RAF Great Massingham

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


Great Massingham, situated in the King's Lynn and West Norfolk district, is often described as one of the county's most attractive villages. It is also notable for its large green and the many ponds which dominate the village, some originating as the fish ponds which once used to be part of an 11th century Augustinian Abbey.


TF8023 : Windsock beside the western perimeter track by Evelyn Simak


The aerodrome is located in close proximity to the village and was opened in September 1940 as a satellite to RAF West Raynham, situated about five kilometres further to the north-east. The station initially formed part of Group 2 Bomber Command, and until the spring of 1944 had grass runways, built on land belonging to the Raynham Hall estate and on farmland adjoining it. It became one of altogether nine light bomber stations used by 100 Group, Bomber Support as a night intruder base in the last two years of the war. The other 100 Group aerodromes were RAF Foulsham and RAF Sculthorpe; RAF Little Snoring and RAF Swanton Morley; RAF North Creake > LinkExternal link and RAF Oulton; RAF Swannington > LinkExternal link and RAF West Raynham > LinkExternal link.

No. 100 Group, based at Bylaugh Hall in the Breckland district of Norfolk, was responsible for a series of secret operations involving the development and testing of more than 32 different devices. The specially equipped aircraft of this group flew within the bomber stream, using electronic jamming devices to disrupt enemy radio communications and radar. These devices were referred to under exotic code-names such "Airborne Cigar", "Jostle", "Mandrel", "Airborne Grocer", "Carpet" and "Piperack". Other aircraft were fitted with so-called Homers which intercepted the German night fighters' radar and radio emissions and allowed the RAF fighters to home in onto the enemy aircraft, and shoot them down or at least disrupt their missions aimed against the allied bomber streams.

The flying field at RAF Great Massingham was quite unique in that it was not surrounded by a perimeter fence and it had no entrance gates either. The new main runway, constructed in 1943/44, was 2,000 metres long and 50 metres wide; the two cross runways were each 1,400 metres in length. Only sixteen pan-type hardstandings remained after the completion of the runway and perimeter track construction programme, carried out by the Unit Construction Company Ltd. Consequently, twenty loop-type hardstandings were built, taking the number of aircraft dispersal points up to thirty-six. Four T2 aircraft hangars and one B1 hangar were dotted about along the perimeter: two of the T2s were situated beside the western perimeter; the other two stood near the northern perimeter. By 1944, a B1 hanger had been put up on the south-eastern edge of the flying field. It was used by civilian repair parties providing on-site facilities for repairing damaged aircraft.


The following squadrons were based at Great Massingham:

No. 18 Squadron (September 1940 - April 41)
No. 90 Squadron (May 1941 - August 1941)
No. 98 Squadron (September 1942 - October 1943)
No. 107 Squadron (May 1941 - August 1943)
No. 342 "Groupe Lorraine" (Free French) Squadron (July 1943 - September 1943)
No. 169 Squadron (June 1944 - August 1945)
1692 Flight, a Radar development and Bomber support training unit (May 1944 - June 1945)


The first unit to move onto the airfield in September 1940 was No. 18 Squadron. The squadron had spent the past three months at West Raynham, waiting for the completion of the runways at Great Massingham. They flew night missions against enemy airfields and diversionary raids in support of the heavy bombers until in April 1941 the squadron was moved to RAF Oulton > LinkExternal link - a satellite airfield (first to RAF Horsham St Faith, today Norwich International Airport, and later to RAF Swanton Morley) in North Norfolk. Detachments were sometimes also sent to Manston in north-east Kent. On 19 August 1942, the squadron participated in a humanitarian mission ("Operation Leg") by dropping a sturdy box containing a replacement metal leg for Wing Commander Douglas Bader, who, after bailing out of his Spitfire fighter aircraft when shot down on the occasion of a raid over St Omer in France had been captured, spending the rest of the war in Germany as a prisoner of war.

No. 18 Squadron was soon joined by Nos. 107 and 19 Squadrons, flying Bristol Blenheim light bomber and Flying Fortress heavy bomber aircraft, respectively, mainly on low-level raids into Europe. Because of the grass runways, which did not cope very well with these heavy aircraft, the Blenheims were replaced with Douglas A-20 Havoc/Boston light bombers.

No. 98 Squadron, flying Mitchell bombers, arrived in September 1942, staying for a year until they moved on to RAF Foulsham > LinkExternal link in October 1943. For several months during the summer of 1943, No. 342 "Groupe Lorraine" Squadron, comprising crews from the Free French, was also based at Great Massingham.

In June 1944, No. 169 Squadron arrived from RAF Little Snoring > LinkExternal link with their Mosquitoes and Beaufighter fighter-bombers, flying mainly night raids against German night fighters. Flying Officer Keith Miller, the famous Australian Test cricketer, was based at Great Massingham in the spring of 1945. The squadron flew missions against German V1 and V2 weapons bases and other targets on mainland Europe. After Germany's surrender, Miller was one of the many pilots who flew Air Force personnel and ground crews over Germany so they could view the results of Allied bombing.

Other airmen who served at Great Massingham included Pilot Officer (later Squadron Leader) Bill Edrich (the England cricketer), Flight Sergeant Kenneth Wolstenholme (a well-known postwar BBC sports commentator), and Keith Miller (an Australian all-rounder).

No. 169 squadron was disbanded in August 1945 and RAF Great Massingham was handed over to 12 Group RAF, Fighter Command and the Central Flying Establishment at West Raynham continued to use the airfield for four more years. The aerodrome was finally sold in 1958. The flying field has since returned to agriculture but the perimeter track as well as the runways are still intact, the latter being used by light aircraft, whereas the former serves as access road to the surrounding crop fields.


TF8023 : Crop fields on Great Massingham airfield by Evelyn Simak

TF8023 : Drem light fitting on the perimeter track by Evelyn Simak TF8023 : The western perimeter track by Evelyn Simak

TF8023 : View along the runway by Evelyn Simak TF8023 : The SW/NE runway on Great Massingham airfield by Evelyn Simak TF8023 : Drain grate beside the SW/NE runway by Evelyn Simak


Three public footpaths lead onto the south-western perimeter track, which can be walked along a section of about 700 metres in length. Beside the perimeter track a T2 hangar can be seen. According to the farmer who owns this building, it did however come from elsewhere and is hence not original. A site plan dating from 1944/45, when the airfield was at the peak of its development, marks the locations of four T2 hangars and one of them is shown to have been situated where the replacement T2 shed now stands. A second very large building is situated a short distance further to the north; this building is however not a hangar at all but a huge farm shed that was built on the footprint of a T2 which adjoined the Admin/HQ site in the north-east. An anti-aircraft battery of which no trace remains was situated in the field adjoining it in the west.


TF8023 : Farm shed beside the perimeter track by Evelyn Simak

TF8023 : Footpath at the end of Mill Lane by Evelyn Simak TF8023 : Footpath sign on Great Massingham airfield by Evelyn Simak

TF8023 : T2 aircraft hangar on Great Massingham airfield by Evelyn Simak TF8023 : T2 aircraft hangar by Evelyn Simak TF8023 : T2 aircraft hangar by Evelyn Simak


Opposite from where the Mill Lane footpath meets the aerodrome's perimeter track a private farm road continues in easterly direction. This road lead to the Watch office and other buildings adjoining it. All the buildings, including the Fire Tender shed, the Floodlight tractor and trailer shed and the Night Flying Equipment store were demolished in the 1960s and this area now once again forms part of the crop field that it used to be before the war. Trees were planted to the south of the track where several buildings, including a blister hangar housing the Free Gunnery trainer, used to be situated. The hangar was dismantled and all other temporary buildings were razed to the ground. The only structure to have survived in the vicinity is an air raid shelter.


TF8023 : Crop fields on Great Massingham airfield by Evelyn Simak

TF8023 : Entrance into an air raid shelter by Evelyn Simak TF8023 : Entrance into an air raid shelter (detail) by Evelyn Simak TF8023 : WW2 air raid shelter (interior) by Evelyn Simak

TF8023 : The perimeter track at Great Massingham airfield by Evelyn Simak TF8023 : Cultivated fields on Great Massingham airfield by Evelyn Simak TF8023 : WW2 relic by Evelyn Simak TF8023 : Field beside the perimeter track by Evelyn Simak TF8023 : View along the perimeter track by Evelyn Simak


The Technical site adjoined in the west, on the other side of the perimeter track, with the main technical area having been located a short distance further to the south at the location currently occupied by the buildings of the Waterford Industrial Estate. Structures on the Technical site included a bulk oil installation holding 3,500 gallons, a Gas Respirator store and workshop, a Camera store, the Main Stores office and several Romney huts. The wartime emergency water supply (used for fire-fighting) can still be glimpsed in the overgrown area to the east of the industrial estate. The brick foundations of a building that stood beside it can still be seen beside the footpath. The Administrative site was located a short distance further to the north and spread out over what is now a pasture on the north side of Mill Lane.


TF8023 : A pond by the Waterford Industrial Estate by Evelyn Simak

TF8023 : The Waterford Industrial Estate by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : Blister hangar on the Waterford Industrial Estate by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : Blister hangar on the Waterford Industrial Estate by Evelyn Simak


Some of the station's aviation fuel was stored in the vicinity of the Technical site, on the western edge of the airfield. The overgrown concrete hardstanding of a second bulk fuel installation can still be seen from Rudham Road, in a field along the aerodrome's northern perimeter. Also on the northern edge of the flying field were the bomb dump and the Ammunitions and Explosives stores.

The crews based at Great Massingham were initially housed at RAF West Raynham and the personnel was required to cycle back and forth between the two stations on a daily basis. The non-commissioned officers were billeted in the then requisitioned Weasenham Hall and the officers were accommodated by local families. The earliest purpose-built accommodation sites, initially comprising only bell tents, were located near St Andrew's church at Little Massingham, and near Leicester Farm at the southern end of Great Massingham. For some time the Sergeants' mess was also situated at Leicester Farm but was later relocated to the Old Rectory in Little Massingham. By 1942, the airmen also had a small cookhouse near St Mary's church.

By 1944 the dispersed sites had been expanded, comprising two Communal, two WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) and five domestic (accommodation) sites, mainly located along the western edge of the village of Great Massingham and providing housing for 1197 officers and men as well as for 126 WAAFs. Most of the temporary buildings on these campsites have long since been dismantled or destroyed, with the last remaining accommodation huts, located in a field west of Abbey Farm and south of Walcup's Lane, having been pulled down in the 1990s.

The modern bungalows of the Summerwood Estate were built on the location of the station's Sick quarters which was located on the north side of Walcup's Lane near the junction with Abbey Road. Before the Sick quarters opened on 1 May 1944, sick or injured crew members were treated at RAF West Raynham's Sick quarters. The buildings on this site were Nissen huts and temporary brick buildings, all long since removed and built over. No buildings have survived on any of the accommodation sites located in the fields to both sides of Walcup's Lane.

The aerodrome's main Communal site was located a short distance to the west of the Sick quarters, also on the north side of Walcup's Lane and near the junction with Greengate Lane, one of the wartime concreted roads that used to link with other campsites in the vicinity. This is the only location where a few substantial buildings have survived, converted to industrial and farm use. Buildings on this site included the CO's (Commanding Officer) accommodation, the Officers' mess, the Institute and the NAAFI, as well as a Gymnasium and chapel and a Squash court. Concrete foundations were also laid for a Sergeants' mess but this building was apparently never constructed.

The Gymnasium, one of the structures to have survived on the Communal site, has a small annex which served as the station's chapel. (Other surviving examples can be seen at RAF Hethel > LinkExternal link and at RAF Deopham Green > LinkExternal link The Cinema was also housed here. This building is in good condition and has retained its original parquet floors (believed to be Canadian Redwood) as well as a number of the original ceiling hooks for holding climbing ropes or nets. Some of the windows also still have their blackout blinds.

After the war, the local Social Club utilised the spacious structure for social functions, dances and roller-skating events, and a small bar was installed in the former Chaplain's room. A farmer then purchased the building and converted it for use as a chicken battery. Racing cars were also repaired here for some time. But for many years since the old gymnasium has been a car repairs workshop and garage (Outback Autos) just like the gymnasium at RAF Fersfield > LinkExternal link with which it shares many similarities.


TF7923 : The old gymnasium by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : The old gymnasium (detail) by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : The old gymnasium (detail) by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : The old gymnasium - the chapel annex by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : The old gymnasium - the chapel annex by Evelyn Simak


A dilapidated building which would seem to once have been partitioned into a number of small rooms or offices adjoins the Gymnasium the north. It was constructed on one of the overgrown concrete platforms which were originally intended for the Sergeant's mess which was never built. After the war it housed a shoe factory. A row of six lock-ups is situated opposite the old shoe factory, beside the concrete road, now a public footpath, leading northwards and further into the Communal site. This building would seem to have been the Ration store.


TF7923 : Lock-ups in Walcup's Lane by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : Concreted road on the old Communal site by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : Footpath through the main Communal site by Evelyn Simak

TF7923 : Old building on the former Communal site by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : Old building on the former Communal site by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : Old building on the former Communal site by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : Old building on the former Communal site (interior) by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : Old building on the former Communal site (interior) by Evelyn Simak


A short distance further to the north, in a small area which today is covered by trees and shrubs, and traversed by the public footpath which follows the old wartime road, several concrete bases and hut foundations as well as three brick-built blast shelters can still be found. There are also many old manholes, presumably the remains of ablutions blocks.


TF7923 : Old concreted road by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : A brick-built blast shelter by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : A brick-built blast shelter by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : Old manholes by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : Hut foundation amongst the trees by Evelyn Simak


Near the western edge of the Communal site, where Walcup's Lane becomes Mad Dog Lane, the largest (western-most) of the Nissen huts forming part of the Officers' mess is also still in place. The adjoining buildings however no longer exist, the only traces remaining being the concreted platforms they once stood on. The Officers' mess opened in the spring of 1944, replacing the Officers' Mess at Little Massingham manor, which was then owned by Lord and Lady Massingham. Immediately to the north of the Officers' mess the Squash court has also survived, converted to farm use.


TF7923 : The Officers' Mess by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : The Officers' Mess by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : The Officers' Mess by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : The Officers' Mess by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : Entrance to the former Officers' Mess by Evelyn Simak

TF7923 : The old Squash court by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : The old Squash court (interior) by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : The old Squash court (interior) by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : The old Squash court (interior) by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : The old Squash court by Evelyn Simak


One of the aerodrome's seven accommodation sites was located along what today is known as Greengate Lane, a track turning off Walcup's Lane and linking with the Peddars Way long distance footpath further south. No trace remains of the accommodation huts and associated buildings on this site, which has long since reverted to agriculture and is now part of a crop field. Part of the site has however since been taken over by a transmitter station and within this fenced-in compound the wartime high level Braithwaite water tank and a small pump house adjoining it, are still in place. One of the two more recently constructed masts on the site is the main DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) transmitter for the local radio station KLFM (its name is an abbreviation of King's Lynn FM, an independent local radio station located in King's Lynn). The old concrete track laid down during the war is now the service road leading to the transmitter station.


TF7822 : Communication masts beside Greengate Lane by Evelyn Simak TF7822 : Entrance into the WT station in Greengate Lane by Evelyn Simak TF7822 : WT station beside Greengate Lane by Evelyn Simak


Further to the north, beside Station Road, the main road leading through the villages of Great and Little Massingham, a small building remains standing, seemingly in use as a car garage, beside the entrance to Little Massingham Manor, now Little Massingham House. The structure presumably was the picket post guarding the RAF sites located within the park surrounding the manor house. A small campsite, one of the two WAAF camps, is indeed known to have been situated here.


TF7924 : Hut by the entrance to Little Massingham House by Evelyn Simak


After the war, Little Massingham Manor was purchased by Catholic nuns, the "Daughters of Jesus", serving as their Principal Headquarters. In later years it also became a convent and religious retreat centre, until it was sold in 1999. One of the convent's nuns, known in the community as Sister Laurence "Laurie" Mary, set up an RAF museum in the stable block, and when the property was sold the collection came under the care of the Massingham Historical Society who display the entire exhibition, designated the "Sister Laurence RAF Museum", once a year in St Mary's church in Great Massingham.

The second WAAF site was located a short distance further north-east, on the east side of Station Road just north of the junction with Church Lane, by Mill View Farm. A public footpath leads past this location but all the RAF buildings have long since been removed. The path leads in easterly direction towards The Rookery, where the station's Firing butts used to be situated. This location is now occupied by large poultry houses. Buildings on the WAAF sites included a Dining room, an Institute and a Laundry, as well as Nissen huts providing accommodation, and temporary brick buildings such as ablutions blocks and latrines.


TF7924 : Footpath to Little Massingham by Evelyn Simak TF7923 : Poultry houses by Hill Farm by Evelyn Simak


The aerodrome's sewage works were situated north of Church Lane. A farm track north-east of Middle Farm, opposite the pond on the edge of Summer Wood, leads past the location which has since reverted to agriculture. No trace remains of the waste and settlement tanks seen in an aerial view dating from 1946.


Fifty-two aircraft were lost and more than 150 aircrew stationed at RAF Great Massingham were killed in action over Europe or in flying accidents closer to home. Seven of these young airmen are buried in the churchyard of St Andrew's at Little Massingham village.

They are:

Squadron Leader Hugh JN Lindsaye (died 30 April 1941), 18 Squadron
- his Blenheim IV, V6389/OM crashed at Hillington during a training mission

Sergeant JC Wilson, observer (died 21 May 1941), 107 Squadron
- killed in action

Sergeant TPP Poole (died 19 February 1942), 107 Squadron
- his Boston III, W8319/OM crashed south-east of Flitcham Abbey during training

Pilot Officer AE Lockwood (died 1 April 1942), 107 Squadron
- his Boston III, AL264/OM crashed at base on return from a mission to Boulogne

Flight Sergeant GT Relph (died 27 August 1942), 107 Squadron
- his Boston III, AL715/OM is believed to have been shot down on a mission to Abbeville

Flying Officer CS Ronayne, navigator (died 11 June 1944)
- his Mosquito II, HJ916/TW-Y crashed at Newmarket during training

Flying Officer JR Watkins, navigator/wireless operator (died 15 January 1945)
- crashed his Mosquito VI, PZ340/HB at Narford Hall. JR Watkins served with 239 Squadron which was based at nearby West Raynham.


TF7924 : St Andrew's church in Little Massingham by Evelyn Simak

TF7924 : WW2 grave in St Andrew's churchyard by Evelyn Simak TF7924 : WW2 grave in St Andrew's churchyard by Evelyn Simak TF7924 : WW2 grave in St Andrew's churchyard by Evelyn Simak TF7924 : WW2 grave in St Andrew's churchyard by Evelyn Simak TF7924 : WW2 grave in St Andrew's churchyard by Evelyn Simak TF7924 : WW2 grave in St Andrew's churchyard by Evelyn Simak TF7924 : WW2 grave in St Andrew's churchyard by Evelyn Simak


A memorial stone commemorating aircrews of Nos. 98 and 342 ("Lorraine") Squadrons, who lost their lives when their aircraft crashed on 17 October 1942 and 22 May 1943, respectively, near the village of Weasenham St Peter about five kilometres further to the east, can be found near the war memorial by the Weasenham village sign.


TF8522 : Weasenham village sign by Evelyn Simak TF8522 : RAF memorial by Evelyn Simak TF8522 : RAF memorial by Evelyn Simak

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The remains of a light anti-aircraft (LAA) battery, seemingly the only one in Norfolk, and a crew shelter adjoining it, are now so overgrown that they can hardly be discerned. The entrance of the crew shelter is partially blocked; a large ventilation pipe can be seen emerging at the opposite end of the underground structure. One of the gun mountings was still in place when Norfolk Heritage archaeologists recorded the site in the 1990s. The battery guarded the north side of the flying field.


TF8124 : Remains of a WW2 light AA gun battery by Evelyn Simak TF8124 : Partially blocked entrance to LAA emplacement underground crew shelter by Adrian S Pye TF8124 : Remains of a WW2 light AA gun battery by Evelyn Simak


A F3/22-type pillbox can be seen in a crop field beside the public footpath to Grimston Heath, near West Heath Farm. It is believed that it formed part of the aerodrome's defences.


TF7721 : Pillbox in field near West Heath Farm by Evelyn Simak

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My grateful thanks go to Mr. Steve Drewery, Mr. Drewery Sr. and Mr. David Harrison for sharing information and kindly allowing access to their wartime RAF buildings. Additional information was taken from the book "RAF Great Massingham - A Norfolk Airfield at War" by Peter B Gunn, which I would highly recommend for further reading.


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