RAF Beccles

Text © Copyright Evelyn Simak, August 2014
Images are under a separate Creative Commons Licence.

Beccles aerodrome was completed in August 1942 and opened in 1943. It was constructed under the direction of the London-based company Holland, Hannen & Cubitt and had three concrete runways built to the specifications of a Class A bomber airfield. The main runway was a good 1,800 metres (6,000 feet) long and 50 metres (150 feet) wide. There were fifty loop-shaped aircraft dispersal points each designed to accommodate one or two heavy bombers, and two T2 hangars. The airfield was intended for the use of the USAAF (United States Army Air Forces) Eighth Army Air Force but was never used by the Americans. In its heyday (December 1944) the aerodrome's dispersed campsites accommodated 2,667 male and 27 female personnel.

TM4488 : Sign at the entrance to Boast's Industrial Park by Evelyn Simak

The station, which was locally always known as Ellough airfield and in official documents is referred to as RAF Beccles [Ellough], was the last to be built in Suffolk during the war and the most easterly aerodrome in wartime England. It was designated USAAF Station 132. The USAAF, however, had no use for the base and in the summer of 1944 it was transferred to RAF Bomber Command, and a few months later to Coastal Command. From 21 August until the end of October 1944, No. 618 Squadron, flying De Havilland Mosquito aircraft, used the main runway at night for practising the dropping of "Highball" bombs, the smaller version of the "Bouncing Bomb". 618 Squadron was the sister squadron of 617 Squadron, the famous "Dambusters". The tests were carried out under great secrecy and the level of security was heightened with the arrival of a Special Police unit in early September.

From October 1944 to October 1945, the base was used as an Air-Sea Rescue (ASR) post. The squadrons involved were 280 Squadron (30 - 3 November 1945), flying Warwick aircraft, No. 278 Squadron (24 February - 15 October 1945) flying Walrus floatplanes and No. 119 Squadron, flying Albacores. No. 279 Squadron (3 September 1945 - 3 March 1946), flying Warwicks and Supermarine Sea Otters, the last biplane in RAF service, used the base for anti-shipping duties. Other units based at the station were 827 Squadron FAA (15 - 28 October 1944); 810 Squadron FAA (8 April - 3 June 1945) and No. 15 (RAAF) Air Crew Holding Unit (12 June - 5 November 1945).

The airfield was closed to military flying in the winter of 1945 and transferred to care and maintenance under the control of RAF Langham > Link. All medical supplies held at the small base hospital were handed over to the local hospital in Beccles. The accommodation was used by the Royal Navy for training reservists and for a short period the airfield was designated HMS Hornbill II.

In 1946, a Prisoner of War camp was opened and up to 1,000 German prisoners were held there. The buildings on the aerodrome's Mess site, located in College Lane, were used for housing some of these prisoners, who worked as labourers in the vicinity. By the time the camp was closed in 1948 the airfield was disused and the land had returned to agriculture, but in the 1950s a De Havilland Vampire jet fighter running low on fuel made an emergency landing on the flying field; the hot efflux from the aircraft's jet pipe set the grass on fire. The Vampire was the last military aircraft to land here.

Many of the temporary buildings located on the various dispersed sites, all of which were located to the west of the flying field, were dismantled or demolished, and most of the runways have since been broken up for aggregate. The airfield's Watch office was pulled down in 2009 due to it having fallen derelict after many years of neglect. It was located on the edge of a field to the south of Benacre Road. The underground Battle Headquarters (BHQ) situated in the near vicinity, which for many years had been inaccessible due to being flooded, was filled in at around the same time. According to Jimmy of Harleston Engineering Ltd, who by permission of the owner had pumped out the structure before it was filled in, it consisted of one small room measuring about 8 to 10 ft square, with a smaller room off it believed to have been the toilet. The men also found lots of junk, a bed and a vintage motorbike frame. A tunnel rumoured to have lead to the blast shelter situated beside the Watch office (control tower) was not found. The only structure still in place today is a (very overgrown) brick-built blast shelter that adjoined the Watch office in the north-east.

TM4488 : Control Tower / Watch Office, RAF Beccles by Helen Steed TM4488 : A heap of rubble by Evelyn Simak TM4488 : Overgrown blast shelter by Evelyn Simak

The Technical site was situated near New Delight Wood, to the north of the Watch office and west of the flying field. Today this area is occupied by the Ellough Industrial Estate, located near the junction of Sandpit Lane and Benacre Road. The only two original buildings still standing on this site are one of the airfield's two T2 hangars and the Armoury has also survived.

TM4488 : T2 aircraft hangar on the Beccles Industrial Estate by Evelyn Simak TM4488 : Stan's Body Shop and MOT Centre by Evelyn Simak

The small remaining part of the neighbouring New Delight Wood, on the edge of the Technical site, today forms part of the garden surrounding a private property aptly named "New Delight Wood". According to the owner who posted the information on a public forum, a brick-built blast shelter and several concrete hut bases remained in place in 2012, and perhaps they are still in place today (2014). Since access was denied this cannot however be verified. An old concrete service road now serves as a driveway leading into the property. Industrial companies, strung out along some of the old aircraft dispersals and a section of full-width perimeter track adjoin.

TM4488 : View along Sandpit Lane by Evelyn Simak TM4488 : Industrial companies on the old perimeter track by Evelyn Simak TM4488 : Sandpit Lane crossing perimeter track by Evelyn Simak TM4488 : Old concreted road by Evelyn Simak TM4488 : Remains of an old concreted road by Evelyn Simak

A short distance further to the north, on the west side of Sandpit Lane, all the former Administrative/HQ buildings (apart from the picket post) have however survived, converted for industrial use. The Operations block is currently occupied by D Marshall, a welding and mechanical service engineer. The Wrentham Bike Shed, a motorcycle repair shop, has utilised one of the former Crew briefing rooms. Other buildings on the site are the Station offices, the RAF and Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) offices and latrines. The Norden bombsight building (building 105) can also still be found here.

TM4488 : WW2 Nissen hut by Evelyn Simak TM4488 : Passage connecting two Nissen huts by Evelyn Simak TM4488 : Former Station offices by Evelyn Simak TM4488 : The old Operations block by Evelyn Simak TM4488 : The Norden bombsight building by Evelyn Simak

One of the airfield's eight Accommodation sites (Site 2) was located on the edge of a field a short distance further to the north, on the east side of Sandpit Lane. The buildings were removed and trees were planted after the war and the location of this camp is now marked by a small wood. All the sites numbered from 1 to 8 were accommodation (domestic) sites where the aerodrome's personnel was accommodated. Each one of the domestic sites comprised officers' and sergeants' quarters and airmen's barracks, a drying room, and associated latrines and ablutions blocks. They all also had a fuel compound and some, but not all, were guarded by a picket post at the entrance.

TM4489 : Sugar beet crop beside Sandpit Lane by Evelyn Simak

The remaining original buildings on the Communal site have since been converted for industrial use by some of the companies situated on the compound which nestles in the triangle between Ellough Road and College Lane just north of the Ellough Road/College Lane junction. These buildings include the Grocery & Local Produce Store, the Ration Store, the Taylor's, Shoemaker's and Barber's shop as well as the Gymnasium and a Squash court and the Institute. The Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI) were created by the government in 1921 to provide recreational establishments required by the British Armed Forces, as well as to sell goods to servicemen and their families. Today, the NAAFI runs clubs, bars, shops, supermarkets, launderettes, restaurants, cafés and other facilities on most British military bases.

TM4488 : Business park in Ellough Road by Evelyn Simak TM4488 : Auto repairs shop in Ellough by Evelyn Simak TM4488 : WW2 Nissen hut in Ellough by Evelyn Simak TM4488 : Ex-RAF buildings on the former Communal site by Evelyn Simak TM4488 : Ex-RAF building by Evelyn Simak

Four of the aerodrome's dispersed domestic sites were located alongside Ellough Road. Site 4, of which no trace remains, was situated in the field across the road from here. Site 7 was located a short distance further to the north, in the fields east of Ellough Road and it was the only camp which differed from the other domestic sites regarding the types of buildings occupying it. Because Site 7 was the camp which also accommodated the WAAFs it not only had a designated WAAF ablutions block but also a decontamination and bath block, both commonly associated with WAAF camps. Up to about 1955, some of the buildings on this site were apparently used to accommodate families who had lost their homes. In 1947 the Beccles & Bungay Times newspaper reported that altogether 60 hutments on several of the camps associated with the former aerodrome had been converted into dwellings during the course of the year, and in 1951 a total of 141 families were still accommodated in the former accommodation blocks. ("141 families living in huts will have their rents reduced by 2s 6d a week, but they will pay for their own electricity through meters." Source: Beccles & Bungay Journal, 9 February 1951). Site 7 has however long since reverted back to agriculture and no trace of it remains. The same applies to Site 8, which was situated on agricultural land, set back from the road in the fields opposite. Site 3 was located nearby, on the edge of a field about 500 metres to the north, on the west side of Ellough Road and east of Ashtree Farm. This site too is now again a crop field.

TM4389 : Fields west of Ellough Road by Evelyn Simak

Two sites as well as the aerodrome's Sick quarters were located along a track, now a public bridleway but then the access road for the camp sites, turning off Ellough Road and leading in a westerly direction through an area known as Ellough Moor to Cucumber Lane. The airfield site plan shows that the Sick quarters was situated near the junction with Ellough Road. This site is currently occupied by a business park and a waste management and recycling centre. No buildings have survived and no trace remains of the site's former use. A short distance further to the west and nearer to Cucumber Lane was the location of Site 1, another one of the aerodrome's domestic (accommodation) sites. A short distance further to the north-east and in crop fields to the north of the access road was the location of Site 5. No trace remains of these sites today which have long since returned to agriculture.

TM4388 : Gated track by Evelyn Simak TM4388 : Waste and recycling centre by Evelyn Simak TM4388 : Cow parsley and buttercups by Evelyn Simak TM4388 : Fields south of Worlingham by Evelyn Simak TM4388 : Rain clouds above Ellough Moor by Evelyn Simak

In November 1944, Winifred Mary Evans, a London member of the WAAF who was accommodated on Site 7 and worked as a radio operator at aerodrome's Administrative site in Sandpit Lane, was found dead near the Ellough Road junction, lying face down in the ditch which runs parallel with the byway which used to be the access road to the Sick quarters and to Sites 1 and 5. On the occasion of a post mortem examination it was found that she had been raped and strangled. The track has since been referred to by some locals as "Murder Lane". Leading Aircraftman (LAC) Arthur Heys, who was accommodated at Site 1, was charged with her murder, and executed in March 1945 at Norwich Prison - the first hanging to have taken place there since 1938. He was buried in the prison yard.

TM4488 : View along "Murder Lane" by Evelyn Simak

The aerodrome's Mess site was located on the eastern side of College Lane. The buildings on the Mess site included the Officers' and Sergeants' mess halls, the Airmen's dining rooms, the Commanding Officer's quarters, shower blocks and latrines. The entrance was guarded by a picket post. Today the site is occupied by Boast's Industrial Estate and all the major buildings are still in place, used mainly for vehicle repairs. The ablutions blocks and shower blocks and their adjoining boiler houses and water towers, as well as the Mess halls and the Cook houses have survived here in light industrial use. The location of the coal yard, which was surrounded by a high wall to prevent the coal from being spirited away, is today denoted by a large brick building which stands on its footprint. Two brick-built blast shelters still in place on this site have since been built over but one air raid shelter has survived.

TM4489 : Former latrines by Evelyn Simak TM4488 : The old cookhouse by Evelyn Simak

TM4488 : The entrance to Boast's Industrial Park by Evelyn Simak TM4488 : The Red Necks Wheelstop Diner by Evelyn Simak TM4488 : The old coal yard by Evelyn Simak TM4488 : The Morris Man by Evelyn Simak TM4488 : The old Officers' quarters by Evelyn Simak

TM4488 : Former RAF shower block by Evelyn Simak TM4488 : Former RAF shower block by Evelyn Simak TM4488 : Former Mess hall by Evelyn Simak TM4489 : Ex-RAF shower block by Evelyn Simak TM4488 : Ex-RAF buildings on Boast's Industrial Park by Evelyn Simak

Later in the war the buildings formed part of a Prisoner of War camp, accommodating German prisoners who used to work on the surrounding farms. The camp, which had the number 258 and was referred to as "Ellough Airfield", is reported to have been spread out across the fields to both sides of College Lane. It has been documented that the relationship between the prisoners and their guardians was a friendly one. Whereas the prison guards were always short of coal the order was that the prisoners had to be kept comfortable, and so it happened that more often than not the guards spent their evenings in the prisoners' accommodation huts because they were frequently warmer than their own. The local population in general would also appear to have been on friendly terms with the German prisoners. In early January 1947, the Beccles & Bungay Times newspaper reports that "German prisoners of war from the camp at Ellough have been visiting Beccles. Almost every day they have been seen walking aimlessly through the streets. They require a rest room in the town." Consequently it was decided to open the YMCA Hut for them on Sundays (Beccles & Bungay Times, January 1947).

The current owner of the site believes that the station's hospital was housed in the buildings situated on the northern part of the site. The airfield site plan however marks the three long interconnected Nissen huts as the Airmen's dining rooms. It is of course quite possible that the buildings did indeed incorporate a hospital when the site formed part of a prisoner of war camp, after the war. A concrete above-ground air raid shelter is also still in place here.

TM4489 : The Mess hall by Evelyn Simak TM4489 : Water tower and boiler house by Evelyn Simak TM4489 : Mess hall by Evelyn Simak TM4489 : Air raid shelter on Boast's Industrial Park by Evelyn Simak

What would appear to have been the northern-most campsite of the airfield was located at the south-eastern corner of a private wood south of Lowestoft Road in Worlingham. This was Site 6. Unnamed today, on older maps this wood is marked as Codlinslane Plantation; locally it is known as Codlins Wood, and it is believed to have been used for storing smuggled contraband during the 18th century. In an old aerial view dating from 1946 a hutted camp adjoining it in the south and spreading out across part of the neighbouring field can clearly be seen. Housing estates have since sprung up all around, almost completely encircling the wood, and the part of the field once occupied by the camp has since become overgrown. A number of concrete hut bases and an above-ground air raid shelter can however still be found on this site.

TM4489 : Concrete hut bases in Codlins Wood by Evelyn Simak TM4489 : Hut foundations in private garden by Evelyn Simak TM4489 : Remains of WW2 RAF campsite by Evelyn Simak TM4489 : Old concrete hut base by Evelyn Simak TM4489 : WW2 air raid shelter in the woods by Evelyn Simak

West of Copland Way, the head of the main north-west/south-east runway has survived intact adjacent to a warehouse currently used by Result Clothing (Beccles) Distribution Centre, together with a short section of the full-width perimeter track. The course of the south-west/north-east runway can still be discerned to the east of where it used to cross the main runway, although the concrete has since been lifted and the area is now overgrown. A number of drain holes and empty light fittings are still in place beside the runway and the perimeter track, where one of the aircraft dispersals is also still in place.

 Main runway head  Empty light fitting (perimeter track)  View across the main runway

 Perimeter track and aircraft dispersal  Main runway head  Main runway head

By 1977, the eastern part of the flying field had reopened as a helicopter port and by 2003 also as an airfield. Beccles airport, occupied by the Rain Air Flying Club which in 1997 relocated to Ellough from Swanton Morley in the Breckland district (North Norfolk), uses about 450 metres of the original wartime concrete surface. UK Parachute Service Ltd, a parachuting training school and 7-day/week skydiving centre, and a Sky Watch (Suffolk) Civil Air Patrol unit also operate in the area. Nearby, the members of the Waveney Model Flying Club fly their planes from a small field situated east of the poultry houses of Warrens Farm, a turkey rearing enterprise north of Warren's Lane. A Kart track occupies the triangle by the junction of the south-west/north-east and the south-east/north-west runways at the north-eastern corner of the airfield. A short landing strip in the vicinity of the industrial estate further west is used by visiting executive type light aircraft. In the summer of 2014, planning permission was granted to Lark Energy for the construction of a 24MW solar farm on part of the former flying field.

TM4688 : Hangars at Beccles Airfield by Evelyn Simak

TM4587 : New solar farm in Ellough by Evelyn Simak TM4587 : New solar farm in Ellough by Evelyn Simak

TM4687 : The Skydive Café by Evelyn Simak TM4687 : UK Parachuting by Evelyn Simak TM4687 : Beccles heliport by Evelyn Simak TM4687 : Beccles heliport by Evelyn Simak TM4687 : Beccles heliport by Evelyn Simak

The airfield's second T2 is located on the former British Airways Helicopters (later British International Helicopters - BIH) site which was used for offshore oil and gas rig operations in the North Sea. The old aircraft dispersal points on the site served as landing pads. In the mid-1990s, BIH transferred to Norwich Airport, which was built on the site of the WW2 aerodrome of RAF Horsham St Faith and the heliport became disused. A farmers' market is currently being held in a small part of the T2 hangar every first and third Saturday of the month whilst the remaining space in this huge building is used for the storage of grain.

A large earthen mound could be seen in the vicinity of the helipad until well into the 1970s. This was a shooting butt where aircraft guns could be tested. It can be seen in the background of the old photograph (below) taken in 1966 of one of the helicopters based there at that time. When the airfield's old fuel tanks were removed the earth was used to fill in the holes and that was the end of the shooting butt.

TM4587 : At the BEA helicopter base, Ellough, 1966 by Adrian S Pye

TM4687 : T2 aircraft hangar at the Beccles heliport site by Evelyn Simak TM4687 : T2 aircraft hangar at the Beccles heliport site by Evelyn Simak TM4687 : T2 aircraft hangar at the Beccles heliport site by Evelyn Simak

The bomb and ammunition storage area was situated on agricultural land on the south side of the flying field, west of Hill Farm. This area has reverted back to agriculture, and besides the old concrete road leading to the site no buildings remain and the characteristic earth mounds seen on bomb dump sites have long since been levelled.

TM4587 : Old concreted road by Evelyn Simak TM4587 : Concreted hardstanding in fields by Evelyn Simak TM4587 : Crop fields north of Hulver Street by Evelyn Simak TM4587 : Game bird feeder on a field's edge by Evelyn Simak

The aerodrome's sewage works were located west of the A146 road, to the south-east of Ash Tree Farm. A footpath linking the A146 (Lowestoft Road) with Sandpit Lane leads past this location. The sewage works are still in use.

TM4589 : Worlingham sewage works by Evelyn Simak TM4589 : Prefabricated concrete building at Worlingham sewage works by Evelyn Simak

A couple of pillboxes have survived in the vicinity of the airfield.

TM4687 : Type FW3/22 pillbox by Evelyn Simak TM4890 : Type 22 pillbox by Adrian S Pye

In 1960 a Royal Observer Corps (ROC) post was constructed near the perimeter fence at the south-east corner of the flying field. The post is officially known as Barnby ROC post and was closed again in 1991. It is located beside the two remaining aircraft dispersals on the northern edge of the old heliport site and reported to still be in good condition.

TM4687 : The Barnby ROC post by Evelyn Simak TM4687 : The Barnby ROC post by Evelyn Simak TM4687 : The Barnby ROC post (entrance hatch) by Evelyn Simak


A section of the B1127 road runs along one of the runways and bisects the airfield. Further to the east one short section of runway is partly intact and active. Public footpaths from Ellough Moor to Cucumber Lane and from the A146 road to Sandpit Lane, and a bridleway south of Benacre Road leading to Church Road all traverse parts of the flying field, and many of the buildings described above can be seen from Ellough Road, College Lane and Sandpit Lane.

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