Revealed: the final landing place of wartime bombers

It was a secret base at the time, but it’s surprising how many people still don’t know that there was a Second World War airfield at Beechwood Park.

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 8th December 2013, 11:54 am
Bristol Blenheims
Bristol Blenheims

It was operational from May 1942 through to March 1946 after the land was requisitioned by the government as a safe haven for the storage of aircraft temporarily surplus to requirements, or at the end of their useful life – so although aircraft arrived, many never took off again.

There were more than 50 such sites dotted around the country and the locations were top secret.

The mile-long runway went from Ballingdon Farm, on a north east/south west line roughly at right angles to Beechwood House, and equidistant between it and Beechwood Farm.

It was a grass runway and was not equipped with any landing lights, so planes always landed in daylight, with both male and female pilots at the controls.

Various types of aircraft, including Sterlings, Bristol Blenheims and American Seamews, were flown to Beechwood and were there stored until needed, or dismantled for spare parts by a team of between 25 and 30 civilians, many of whom were local people.

Before they even reached their destination in Markyate, the planes had been stripped inside, including the radio systems.

Any fuel which remained in the tanks of the redundant aircraft was put to good use by some of the local farmers.

Dog handlers patrolled the airfield. Fred Smith was one of the dog handlers who came to Markyate from the training base at Staverton in Gloucestershire and he returned to the area after the war.

The handlers worked in shifts, but sometimes they would all go to Markyate Parish Hall – the ‘Iron Room’ – for dances, leaving the airstrip unguarded for the night!

This satellite landing ground was actually part of RAF Wroughton, near Swindon, but it was supplied from Wing in Buckinghamshire.

Three officers – two men and one woman – were in command and they lodged at the Sebright Arms in Markyate.

The dog handlers and the cook lived in Nissen huts near to Beechwood Farm.

The huts were not very comfortable and became very cold in winter.

However, this was made up for by being close to the farmhouse where milk and eggs were available from the Logan family.

Home-made cakes were also supplied, with the men helping around the farm or with the harvest in return for their treats.

Rabbits were shot with rifles borrowed from John Logan, and they were a valuable addition to the wartime diet.

When the airstrip closed, Fred Smith went to Wing, while the other handlers were disbanded.

Fred became the landlord of the Plume of Feathers from 1953 and his reminiscences were recorded in the booklet War And The Three Villages, produced by the Flamstead, Kensworth and Markyate History Societies in 1995.

There is a fuller description of the story in Eric Edward’s book A New History of Flamstead, published by the Flamstead Society in 1999.