As a boy growing up during World War Two in the east of England, we saw many things that at the time we did not consider important, but looking back to that time, we now realise would never be repeated.
The British government, during the first years of the war, saw the need for bomber bases that were able to reach into Germany. They built quite a number of these bases throughout the county of Lincolnshire which was situated on the east coast of England. By the end of 1942, some 25 bases had been established, 15 of which were within a thirty mile radius of our home.(see map) In addition, within this radius were two large airfields built as Air Training bases, Cranwell and Manby, the latter being within three miles of my home. As this placed us almost within Manby airfield circuit pattern, we became extremely familiar with every plane operated by the RAF as they flew endlessly over us. Spitfires, Hurricanes, Lancaster bombers, Mosquito fighters, and many others we soon could identify just by their sound.
Fifty years later, this allowed me to instantly identify a Lancaster bomber approaching my home in St. George, Ontario in the late 1990’s before I could see it, when the Hamilton Warbirds took their newly rebuilt Avro Lancaster for its first flight. When this plane flew to England in 2014 and toured with the only other airworthy Lancaster in the world, they spent time at several of these old bomber bases, Waddington near Lincoln and Cranwell, ten miles further south and now surviving as one of the RAF’s major training colleges.
I remember several times during the latter part of the war, seeing the evening sky filled with hundreds of Lancaster bombers massing from all these bases, fully loaded for their attack into the heart of Germany and heading for the coast on one of their “thousand bomber raids”. Many times over the years have I wished that I had had a camera to record this never to be seen again sight that is still etched in my memory. Frequently we would be wakened in the early hours of the morning as, one by one they straggled back, some fighting to stay airborne until they reached their home base, their engine noise sounding much different than when they had departed hours earlier burdened down with their bomb load. Losses were high, and one base about fifteen miles from us recorded the loss of around 140 Lancasters from their field alone during this period.
Scampton, the base immediately north of the city of Lincoln, housed the squadron of Lancasters that achieved fame for their daring raid to destroy the dams at Essen, and earning the name “Dambusters”. When I served my engineering apprenticeship in Lincoln from 1947 to 1952, some of the pubs we frequented had signed photos on the walls of many of the dambuster crews who had been regular customers, and we heard many tales from the bar keepers of their “exploits” while unwinding in town.
Most of these airfields were closed after the war’s end, but the outlines of the runways from which the bombers flew can still be identified in most. Satellite photos clearly show these runways, some still with weed filled concrete surfaces, but most just as outlines showing in the disturbed earth that they were there, a memento to the time when the sleepy farm country in Lincolnshire was anything but.