch and its surrounding villages would be close to and more in less in line with the runways on the end of the airport, on the South East end. It would have been the same story for Stoke Hammond, in the North East.

The town that’s now Milton Keynes would have been far bigger, extending from its present footprint  far enough South East to swallow Winslow.

A feeder motorway for the airport from what would eventually be the M25 was planned. There were various routes, but one route would have taken it a few miles to the East of Aylesbury.

An engraved stone in the spinney says:

“CUBLINGTON SPINNEY
This spinney was planted in 1972 by the
Buckinghamshire County Council in gratitude
to all those who supported the campaign
against the recommendation that London’s
third airport should be at Cublington.
Parish councils, organisations, societies
and many individuals contributed towards
the cost of the spinney.
This point is the centre of the area proposed
for the airport.
Midmost unmitigated England.”

I particularly like the last line.

Unfortunately North Bucks is under threat again, as there are plans to build a million new homes in a huge “arc” between Oxford and Cambridge.

We are in the middle of this arc and if it goes ahead, we can look forward to the number of houses in this area being increased by two thirds over what we have already by 2050. That’s four times the projected increase in population of the UK.

If this happens, the quality of life for the residents of North Bucks would fall like a stone. If you feel strongly enough to do something to present this, please contact NEG - Stop The Arc and Let's keep this part of the world as  "Midmost Unmitigated England".

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BSA Days

_IMG5575BSA M33.

I’ve been riding motorcycles since the mid 70s, but in all those years I’ve never owned a British bike. It’s time I did.

After looking at the alternatives, and there are plenty, I’m going for a BSA M33 or B33, a 500cc bike with a single cylinder engine. These were both made from 1947 to 1957 (M33) or 1960 (B33).

The bikes are fairly similar, but the main difference between the two is that the M33 was designed to have a sidecar attached. There are attachment points, or lugs, built in for the sidecar, and the frame is stronger.

I’m not after one with a sidecar. I quite like the idea but I have nowhere to keep one. Plus, every time I’ve tried riding a bike and sidecar I couldn’t keep the sidecar wheel off the pavement.

So far, I’ve joined the BSA Owners Club, and I’ve had lots of advice about these bikes from the members. Being in the club means we go out on bike rides.

We meet at the Super Sausage cafe at Potterspury on the A5 one Sunday each month, then take a twisty and convoluted route down the back roads to somewhere that sells tea and cake. Some of these bikes, fifty or sixty years old, are not too quick compared to modern bikes, but it doesn’t matter; they are in their element on the back roads.

My Yamaha, a mere 37 years old, is quick enough for modern roads, but I’ve often been finding myself riding more slowly, since I started my  relaxed trips out with the BSA Owners Club.

_IMG5501Turweston Airfield.

The last ride out took us all over the top edge of North Bucks beyond Buckingham. It was a route so twisty I can’t retrace it on the map, and a lot of the time it was on what we might have called cart tracks if only they were a bit wider.

We ended up at Turweston airfield, right on the border of Bucks, not far from Brackley. RAF Turweston, as it was, like many airfields in this part of the world, was an Operational Training Unit or OTU. They trained bomber crews. It opened in November 1942 and over the course of the war men were trained on various twin engined aircraft.

We arrived on a variety of motorcycles, most of them BSAs. We were going to the first floor Flight Deck Cafe, where we could drink tea and have a good view of aircraft taking off. The cafe is open from 9am to 4:30pm every day. There’s a lift up to the first floor.

_IMG5502BSA Owners Club, Beds, Bucks & Northants branch.

The man in the top photo is Chris. He has been a BSA man for many years. The bike is his BSA M33.

I bumped into him at the annual Ludgershall Bike Night. (I covered it here last year) He had ridden there on his M33. I had last seen him a few weeks before, when I told him I was after a B33 or an M33 for myself.

Then, he immediately offered me a chance to try his one out, so I could see what they were all about. Ludgershall was the first time I had seen him since.

I straddled the Beeza, and followed his instructions. I must confess, I couldn’t start it. Off I got, and to show me how it was done he started it with ease, twice.

I got back on, and failed again. But I’m sure it’s just a matter of technique; I’ve never owned a British bike, and it’s been a long time since I had a bike with a kickstart. I’ll be going round his house in a few days, then we can try again in a calmer atmosphere.

Riding an old British bike will be rather different from riding modern machinery. These machines were designed just after World War Two, and there have been many changes in Britain since then.

I’m looking forward to getting one.

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