RAF Church Broughton

(photo courtesy of Jean Hodson)

Not much remains of the former RAF Church Broughton airfield site, and as development and industry slowly consume the brick and concrete remains, please give a thought for the events that took place on and around this busy little backwater of world war two, and the many aircrew who lost their lives whilst based at Church Broughton.

Church Broughton was one of the last stages of training for dozens of aircrews who had left their homes in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Great Britain to fight a common enemy, and in many cases was the last peaceful period of their lives before becoming casualties or prisoners. Dozens of young men arrived as individuals, having trained as pilots, navigators, radio operators and air gunners, and left Church Broughton, as part of a newly formed crew, a bond that lasted a lifetime which, for some crews was only measured in weeks.

Local researcher James Davies is compiling a collection of photographs and documents that are building a picture of day to day life on the base, not only for the trainee aircrews, but also the instructors and civilians who lived on and around the site. If you can add to the research, or wish to read more, please contact him through this website or go to facebook and search “ RAF Church Broughton”.

Built in 1942, the airfield remained in use serving the defence of the realm until 1963, initially as a satellite airfield of 27 Operational Training Unit (27 OTU), whose main site was RAF Lichfield, and latterly as a vehicle storage depot for the Royal Army Ordnance Corps during the cold war period.

Between 1942 and 1945, the airfield was used by a wide variety of aircraft, mainly the Wellington Bombers that were the mainstay for 27 OTU, but was also �regularly visited by many other well-known aircraft including� Lancaster’s, Halifax’s, Liberators, B17’s and even the occasional spitfire.

The airfield had three concrete runways, two hangers, a watch tower (Control Tower), and a large number of smaller huts and buildings for training and infrastructure purposes. On the Eastern side there was a bomb dump and bomb fusing area, and the main site had a series of circular dispersal areas (shaped like a frying pan when seen from the air). The dispersals were spaced far enough apart to ensure that if the airfield was attacked, and an aircraft exploded, damage to other aircraft and buildings would be restricted.

The road which we all know as Heath top, has three original dispersals on it and was originally part of the perimeter track. The old road was obliterated during the construction of the airfield, and after the war the perimeter track became the road.� About 100m north of heath top was the underground battle headquarters cupola. This resembled a concrete pill box, with an observation slit overlooking the northern end of the airfield. This was a secondary control point should the watch tower be destroyed.

Situated in the fields around the airfield were an array of lights, these could be controlled from the watch tower and would be used to assist lost aircraft returning to base.� Church Broughton Church spire was equipped with a warning light, as it was considered a risk to approaching aircraft.

The western side of the airfield was the site for many of the technical and administrative buildings, scattered either side of Woodard lane. These included a radar workshop, gunnery training room, and flight rooms. One of the dispersals on the western side was situated near to a Machine Gun and cannon range, allowing guns in the aircraft turrets to be fired in situ into an earth mound.

The large hanger at the junction of Woodyard Lane and Uttoxeter Road is now occupied by a haulage company, but this was originally the main hanger for aircraft storage and maintenance. In 1944 it became the site of top secret Rolls Royce testing on early development jet engines. It was an important location and security was tightly controlled � Records show that when the pilot of a visiting American Aircraft took a photograph of one of the “special “aircraft, the Squadron Leader had him searched, the roll of file was confiscated, and he was sent on his way!

Towards Foston, there were three accommodation camps set up for off- site accommodation for the airmen. The remains of the nissen huts can be seen in a field on the left as you drive into Foston Village. On Coplow Lane in Foston was a smaller accommodation site specifically for the WAAF’s, the female contingent of the airfields complement. WAAF’S (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) were employed in many important roles on the airfield, and were key in operating teleprinters and radios, and in driving roles. For example it was often a WAAF who drove the crew to the dispersals prior to a mission.

Sadly, many of the airmen based at Church Broughton became casualties whilst flying on exercises, or on “Nickle” raids (Leaflet dropping over enemy held territory) . Some of those who died are buried At Scropton churchyard. One of the largest loss of lives occurred when a Wellington Bomber flown by a Czech aircrew crashed and exploded near Watery Lane Scropton in 1942.

The area was buzzing with aerial activity with aircraft from RAF Lichfield �and RAF Darley Moor and it was not uncommon for lost aircraft to suddenly appear in the circuit.� Visiting US aircraft were frequent visitors, B17 Flying Fortress aircraft and C47 Transport aircraft would often land to drop off visitors for the nearby US Hospital at Sudbury (Now Sudbury Prison).

The Airfield would often accommodate visitors from other stations, in one incident a Leading Aircraftman went to post a letter, and within minutes rang the Control tower to say he had collected a Canadian who had just baled out of an aircraft and walked into Church Broughton post office!

On another occasion a Czech Spitfire pilot whose aircraft had crashed near Hilton presented himself to the guardroom, looking for a bed for the night. Sometimes the numbers catered for �were much higher and when parts of a diverted Lancaster raid arrived at short notice over the airfield, hasty arrangements were made for beds to be provided for over 60 extra Australians from a RAAF squadron. Three of the aircraft were damaged and made priority landings, with one ending up overshooting the runway, crossing Uttoxeter Road and coming to rest in an opposite field. These aircraft had returned directly from a raid over enemy territory. The� Australian crews stayed the night at Church Broughton, and in the morning , the (undamaged ) Lancaster’s took off, and annoyed the flying control officer by staging an impromptu air display, each one doing a low flypast down the runway before leaving, �a morale boosting show� for the trainee Australians left on the ground.

Relics of the past are still coming to light and in October 2014, local Farmers Noel and Chris Latham discovered an ID dog tag belonging to a young Australian air gunner , EJ Kenealy. The dog tag was discovered on the 70th anniversary of the air gunner’s death over Stuttgart, and further research showed that he had been at Church Broughton during the summer of 1944, prior to his death on a raid from RAF Binbrook in October 1944. This young air gunner had lied about his age to get into the RAAF, spent months travelling to England, and spent part of his last summer in Church Broughton. How he came to lose his dog tag nobody will ever know, perhaps just larking about like most 18 year old lads do?

Further information is available on Facebook page� “RAF CHURCH BROUGHTON” please have a look and follow the site. This is not an exhaustive account and James Davies is still researching stories under the following tempting descriptions�.

“The day the RAF bombed Sudbury”

“The Dambuster at Church Broughton”

“A poem written in the 1960’s by a published poet, dedicated to an RAAF front Gunner who died in a crash in a wood close to Church Broughton”

“The firework display the day Hitler died”

If you can help please get in contact with James.