A Wartime Station, RAF Station Bourn

Bourncontroltower
RAF Station Bourn Control Tower, 1942. Prince George, Duke of Kent, is third from the left. He was killed in an air crash on 25 August 1942.

In the rainy twilight of a winter’s afternoon in 1943-44, RAF Station Bourn could not have looked a very attractive sight It was a typical wartime airfield, constructed of many temporary buildings, clustered in different dispersed sites around the airfield. Some 2,500 people were living and working in this makeshift town, pieced together from concrete, corrugated iron, and wood.


The most solidly constructed building was the Control Tower, the central nucleus around which the station revolved. It dominated the skyline on the edge of the airfield in the perfect position to oversee the three concrete runways.


Numerous one-storey prefab huts clustered behind it, some with pitched roofs, some with rounded, whilst down at the bottom of the airfield the tall narrow shape of Bourn Grange heralded yet another extensive huddle of Nissen huts, amongst them those of Station Sick Quarters with its hospital, ambulance garage, and mortuary. 

bourn the grange
The Grange in springtime 1997

 

RAF Station Bourn had only been in existence since 1941.  It was sited on the extensive lands of Bourn Grange, between the Grange itself and what little remained of the buildings of the home farm, Grange Farm.

Ruins of the Sergeants’ Mess in the 1980s. The photograph at the top of the page shows similar buildings around ten years later, in 1997, gradually dropping to pieces at the very bottom of what used to be RAF Station Bourn.

 

BOWSERS
Erks with their petrol bowsers outside one of the Grange Farm barns. Walter Bushby, an electrician, is thought to be third from the left. The bowser on the right has its name ‘Big Ben’ painted above the windscreen. The bowser on the left also has a name, which appears to be ‘Popeye’ after the cartoon character.

The prevailing winds at the airfield were south-westerly. It was therefore seldom that the Lancasters of 97 squadron would take off using the shortest runway of all, NW.-SE., which meant that just after becoming airborne they would pass over Highfields and Hardwick, close to St Mary’s Church. When they did so, it was an awesome experience for the village folk. A local man, Bob Plane, recalled the Lancasters straining and labouring to gain height as they came directly over Hardwick:

“They used to come over the tops of the houses, laden with bombs, and one would think ‘Please God, let them get over’. You would be sitting there with a cup of tea, and when they had gone over the saucer was full of tea and the cup was only half full because of the vibrations.”

The bombers would all conglomerate overhead, gathering together before they headed off for Germany, “it was a hell of a noise”. Together with the roar of Bourn’s aircraft taking off, there would be the distant growl of others taking off from neighbouring airfields, and then the huge pack would set out into the gathering darkness, the roar of their great engines gradually receding.

Bourn runway NE-SW
The NE-SW runway in 2014, looking up to what used to be the Grange Farm site, marked here by a crane.

 

 

 

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