The Joining of Two Airfields

In the first of a series of articles about the history of RAF Wittering, Squadron Leader Andy Tagg, Officer in Charge of the Station Heritage Centre, looks at how RAF Wittering came to have the longest landing strip and flare path in England.

In late 1941 and early 1942, RAF Wittering was conducting intense night fighter operations with the Bristol Beaufighter and Douglas Havoc. There had been several landing accidents involving the heavier twin-engine aircraft operating from the original airfield and the Station Commander, Group Captain Basil Embry, (later Air Chief Marshal Sir Basil Embry) asked for traffic lights to be installed on the Great North Road. Refused by the Ministry of Transport, he decided the only option was to extend the airfield to the west and conceived the idea of joining RAF Wittering with the satellite airfield at Collyweston.

Initial surveys suggested that this would involve the removal of approximately 1,500 trees as well as some ditches and hedges. His proposal was approved by higher authority, but the Works Staff at Headquarters Fighter Command estimated the job would take nine months to complete. Convinced the work would only take three weeks and offering to do it himself, Embry was told the matter would be reconsidered after the farmer, whose land bridged the gap between the two airfields, had harvested his potato crop.

Taking it upon himself to resolve the issue, Embry explained the problem to his airmen, before meeting the land owner, the Marquis of Exeter, who agreed to its requisition by the Air Ministry. Then armed with a bottle of whisky, he approached the tenant farmer and offered to buy his potato crop in the ground if he would let RAF Wittering have the land at once. The farmer was delighted to sell his crop without digging it up. Embry borrowed two steam engines to pull the trees out and heavy plant equipment to fill the ditches. He then spent £300 on grass seed for the land between the two airfields.

His only remaining problem was the provision of an electric flare path…

Read more in Wittering View Magazine Summer 2019