Military History Tours On Tour - Bomber Command (RAAF in the UK) 12 July 2014
We visited the Shuttleworth Collection this morning which has all its planes able to fly and they do so. In the collection is the oldest British designed plane that still flies and an original Bleriot, the first plane to cross the English Channel. This plane is flown on special occasions but only when the weather suits.
But before we set out from our Swan Hotel, on the side of the River Ouse, a few of us visited the fruit and vegetable markets in the Bedford Market Square. This square, adjacent to the church, has been used as the market square for over a thousand years. The produce is reasonably priced of excellent quality, as can be seen in the photos and is one of those benefits for the UK being in the EU, maybe the only one?
While at the Shuttleworth Collection we were able to watch a few of the planes take off for Duxford where they will be performing tomorrow and we will be there at the air show to watch them go through their routines.
We had lunch in the Café there before heading off to Tempsford. During the War, Tempsford was a special airfield, highly classified and covered with intrigue that was not to surface into the public arena until the period of the Official Secret Act ran its course. This was the airfield where all the clandestine operations into Norway, France and Holland departed from. The dropping of agents into France to support and train the Maquis, the recovery of downed airmen, dropping supplies to the underground in all three countries and so on.
I had taken our tour previously to the church in the town as there is a small chapel set there for all who were lost while operating from Tempsford but as gaining access to the church was proving difficult I was not planning to return this year. However, I was informed that in December 2013, Prince Charles dedicated a new Memorial in the village to all those who operated out of this airfield and to those who had paid the supreme sacrifice. One side of the memorial is to the women who were dropped into occupied France, Norway and Holland never o return. Odette was one of those women. Our own famous Nancy Wake left from here to enter occupied France and her story is known to many of us as the White Mouse.
Nancy Grace Augusta Wake AC, GM served as a British agent during the later part of World War II. She became a leading figure in the maquis groups of the French Resistance and was one of the Allies' most decorated servicewomen of the war.
While standing outside the entrance to the private farm, that was Tempsford Airfield, a lady living there came out to the security gate and advised us that we could walk through the woods at the bottom of the road and be able to access the old runway. We thanked her and set off through the woods and paddocks. After around one kilometre we did strike the runway and proceeded a further kilometre to where we found an old barn. This barn, at the extreme end of the airfield was where the agents were issued their gear before boarding their aircraft and where all supplies were kept for the underground.
This was an excellent find and the barn now is a living memorial to those who left it never to return, Odette herself one of those brave agents.
Returning to the coach we farewelled Tempsford and headed over the Thurleigh where we were hoping to visit the museum at the airfield there. However, due to the time in Tempsford the museum was closed but we were able to view the airfield from where the 306 US Bomber Group had operated and this Group was the first to bomb Germany. As it was very hot and we had been walking through the jungle, sorry woods, we found a small country pub on the side of the River Ouse and had a refreshing drink before returning to Bedford for dinner. What a day!!