RAF Downham Market

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


The aerodrome at Downham Market was built to class A specification (the main contractors were Messrs W & C French) and opened in the summer of 1942 as a satellite station for RAF Marham, replacing the unpaved landing strip to the south-east of Barton Bendish > LinkExternal link which had become unsuitable for use by heavy bomber aircraft. Today, RAF Barton Bendish, which was operational from 2 September 1939 until October 1942, is a large crop field adjacent to Eastmoor Road and north-west of Eastmoor Farm. RAF Marham - one of the four pre-war RAF bases in the county of Norfolk and still a very active airfield today - is situated a good ten kilometres to the north-east of Bexwell, as the crow flies, and not quite three kilometres north of the Barton Bendish landing ground. Officially known as RAF Downham Market, locals commonly referred to it as Bexwell aerodrome because of its close proximity to Bexwell village, where a memorial plaque commemorating the airfield's two Victoria Cross holders, Flight Lieutenant Arthur Aaron and Squadron Leader Ian Willoughby Bazalgette can be found on the green adjoining St Mary's church. A memorial plaque inside the church commemorates all those who lost their lives whilst stationed here: 160 aircraft and nearly 900 airmen were lost on operations. One of the station's Mosquitos crashed into Bawdeswell All Saints church, in the Breckland district of Norfolk and the unfortunate pilot and his co-pilot - Pilot Officer James McLean and Sergeant Melvin Tansley from No. 608 Squadron - who both lost their lives, are remembered by a memorial fashioned from parts of their crashed aircraft.


TG0420 : Aircraft crash memorial in All Saints church by Evelyn Simak ..  218 Sq memorial plaque ..  Bexwell St Mary .. TF6303 : Memorial plaque by St Mary's church by Evelyn Simak

 Kneeler in Bexwell St Mary's church  Kneeler in Bexwell St Mary's church  Kneeler in Bexwell St Mary's church  Kneeler in Bexwell St Mary's church  Kneeler in Bexwell St Mary's church


RAF Downham Market had three concrete runways, the main (east-west) runway being 1,900 metres long and 50 metres wide. A five-kilometre long perimeter track linked the runways and the 35 circular concrete hardstandings, where the aircraft were dispersed, with each other, and with the aerodrome's six T2 hangars. From April 1943 until March 1944, three of the latter were used for the storage of Horsa assault gliders.

In October 1943, the station was equipped with the FIDO (Fog Intensive Dispersal Operation) fog dispersal system which was eventually installed at 15 UK airfields. Downham Market was the second aerodrome to be equipped with this device. The aerodrome's FIDO site was located
on the south side of Downham Road (A1122), a short distance west of Crimplesham. It comprised three or four round, upright fuel tanks, a pump house which accommodated six Sulzer pumps, and a valve control hut. Underground fuel lines ran from the site to the burners beside the main runway. The control valves were housed in covered pits, each pit controlling 80 yards of burner line. Very aptly, the old FIDO site is now occupied by a petrol station. One of RAF Downham's covered pits housing a control valve of the FIDO pipeline can still be seen near the south-eastern end of the main runway. It is to date not known if it also still contains the equipment.

A 12-inch concrete pipe (presumably containing smaller steel pipes), severed when the northern perimeter track was reduced in width and a ditch was dug alongside it after the war, is still in place. This is believed by some to have been the main petrol feed to the north side of the runway and a similar pipe once was (or perhaps still is) in place on the south side. The installation was initially fitted with Mk III (aka Haigill) burners which in cross-section comprise three steel pipes arranged in an equilateral triangle at 7-inch centres, with the two 1.5-inch burner pipes at the bottom and a 2-inch vaporizer pipe at the top. If these were laid in a concrete pipe under the perimeter track the arrangement would require a pipe with a minimum diameter of 11 inches. A short distance further along the former taxiway, which currently serves as a footpath marked on OS maps as New Road, two now quite corroded metal pipes cross the drainage ditch running along one side of it. One of the pipes has a diameter of 5 1/2in, the other is slightly larger, with a diameter of 6 1/2in. The measurement of the latter conforms with an annotated site plan according to which the diameter of the FIDO feed pipe was 6 1/2 inch. Considering that the system was upgraded several times during its relatively short use and that no detailed records seem to exist, it is after all this time difficult to discern with any accuracy what purpose these pipes served, although it is probably safe to assume that they formed part of the FIDO installation.

The initial layout had an approach box of 500 yards and was 160 yards wide, with 700 yards of burners on each side of runway 27, crossing the eastern perimeter track but not extending as far as the first intersecting runway, further to the west. The eventual layout required the construction of more than 80 Mk IV burners, each 40 yards long, and in excess of 16,000 yards of piping. It took ten tankers each doing five runs (about 3,000 gallons a time) to fill up the FIDO tanks. According to a Bomber Command document, the total fuel consumption was 2,145,000 gallons. An old fuel tank, presumably originating either from the FIDO site or one of the airfield's aircraft fuel storage sites appears to still be in farm use. It can be found on the edge of a crop field a short distance further to the south.

On 20 September 1943, contractors Messrs William Press & Son of Willoughby Lane, Tottenham, reported that the installation was ready for filling with petrol and preliminary trials and was expected to be operational by the end of the month. (Founded by William Allpress in 1913, the William Press Group developed into a leading British engineering business. It merged with Leonard Fairclough & Son in 1982 and became Amec Foster Wheeler plc, a British multinational consultancy, engineering and project management company currently headquartered in London.) The first trial landings took place on 11 October 1943, with more to follow on 21 November.

Fog was a constant hazard to aircraft and a method was hence developed to disperse it. This required a network of pipes and petrol burners which were aligned with the runway. By burning petrol at the rate of 100,000 gallons (456,000 litres) per hour sufficient heat could be produced to lift the fog, thus enabling pilots to take off and, more importantly, to land safely, and more than 160 aircraft reportedly landed at Downham assisted by the installation. However, the turbulence caused by the heat from the burning petrol on both sides of the runway and the anxiety about what could happen if the flames were to ignite any petrol leaking from an aircraft no doubt must have made landing with FIDO a nerve-racking experience. The heavy smoke, scorching heat and the terrible smell are remembered by all who were there, and also that everything and everybody within 100 yards was covered in soot. Group Captain HG Davis of 195 Squadron, then based at Wratting Common, close to the Cambridgeshire border with Suffolk, recalls his experience on the occasion of a training flight: "As we neared the airfield, there appeared to be one enormous fire. We were cleared to land, and the lasting impression I have always held was that we were about to descend into a vast flame-lined grave! The reflected moon on top of the fog - probably about 500ft deep - made the fog look like the ground and the runway with its flaming outline appeared to be subterranean! Apart from the turbulence on the approach, and a prayer from all of the crew that I would not swing off the runway, the rest of the landing was uneventful". (Geoffrey Williams, Flying Through Fire, 1995) A compilation of film clips of FIDO in operation can be seen here: LinkExternal link.


TF6403 : Petrol station and Volvo car dealership by Evelyn Simak TF6403 : Petrol station and Volvo car dealership by Evelyn Simak TF6403 : Old fuel tank by Evelyn Simak TF6404 : Oilseed rape stubble by Evelyn Simak TF6304 : Remains of a FIDO installation by Evelyn Simak TF6304 : Remains of a FIDO installation by Evelyn Simak

 Northern perimeter track  FIDO main feeder pipe  Severed FIDO main feeder pipe in ditch

 FIDO  FIDO


A small camp housing the men employed by contractor Messrs William Press and tasked with installing FIDO, and their equipment, was located across the road from the FIDO site. The camp is marked on the 1944 airfield site plan as disused, as the installation had been completed by then. One of the Laing huts has however survived here. By 1940 the shortage of timber led to the development of other forms of buildings for accommodation. Laing huts were built from standard prefabricated lightweight timber wall sections bolted together. The walls were lined both inside and out with plasterboard and the outside covered with felt for water-proofing. Lightweight composite roof trusses supported corrugated asbestos sheeting. In some of the Laing huts however, the timber wall sections would seem to have been replaced with asbestos sheeting.


TF6404 : Disused Laing hut by Evelyn Simak TF6404 : Disused Laing hut by Evelyn Simak TF6404 : Disused Laing hut by Evelyn Simak


In 1942, the station was commanded by Group Captain (later Air Marshal, Sir) Andrew McKee, who on 7 March 1944 was replaced by Group Captain (later Air Chief Marshal, Sir) Wallace Hart Kyle. The last OC was Group Captain RW Cox, who started his duties on 9 October 1944.

At various times between 1942 and 1945 the airfield was home to six bomber squadrons:

No. 214 Squadron RAF
No. 218 Squadron RAF
No. 571 Squadron RAF
No. 608 Squadron RAF
No. 623 Squadron RAF
No. 635 Squadron RAF

The first operational squadron to arrive at Downham Market was No. 218 Squadron (Gold Coast) from RAF Marham's former satellite, RAF Barton Bendish, flying Short Stirling aircraft. The squadron flew 1,787 missions between July 1942 and March 1944, including 438 on mine laying duties off the Frisian Islands. 77 of their aircraft failed to return, with 20 crashing in Britain.

In August 1943, No. 623 Squadron was formed at Downham but disbanded four months later when the station was re-equipped with Avro Lancaster bombers. The squadron had been formed from 1 Flight of No. 218 Squadron but was never assigned more than 10 aircraft. Nevertheless, the squadron flew 137 missions during which not only all of the 10 aircraft but also each one of the seven-man crews manning them were lost.

623 Squadron was replaced by No. 214 Squadron, flying Stirling bomber aircraft from Downham between December 1943 and January 1944. The squadron flew 36 missions, 25 of which targeted the V1 and V2 flying bomb sites, before being reassigned to RAF Sculthorpe.

When Bomber Command reorganised its forces and RAF Downham ceased to be part of 3 Bomber Command, the airfield passed to No. 8 Group in March 1944, the RAF's elite Path Finder Force (PFF). Colloquially known as the Pathfinders, this was a target-marking force comprised of crews with high technical and navigational expertise, and one of the most important Groups in RAF Bomber Command during WW2. From its inception, it lead the main bomber forces to all targets until the end of the war. Due to their operational methods and the gallantry of its pilots and crews, the PFF's losses were heavier than that of other squadrons. The leader of the PFF was Air Commodore Donald Bennett, and the Pathfinder HQ was in Castle Hill House in Huntingdon, within easy reach of all the Pathfinder airfields. Formed on 15 August 1942, the PFF was initially administered by No. 3 Group and consisted of five squadrons, one from each of the operational Bomber Command Groups. By April 1945 the Pathfinders had reached their maximum strength, comprising eight Lancaster and eleven Mosquito units. By the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, the force had flown a total of 50,490 missions against 3,440 targets. Of the 32 Victoria Crosses awarded to Bomber Command, three were given to Pathfinder pilots. Two of these three pilots were based at RAF Downham Market and both served in No. 635 Squadron.

Flight Sergeant Arthur Louis Aaron received his VC for saving his crew and his aircraft despite being grievously wounded in the face while piloting his Stirling aircraft to attack the Italian city of Turin on the night of 12 August 1943. On its approach, three of the aircraft's four engines were damaged by gunfire from enemy fighter aircraft; the windscreen shattered, the front and rear turrets were put out of action and the elevator control was also damaged, causing the aircraft to become unstable and difficult to control. Despite his injuries, Sgt Aaron helped to land the damaged aircraft safely but sadly died nine hours after landing from exhaustion. LinkExternal link

Squadron Leader Ian Willoughby Bazalgette's story is told in his citation, published in the London Gazette of 14 August 1945: "On 4th August 1944 Squadron Leader Bazalgette was 'Master bomber' of a Pathfinder Squadron detailed to mark an important target for the main bomber force. When nearing the target his Lancaster was seriously damaged and set on fire by anti-aircraft fire; the bomb aimer was badly wounded. As the deputy 'Master bomber' had already been shot down, the success of the attack depended on Squadron Leader Bazalgette who despite appalling conditions in his burning aircraft pressed on gallantly, bombed, and marked the target accurately. That the attack was successful was due to his magnificent effort. The condition of the aircraft had by now become so bad that Squadron Leader Bazalgette ordered his crew to leave the aircraft by parachute. He attempted the almost hopeless task of landing the crippled and blazing aircraft to save the wounded bomb aimer, and one air-gunner, who had been overcome by fumes. With superb skill and taking great care to avoid a French village, be brought the aircraft safely down. Unfortunately it then exploded and this gallant officer and his two comrades perished. His heroic sacrifice marked the climax of a long career of operations against the enemy. He always chose the more dangerous and exacting roles. His courage and devotion to duty were beyond praise."

No. 218 Squadron was replaced by No. 635 Squadron, flying Lancasters. The squadron's aircraft were equipped to carry 14,000 lbs of bombs and target indicators, and fitted with the most up-to-date radar equipment. No. 635 Squadron was formed from B Flight of No. 35 Squadron, based at RAF Graveley in Cambridgeshire, and C Flight from No. 97 Squadron RAF Bourn, also in Cambridgeshire. The squadron's first mission was flown on 22 March 1944, targeting the city of Frankfurt. They flew a total of 2,099 missions, and also participated in the mission flown in late April 1945 which targeted the Berghof, Adolf Hitler's retreat on the slopes of the Obersalzberg mountain in the Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden (Bavaria, Germany). After the war had ended, the squadron helped to drop much needed food supplies to the Dutch (Operation "Manna") and in repatriating allied prisoners of war (Operation "Exodus"). The squadron lost 41 aircraft, including seven which crashed in Britain.

No. 571 Squadron was formed at Downham in April 1944, but within a month transferred to RAF Oakington, a PFF station located near Cambridge. No. 608 Squadron re-formed at Downham in August 1944 and formed part of the Light Night Striking Force. The unit was equipped with Canadian-built Mosquito aircraft as part of No. 8 Group's policy of having one Lancaster and one Mosquito squadron at each base. No. 608 and No. 635 Squadrons stayed at Downham Market until the end of the war and both were disbanded in the summer of 1945.

No. 608 Squadron occasionally flew joint operations with No. 635 Squadron as markers on the same targets. In their much faster Mosquitoes they would take off long after the 635 Squadron Lancasters. They would finish their marking as the 635 Squadron's primary markers were arriving, and be back at the base whilst the latter were still on their way back home. No. 608 Squadron flew 1,685 missions, including 762 individual sorties targeting Berlin.

No. 635 Squadron formed at Downham Market in March 1944 from one of the founder Pathfinder Force squadrons, No. 35. As part of the Pathfinder Force, No. 635 Squadron participated in many major bombing attacks by flying in the lead planes and marking the targets for the main force of bombers following them. The squadron was also selected to undertake the operational trials of five rather unique Lancaster VI bomber aircraft, which they flew in a number of sorties. The squadron's last mission before VE Day was ferrying 243 ex-prisoners of war home to the UK from Belgium.

RAF Downham Market was closed in 1946 and sold off in 1957. The land was returned to agriculture but the airfield's runways remained mainly intact until the construction of the Downham Market by-pass (the A10 road) in the late 1970s, when they were lifted and crushed for aggregate used for constructing this new road, which roughly follows the course of the north-east/south-west runway. Part of the western perimeter track is however still in place, albeit much reduced in width, and today a public footpath skirting the eastern edge of Downham Market and the reservoir, west of the A10. Only a tiny fragment of the main east-west runway had survived (until September 2016). It could be seen right beside the A10 road, on the edge of a crop field a short distance to the north-east of the Bexwell roundabout.


TF6203 : View north along the A10 road by Evelyn Simak TF6203 : Last remains of a runway by Evelyn Simak  Bexwell runway gone

 Western perimeter track being removed  Southern perimeter track being removed and crushed  Western perimeter track being removed


A fairly long section of perimeter track can still be found immediately to the north of what is now the Bexwell Business Park. Small concrete patches and hardstandings remained alongside New Road until recently. New Road was a minor road before the construction of the airfield, which used to connect the villages of Crimplesham and Wimbotsham. New Road Cottages, to the south-east of Oak Wood and since converted into one dwelling, are still in place but the sheds and barns to the south of it (south of the road before the construction of the aerodrome) were razed to the ground at some time after the war, as they can still be seen in an aerial view dating from 1946. The road had been closed and torn up, as it traversed the northern part of the flying field, including the NE/SW and NW/SE runways, and all the trees and hedges bordering the fields on both sides of it were also removed. New Road was reinstated, albeit on a slightly different alignment as now it followed the route of the northern perimeter track which was reduced in width, and opened to the public again for some time after the war. Today is a public footpath with gates in place to prevent vehicular access. Adjacent to New Road Cottages, part of one the surviving aircraft dispersals was also still in place until recently, when it was finally removed (in September 2016). The bomb stores, shooting-in butt and one of the airfield's three defence sites were located in the fields and woods to the north of New Road.


TF6304 : Electricity poles beside New Road by Evelyn Simak TF6304 : Ditch beside New Road by Evelyn Simak TF6304 : Remains of a hardstanding beside New Road by Evelyn Simak TF6304 : View west along New Road by Evelyn Simak TF6304 : Sugar beet crop field beside New Road by Evelyn Simak

TF6304 : Wheat crop field in Bexwell by Evelyn Simak TF6203 : WW2 airfield near Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6304 : Fields north of New Road by Evelyn Simak TF6304 : Concrete hardstanding beside New Road by Evelyn Simak TF6304 : The southern edge of Oak Wood by Evelyn Simak

 New Road - northern perimeter track  New Road - northern perimeter track  New Road - northern perimeter track  New Road - northern perimeter track (dispersal removed)


The only original building still standing to the north of the flying field can be seen from New Road. It is located at the end of a short track which once used to lead into the bomb dump, and is the only Fuzing Point shed still standing. Here the bombs were armed before being transported on bomb trolleys to the aircraft parked on their dispersals beside the perimeter track. The brick-built traverse retaining wall of the structure is also still in place. The bomb storage area extended from Oak Wood eastwards across crop fields to Old and New Covert and also included Rough Covert, where the fuzed and spare bomb stores were located, today reduced in size to a small copse. A new and private farm track turning off New Road and merging with the old concrete road skirts New and Old Covert further to the north-east, near to Home Farm, at the eastern edge of the bomb dump of which no trace remains. Hardstandings on the edge of Old Covert however still mark the locations of the incendiary bomb stores (type C) on the southern and eastern edge, and the concreted road leading through the 200-ton capacity bomb store and the tail unit storage area at its western end had also survived until recently (September 2016) when it too was lifted and crushed for aggregate. During the war, this bomb store was situated on the northern edge but the wooded area had since expanded and grown over it. All other roads, bomb bays and hardstandings which at the time were situated in the immediate vicinity of the woods have long since been removed and the area returned to agricultural use without leaving any trace of its wartime history.


TF6304 : Wild flowers beside New Road by Evelyn Simak TF6304 : Old airfield building on a field boundary by Evelyn Simak TF6304 : Old airfield building - detail by Evelyn Simak TF6304 : Old airfield building - interior by Evelyn Simak TF6304 : Old airfield building - interior by Evelyn Simak

 Track to bomb dump  Concrete road in bomb dump  Concrete road in bomb dump lifted


The aerodrome's dispersed campsites were located mainly to the south of Bexwell village and provided accommodation for 1,719 male and 326 female personnel. Many manorial houses during the war were requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence and Bexwell Hall, situated just east of St Mary's church, was duly requisitioned as the officers’ mess. Harry Barker, who was the bomb aimer of the Overton crew, recalls that the food was very good and the sleeping quarters comfortable, and that he usually had a cup of tea brought to him in bed every morning.

In the early 1950s, the former Communal site 2 was redeveloped as a short-term housing estate. Located approximately 800 metres south-west of Bexwell village, it was known as the Stone Cross Estate, presumably named after Stone Cross Lane, now a public footpath, which skirts it. The housing estate was closed in 1963 but the site lives on as the Stonecross Industrial Estate, occupied by the Downham Market Home and Garden Centre, a petrol filling station and Arbuckles Restaurant and Bar. No original buildings would seem to have survived on the eastern side of the Downham Market by-pass (A10 road), but on the other side of the road, near the WW1 memorial, the Communal site's mess building is still standing. The three interconnected prefabricated concrete buildings are currently home to RGD Engineering Co Ltd. The old sewage works were located a few fields further to the west and the concreted track leading to it, part of it now a public footpath, is still in place.


TF6202 : Stonecross Industrial Estate/RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6202 : Stonecross Industrial Estate/RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6202 : Stonecross Industrial Estate/RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak ..  Bexwell Communal site 2

Two large and interconnected buildings, the dining rooms and adjacent Institute, remain on the WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) site, which was spread out in a field bordering on Long Belt, south of Bexwell Hall. No trace remains of the barrack huts where the women were accommodated or of the associated toilets, shower blocks and bath house. In this context it is interesting to note that whereas the men's sites were equipped with one latrine block to every three Nissen huts, the WAAF women had to share three latrine blocks between their 27 huts. Part of the old WAAF site is now a farmyard occupied by various large sheds. Hall Farm, which adjoined in the north, no longer exists and its barns have been converted to dwellings. The southern-most end of the site is occupied by a large pumping station.


 WAAF site . TF6303 : Building on the former WAAF site by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Building on the former WAAF site by Evelyn Simak .  WAAF site


The Sick quarters were in the corner of a crop field across the road from here, further to the west. The Communal site 1 and a couple of Accommodation sites were also located alongside this minor road leading south from Bexwell. A short distance further to the west, beside a concreted track which is now a public footpath leading to the Stonecross Industrial Estate (the former Communal site 2) was yet another Accommodation site, and across the field from there, a short distance further south there was a fourth. Yet another Accommodation site was situated a short distance south of the Communal site 2. All these campsites were situated in what would today seem to be fairly close proximity to each other but considering that the only means of transport at the time were bicycles, they were quite some way away from the airfield proper, especially for personnel who did not have a bicycle and hence had to walk to their place of work every day. The sewage works were situated further south, to the south of the eastern end of Long Belt and well to the south-east of the WAAF site.


TF6202 : Fields east of the Stonecross Industrial Estate by Evelyn Simak TF6202 : Footpath to the Stonecross Industrial Estate by Evelyn Simak TF6203 : Concrete hardstanding on a field's edge by Evelyn Simak TF6203 : Footpath to the Stonecross Industrial Estate by Evelyn Simak


With the noteworthy exception of the Communal mess building at the Stonecross Industrial Estate, nothing much would seem to have survived on any of the other Communal and Accommodation sites dotted about in the fields to the south and south-west of Bexwell village. The survival of a great many buildings on the former Technical site comes therefore as a pleasant surprise, although most of the motorists travelling along Bexwell Road probably don't realise that they are crossing a former WW2 airfield.


TF6303 : The disused Bexwell airfield by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : A1122 past disused airfield by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell airfield by Evelyn Simak


The Technical site was located at the southern edge of the airfield proper, with the Control tower (long since demolished) facing the middle section of the main runway, now a crop field. The area occupied by the Technical site is now the Bexwell Business Park and the companies based here have utilised the old airfield buildings still standing on their premises. The by far largest number of original buildings have survived on the premises of Bexwell Kitchens who are using the former Guard room which also housed the Fire party and is located right beside the site entrance, as their showroom. They have even set up a small museum in one of the kitchen cabinets in the end room which was used as a prison cell.


TF4812 : The Fenland and West Norfolk Aviation Museum by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak


The remaining buildings on this site include the Main stores, the Main workshops, the Crew locker and drying rooms, a Double Link trainer, workshops, stores and a number of other original Nissen huts and prefabricated concrete buildings. A large blister hangar which used to house the free Gunnery trainer is also still in place.


TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF4812 : The Fenland and West Norfolk Aviation Museum by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak

TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak

TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak


The prefabricated concrete building once used by No. 635 Squadron for Signals and Gunnery training has some interesting details still in place, such as the original stencilling on the entrance doors, and a caricature drawn in chalk on the back of another. Depictions of what would seem to have been enemy aircraft are still adhering to one of the old panels in one of the rooms currently used for storage, and a large board for holding the keys to all the various buildings on the site has also been found, with one rusty old key still hanging from one of the hooks. Another board shows a handwritten list with the names of all the then existing UK airfields using HF/DF and SBA. The heading reads: "Daily Serviceability Chart of HF/DF and S.B.A." HF/DF was a method of high-frequency direction finding, colloquially referred to as huff-duff, and SBA is the abbreviation of Standard Beam Approach - a blind landing approach system.


TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak

TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak


Next door at Bexwell Tractors, the Armoury building has survived, and the site office across the yard from there is housed in a former Contractor's hut. The Motor Transport shed is also still in place and located a little further to the north-west in the same yard.


TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6203 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak


At the business premises adjoining in the north, a number of Nissen huts are still standing. These were the Armoury maintenance unit, the Maintenance unit and the Flight equipment store to name only a few. One of the loading ramps has also survived here. All these buildings have been converted for industrial and/or business use.


TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6203 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6303 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak


A short distance further along one of the original transformer stations can still be seen, intact and complete including its protective brick-built blast wall.


TF6203 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak TF6203 : Bexwell Business Park - RAF Downham Market by Evelyn Simak


Another notable survival on this airfield is its Battle Headquarters (BHQ) which would have been used to co-ordinate the defence of the airfield in the event of a land or air attack. One of the airfield site plans reportedly shows a tunnel connecting it with the Control tower but no evidence has as yet been found to confirm this (the site plans seen by the author - 803/W/116/42, WA7/227/44 and Bexwell Plan No. 4 - do not show a tunnel). The structure comprises a main passageway with a toilet at one end and a messengers' room, a PBX room and the station commander's office which could also be accessed directly from a rear entrance. The observation cupola has been removed and the structure's roof now serves as a farm bridge. Due to the BHQ being situated in a drainage ditch dating from after the war, with a small stream flowing right through it, the structure is permanently flooded and hence inaccessible.


TF6204 : WW2 Battle Headquarters by Evelyn Simak TF6204 : WW2 Battle Headquarters by Evelyn Simak TF6204 : WW2 Battle Headquarters by Evelyn Simak TF6204 : WW2 Battle Headquarters by Evelyn Simak TF6204 : WW2 Battle Headquarters by Evelyn Simak TF6204 : WW2 Battle Headquarters by Evelyn Simak


On 4 June 1944, one of the No. 635 Squadron Avro Lancasters, D-Dog ND 841, crashed not far from here at Broomhill Farm, near the aerodrome's western perimeter, during a failed take-off. The aircraft swerved to starboard from the main runway and clipped the roof of a B1 hangar before crashing in a crop field. All crew were killed instantly. They were: F/O George Ambrose Young (pilot, aged 24); Sgt Thomas Snowball (flight engineer, aged 32); F/Sgt Howard Pritchard (navigator, aged 22); F/O Walter Thomas Olyott (bomb aimer, aged 21); Robert Sadler (wireless operator, aged 23); F/Sgt Stanley Wharton (air gunner, aged 30); and F/Sgt Charles Patrick Nallen (air gunner, aged 20). There is as yet no memorial.

One of the aerodrome's four defence sites (Site 2) was located at Upper Farm, a short distance to the west of the BHQ and on the other side of the A10 road, which now traverses the western part of the flying field but during the war had not yet been constructed. Defence Site 1 was situated near the south-western edge of the flying field, west of the Technical Site. Site 3 was tasked with defending the northern perimeter of the flying field and located in the vicinity of the south-western edge of Oak Wood, near one of the aircraft dispersals. Chunks of masonry originating from a building remain here. Defence Site 4 was situated diagonally across from the aerodrome's FIDO site, between the southern perimeter track and Downham Road, near the south-eastern edge of the flying field.

 Oak Wood defence site  Oak Wood defence site  Oak Wood defence site  Oak Wood defence site



In the spring of 2017 an appeal was launched to generate funds for a 16-meter wide memorial, which will consist of seven panels of polished black granite inscribed with the details of every aircrew member from the base who was killed in action. The memorial, which is expected to cost £250,000, will be erected on land adjacent to the Downham Market Home and Garden Centre in Stone Cross Lane, across the A10 road from the only remaining buildings of the former Communal site 2, and the WW1 memorial. A scale model of the proposed memorial was on display over the Easter (2017) weekend.


 Bexwell memorial ...  Bexwell memorial scale model


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Please note that all the buildings described above are situated on private land. The respective owners are happy to allow access, but permission must nevertheless be obtained before entering the compounds where the various wartime buildings are situated. Many of the buildings on the Technical site can also be seen from Bexwell Road (A1122). A walk along New Road, a public footpath off Bexwell Road, offers wide views across the airfield site. The Mess buildings on the Stonecross Industrial Estate can be seen from the road or, at a slower pace, from the footpath leading past here.

My grateful thanks go to all the property and landowners for kindly permitting access and photography, especially to the Eves family at Bexwell Kitchens > LinkExternal link for a guided tour and a wealth of information they very generously share with anyone interested in the history of the aerodrome. Many thanks also to Peter and Ian, both members of the Airfield Research Group, for help with identifying some of the structures situated in the bomb storage area and for information concerning the FIDO installation, respectively.



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