A photographer has travelled to the sites of old RAF bases, hoping to capture their history from behind the camera...
A young photographer from Bedfordshire, United Kingdom has chosen to take advantage of Britain’s lockdown easing following the effects of Covid-19 by visiting the sites of decommissioned RAF bases. Looking to expand his portfolio as well as discover the fascinating history of the bases, Adam Simpkins travelled to the sites across the counties of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire. During wartime, these relatively flat counties were prime locations for RAF bases, as they were positioned close to the coast. This was ideal for the location of runways and airbases whose personnel were required to quickly be at the heart of attacks over occupied Europe.
RAF Tempsford was the first decommissioned base to be visited. Ear marked by some as the most secret airbase is in the entirety of World War II, it ran covert SOE operations out of the airfield. Home to 138 and 161 squadrons, operations included dropping supplies and agents into occupied Europe. Today, not much remains other than the faint outline of the perimeter track and runways. One of the buildings which still stands is the original barn. Known as Gibraltar Farm, several plaques and memorials dedicated to the brave men and women who flew from the airfield are contained inside. Many of these individuals were killed in the war effort after being captured and tortured.
RAF Steeple Morden
Next to be visited was the site of RAF Steeple Morden. Steeple Morden was used in varying different capacities throughout the war. In use from 1940-1946, its first two years were dedicated to being a grass satellite dispersal airfield used by No. 11 Operational Training Unit (OTU) of RAF Bomber Command. The No. 3 (coastal) OTU also used the airfield during this time. Following this, Steeple Morden was used predominantly by the United States Army Air Forces up to the end of the war. Today, a striking memorial stands to the side of the carriageway as a nod to the soldiers and aviators whose war effort was centred at the air base.
The oldest of each of the decomissioned bases visited, RAF Fowlmere has over 100 years of aviation history, beginning its life before World War I as a training airfield. Following this, the base was acquisitioned by the Royal Air Force and was home to No. 124, 125 and 126 Squadrons. Upon the outbreak of World War II, Fowlmere was intended as a satellite airfield for RAF Duxford. Most notable of the squadrons to have used the base is 19 Squadron, who were the first to fly the iconic Supermarine Spitfire in World War II. Since its decommissioning, the concreted areas and buildings of RAF Fowlmere were ground into aggregate and sold for construction projects. Now, little remains of the base to indicate its previous use as an active airfield, other than part of a secondary runway which is now used for light aircraft, and a small memorial for the men and women who flew from the airfield.
Lastly, RAF Twinwood is perhaps the most well preserved of the decommissioned RAF bases. It is well known as the final airfield from which American musician Glenn Miller took off before his plane was lost over the channel, never to be seen again. There is now a museum in his honour in the grounds of the original complex. The only accessible area being an original taxiway and a Aviation petrol installation, the former runways have been returned to agricultural use.
As 2020 is the year that the world was forced to stop and slow down, it is a wonderful thing to be able to take time and look back upon the events of 80 years ago.
All images: Adam Simpkins