Airfield’s turbulent past

Pictured is the view of the airfield as you come in to land - Haddenham Aerial View
Pictured is the view of the airfield as you come in to land - Haddenham Aerial View
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Tucked away in rural Bucks, it might come as a surprise to many people to learn that Haddenham airfield was once a hub of international smuggling and a key site for training Second World War pilots.

But through much of the 1940s, 50s and 60s these sort of activities were common, and there were also spells when the airfield was used for testing large model aircraft as targets for anti-aircraft guns and motorcycle racing.

Feature on Haddenham Airfield - The Upward Bound Trust take Lord Williams School student Abbi Humphris gliding as part of her Duke of Edinburgh award - pictured on her maiden flight wih Peter Bryant - basic trainer

Feature on Haddenham Airfield - The Upward Bound Trust take Lord Williams School student Abbi Humphris gliding as part of her Duke of Edinburgh award - pictured on her maiden flight wih Peter Bryant - basic trainer

Peter Chamberlain has spent years researching the history of the airfield and says much of what went on was just like something out of an action film.

In one particularly daring episode during the Arab-Israeli conflict in the late 1940s, a pilot called Emanuel Zur set about trying to smuggle six Bristol Beaufighter aircraft to Israel through Haddenham airfield.

To do this, he came up with a plan where they pretended to be filming the aircraft at the site. When they were ready to take the aircraft out of the country, they submitted plans to fly to Scotland but instead headed out to Israel.

Mr Chamberlain, who learned to glide at the airfield, said: “It was real Hollywood stuff what they got up to in order to find the arms to fight with.

“It was not a one-off incident. The more I delved into it the more I found it was rife with stuff going out to Israel.

“For such a small airfield that not many people know about, it has a lot of variety to its past.”

The airfield was first set up in the mid-1930s as Aylesbury Airport by John Coxon. The plan was to establish a full-scale airport operation, but this never got off the ground. As a result there was little activity until the Ministry of Defence requisitioned the airfield in 1939 and it became RAF Thame.

Pilots were trained there throughout much of the war and there was even a visit from the King and Queen in 1941 to see a demonstration.

Training remains one of the central purposes of the airfield thanks to the Upward Bound Trust, founded in 1965 and open to anyone who wants to learn to glide. Despite the changing times, not too much has changed, according to chief flying instructor Michael Clark.

He said: “When the trust was set up the original instructors were the war-time pilots who had flown there and been on military operations. The idea was for it to run for a couple of years but we are still going strong. The way we teach now is not much different from then.”

Read more about the history of Haddenham airfield at www.haddenhamairfieldhistory.co.uk. For more information on the Upward Bound Trust go to www.ubt.org.uk/index.html