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RAF 100 at Norwich Airport

HISTORY

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Formed in 1918, the RAF was the world’s first independent air force. In 2018 it celebrates its 100th birthday.

Norwich Airport and the RAF have a long and proud shared history. And so, as part of the RAF’s centenary celebrations, this is the story of how Norwich Airport played a key role, in helping the RAF, to protect the people of Britain during wartime.

RAF Horsham St Faith

Norwich Airport, formerly RAF Horsham St Faith, was an operational RAF Bomber Command Station with both British and the US Airforce stationing squadrons there.

RAF Horsham St Faith played an important role as the base for several RAF bomber and fighter squadrons from 1939 to 1942 and the United States Army Air Force between 1942 and 1945. The RAF returned in 1945 and used the airfield until 1963.

The airport was built pre-war and had five C-type hangars, permanent brick and tiled buildings with central-heating and a high standard of domestic accommodation. The RAF left the airfield in 1967 but many of the World War II buildings remain today at Norwich Airport, although converted for a variety of purposes. Three of the five large pre-war hangars are still being used for aircraft maintenance. Two have been converted for commercial use. The control tower still exists as Norwich Airport’s training rooms. Air traffic continued to be controlled from this building until a new tower was built near the main runway in 1992. Many of the wartime buildings form part of the airport alongside some of the newer structures.

The airfield had some notable visitors, with the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain visiting in the early days and Princess Margaret paying a visit to RAF Horsham in 1956.

A package for a Prisoner of War

In August 1941, an aircraft from No. 18 Squadron RAF flying from Horsham St Faith en route to attack a power station at Gosnay, dropped a box by parachute over the south-west corner of the airfield at Saint- Omer-Longeunesse, containing a pair of legs for Wing Commander Douglas Bader who had been shot down over France and had lost his artificial limbs in the process.

Wing Commander Bader, who wore prosthetic limbs, descended under his parachute and is said to have noticed: “My right leg was no longer with me… the leather belt which attached it to my body had broken under the strain, and the leg, the Spitfire, and I had all parted company.” He was knocked unconscious and on waking he found two German soldiers removing his parachute. Bader was taken to hospital and from there made his first attempt to escape capture, via a rope of bedsheets through a window. However, he was soon captured by which time the RAF had delivered his replacement limb, addressed “This box contains an artificial leg for Wing Commander Bader, RAF, Prisoner of War. Please deliver to the following address: Commanding Officer, German Air Force, St Omer (Longuenesse) airfield”.

Bader remained a Prisoner of War until the camp was liberated in April 1945, almost four years after his capture and him being “a plain, bloody nuisance to the Germans”.

Post war, the airfield station was returned to the RAF as a front line station and was home to a number of aircraft types including RAF Mustang III’s, Gloster Meteor’s, Bristol Sycamore and Westland Whirlwind helicopters as well as the Gloster Javelin.

Today the City of Norwich Aviation Museum is located on part of the former RAF Horsham St Faith, sharing the story and history of RAF Horsham St Faith.

For more on the RAF’s first 100 years, visit www.raf.mod.uk/raf100/

Be part of the next 100 years?

Being part of the RAF is no ordinary job.

The Royal Air Force defends the United Kingdom from the skies, and it also protects and promotes peace across the globe by responding to threats, preventing conflict, delivering aid and combating cyber threats.

At this very moment, the RAF is engaged in 13 missions, on four continents, in 22 countries in its quest to promote peace and stability across the globe.

The nature of the RAF’s role is changing and that means the variety of skills it needs is changing too.

The RAF trains and develops world class pilots. But it also develops engineers, aircraft technicians, logistics specialists, cyberspace communication experts, medics, information analysts, catering and hospitality teams, HR and personnel support, musicians, chaplains, drivers, firefighters and many more.

A vibrant apprenticeship programme offers opportunities to young people from sixteen years of age.

Visit www.raf.mod.uk/recruitment/ to find out more.

 

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