11/11/09 - RAF Blakehill Farm WW2.

Once again 11/11 approaches. As always I will be travelling six miles to the now disused (since 1952) RAF Blakehill Farm. This airfield was built in 1944 in preparation for Operation Overlord and it is hard to believe now that the empty farmland and country park once contained over 500 structures (US Engineers?)


Here were based US, Canadian and RAF personnel operating Dakota aircraft and Waco/Hadrian gliders.


The first two pictures show a returning casevac Dakota and the RAF nurses that flew in it. The third picture shows one of the casualty wards as it is today 65 years after being built and the final picture shows an RAF 233 Sqn Dak flying from Blakehill Farm.







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Very well could be the engineers who built the field. They did a lot of those jobs over in England. Maybe we can find some further information. I would look on David's site:




He has a gold mine of info.


Thanks for posting those awesome photos. Hats off to the girls!!!

Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon
There's "No Bridge Too Far"

Thank you for the link Marion but it does'nt list any UK airfield construction. I am still researching the possibility that US Aifield Construction Engineers were involved at Blakehill Farm and following up other leads. With their huge presence here in the south west of the UK it is hard to believe they were'nt involved. I will let you know if I come up with anything but I'd also ask anyone reading this who might help my quest to get in touch.




Hi Colin, here`s some info i came up with that should help you.



A Guide to the Stations Where U .S . Army Air Forces Personnel

Served in the United Kingdom During World War II


Captain Barry J . Anderson, USAF

Research Division

USAF Historical Research Center

Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama

31 January 1985



Quote from the .pdf :

Airfield construction can be divided between a small number built by

U .S . engineers and a greater number constructed by the British . American

aviation engineering battalions built Andrews Field (Great Saling), Birch,

Boreham, Chipping Ongar, Debach, Eye, Glatton, Gosfield, Great Dunmow,

Harrington, Matching, Nuthamstead, Raydon, and Stansted (Mountfichet) .

Harrington was constructed for the RAF in exchange for Little Staughton,

built by the British for the USAAF .


From a Wiki page on RAF Birch :





Birch Airfield was allocated in August of 1942 to the United States Army Air Force Eighth Air Force for development into a heavy bomber base but construction work did not get under way until well into 1943. In October 1943 the base was transferred to the Ninth Air Force.


Birch was constructed by the 846th Engineer Battalion, U.S. Army, and it was the last of the UK airfields to be completed by a unit of the U.S. Army.


Looks to me like the British airfields after 1943 were built by the RAF Airfield Construction Service.




Units of what became the RAF Airfield Construction Service in 1943 built 23 Advanced Landing Grounds in Kent, Sussex and Hampshire from which fighter and fighter bomber squadrons were able to operate over the Channel and the D-Day beaches.


Here`s another page:

Stansted -The Early Years (1942 -1966)

Text of BAA Stansted publication



Wartime Beginnings

EARLY IN 1942, an historic decision was made by the British war-time government and American military officials to build a United States Army Air Force base on a plateau close to the village of Stansted Mountfitchet in Essex.


The first American unit, the 817th Aviation Engineering Battalion, arrived at Renfrew Farm on 8th August 1942. They were met by Mr. Grossman, the manager of the farm owned by a Jewish community in London’s East End. The battalion’s role was to begin the conversion of the typical English green fields into a huge military airfield. They would have been unaware, at that time, that over fifty years later their early efforts would culminate in the establishment of the third airport for London, with one of the world’s most state-of-the-art terminal buildings.


The 817th Battalion left Stansted in November 1942 and their work was continued by the 825th Aviation Battalion who had arrived at the Essex site in October. The 825th completed the airfield roads, as well as the control tower, fire station and motor transport section, before leaving in December 1943.


Work on the runways and taxiways began in May 1943 with the arrival of the 850th Aviation Engineering Battalion who remained at Stansted until April 1944.


By October 1943 Stansted had become the largest 9th USAAF base in East Anglia covering 3,000 acres, designated AAF Station No 169, and equipped with a main runway 6,000ft x 1 SOft and two subsidiary runways, each 4,2001t x 150ft.


In February 1944, the 344th Bombardment Group, squadrons 494,495, 496, and 497 moved in and flew their first operational mission on 6th March 1944. In September 1944, the Group moved to France.


Stansted also became an important maintenance base for aircraft of the 8th and 9th Air Forces operating from bases throughout East Anglia.




Thank you very much for all this information, at least I know Blakehill Farm's number in the register. I have a meeting farily locally on Saturday next which might help my research. I will of course come back here with anything I can find out!




The story of Colin`s photo showing the nurses that flew on the evac flights. the photo is of the first 3 WAAF nurses the flew to Normandy. here`s the obituary of Edna Morris & the story of "The Flying Nightingales" from the webpage: http://www.wospweb.com/site/RAF-Broadwell/


"The Flying Nightingales"

This is the obituary to Edna Morris who was not actually at RAF Broadwell but flew from RAF Blakehill Farm nr Swindon to deal with the casualties on D-Day, so she probable dealt with a good many men who flew from RAF Broadwell.



Edna Morris a nurse with the WAAF who was one of the first three women to fly to France after the D-Day invasion

Click on image for a larger version

EDNA MORRIS, who has died aged 80, was one of the first three women - known as "the Flying Nightingales" - to land in Normandy after D-Day; as a nursing orderly in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), she flew on the first RAF transport aircraft to evacuate the wounded from the French battlefields.

On the evening of June 5 1944, Edna Birkbeck, as she then was, was on duty at RAP Blakehill Farm, near Swindon, when the aircraft of her squadron, No 233, took off for Normandy. "Nobody mentioned an invasion, of course," she later .:,recalled, "but everybody knew."

On June 12, the nurses were called together to be briefed on the invasion by an RAF medical officer. Corporal Lydia Alford, LACW Myra Roberts and LACW Edna Birkbeck were asked to remain behind at the end of the briefing when they were told that they would be on the first casualty evacuation flights from .,;Normandy.

They were issued with parachutes and Mae West life jackets, which drew from one airman the comment, "Hey fellas, they're going in before we are". No Red Cross markings were allowed on the aircraft since they were transporting supplies.

Meanwhile in France, as soon as a foothold had been gained, the men of the Royal Engineer Airfield Construction Group had bulldozed a series of airstrips from the Normandy fields. The first was accepting RAF fighters the day after the landings, while the second, B2 at Bazenville near Bayeux, was rearming and re-fuelling Spitfire and Typhoon fighters two days later.

With the construction of more airstrips - 20 in the first two , months - there was sufficient capacity for transport aircraft to land with supplies. Since they would be empty for the return flight, casualties could be evacuated.

On D-Day+7 (June 13) three Dakotas of No 233 Squadron took off from Blakehill Farm and met an escort of Spitfires over Selsey Bill before heading for the B2 airstrip. On board each was a WAAF nursing orderly, including 20-year-old Edna Birkbeck. After four tons of supplies had been unloaded at B 2, 14 stretcher cases and six sitting wounded were loaded on to the aircraft ready for an immediate return to England. The nurses had to deal with horrifying injuries. Many young men were missing limbs or had their faces burnt or blown away; treatment such as amputations, transfusions and colostomies had often been improvised on the field. But, as Edna Birkbeck later explained, "you couldn't let it get to you".

Before the return flight she was driven along the beaches to see the battlefield as British soldiers marching to the front exclaimed: "Blimey! Womenl"

On landing back at Blakehill Farm a few hours later, the Dakota crews were met by 42 press correspondents representing many British, Canadian and American newspapers. They immediately dubbed the WAAFs "the Flying Nightingales", a name that was to remain with the air ambulance nurses for the rest of the campaign.

Edna Birkbeck was born in

Northamptonshire on August 31 1924 and educated locally at Wellingborough. After leaving school she became a trainee nurse and in February 1943 she joined the WAAF as a nursing orderly "for excitement" and was trained at Morecambe and Sidmouth before moving to RAF Medmenham in Buckinghamshire. Shortly afterwards she responded to a call for volunteers for air ambulance duties, although she was not entirely sure what was involved.

Following training at Hendon she was posted to Blakehill Farm in February 1944 to be attached to No 233. During the period leading up to D-Day she and her two colleagues flew on training exercises with the squadron.

Four days after the first flight, Edna Birkbeck received a letter from Air Marshal Harold Whittingham offering her his congratulations on being one of the first three women to land in France at the opening of'the Second Front.

The evacuations of June 13 were deemed a success and paved the way for the large-scale evacuation of wounded soldiers from France. By the end of June, 1,092 stretcher cases and 467 sitting wounded had been evacuated by No 233's Dakotas. Edna Birkbeck flew a further 60 casualty evacuation operations from airfields in Belgium, Holland and Germany. Despite the severity of the injuries (and, on one occasion, a crash landing after engine failure), none of her patients ever died on one of her flights, a fact of which she was justly proud. "They always wanted tea, those that could drink," she recalled. "We'd carry an industrialsized urn. And they'd always want to know when we were over the coast. I'd tell them that and say: `It won't be long before you're home'. And they'd cheer."

She was also on board one of the first aircraft to land at Copenhagen following the German surrender. After the victory in Europe, she continued to fly with No 233 as the squadron returned repatriated PoWs to England.

During her time at Blakehill

Farm Edna Birkbeck met Flight Sergeant Glyn Morris, a wireless operator/air gunner flying with No 233. They were married in March 1945, and six months later she left the WAAF. She remained, however, a strong supporter of the No 233 Squadron Association and regularly attended the squadron's annual reunions. She kept her war ; mementoes, including her log book and lapel pins.

After several years devoted to bringing up her children she was employed running the sports department of a shop in Gloucester. Glyn Morris died in 1987.

Edna Morris, who died on October 24, is survived by her three daughters.

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Thank you for adding this information Larry, it is very interesting and shows the importance of RAF Blakehill farm.



Thanks for the story regarding Edna and the Nightingales. They can never receive enough credit for their duties!
Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon
There's "No Bridge Too Far"

I visited the Cricklade museum and found a wealth of information on RAF Blakehill Farm there. It was built in 1943/44 by the Air Ministry Works Directorate, civillian manned and known as 'Works & Bricks'! Around 300 construction labourers were involved, mainly Irishmen. A total of 386 building were constructed some of which remain to this day and some roads and taxi-tracks are also still in existance, but the bulk of the airfield has reverted to farmland.


Three days ago on Remembrance Sunday I was there at the two memorial cairns with a maple tree in the background, to remember the British, Canadian and US servicemen who gave their lives on sorties from this base in 1944 & 1945.


I have attached one further casevac photo showing how cramped the interior of a Dakota was when used to bring the wounded back to the UK!




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