The ending of Len Deighton’s meticulously researched novel “Bomber” is in my opinion some of the most poignant written words to appear in a book. He describes visiting the fictional bomber airfield of Warley Fen, walking up the steps into the decaying control tower and ending up writing a book about it. A visit on Google Earth reveals the remnants of many more than fifty airfields scattered throughout Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire. The buildings may have gone, but the ghostly outlines of runways, perry tracks and dispersals remain. And so according to legends do the spirits of some of the 55,000 young men who died during Bomber Command’s offensive against Germany and the Axis forces.
What is amazing is the sheer number of reports by many people from different locations and spread over the years. Many people have reported events and frankly, they can’t all be made up, but are they true apparitions? There are many, too numerous to recount so here is just a flavour. More information is here:
Bonby – Skies over the area. A large aircraft moved silently over the tree tops, so low that the witness thought it would land or crash into a field. It was later identified by the witness as an Avro Lancaster.
Boscombe Down – RAF base. A pilot killed when his new aircraft crashed into the sea was heard walking about his hut at night, his wet footfalls slopping on the floor.
Burtonwood – Old airfield. An airman has been observed standing around with no head – it is thought that he was decapitated as he tried to bail out prior to crash landing.
Cranwell – Runway of post-World War I Naval Air Station. A group photograph taken here in 1919 shows the face of an engineer who died three days before; Freddy Jackson had tripped and fallen into the blades of an aircraft ready for take-off.
Digby – RAF Digby. Cycling along on an old bike, this phantom RAF officer once stopped and asked two guards for the control tower to be opened for him. When they agreed, the officer vanished. On other occasions, lights were reported moving around the control tower, though it would be locked and empty.
East Kirkby – East Kirkby Watch Tower (now an aviation heritage centre). A USAAF officer has been seen several times in the old watch tower. He is thought to have been killed when a Flying Fortress crash landed near the site in 1944. The same figure is thought to have been seen on the runway – dragging his parachute behind him, he slowly moves towards the control tower.
Elsham Wold – Former RAF base and flight tower (no longer standing). A family living in the tower after the war reported hearing Morse messages being tapped out, seeing pilots dressed in flying gear, and even once watching a large aeroplane taking off from the disused runway, baring the code letters PM. (PM was the squadron code for No 20 Squadron, which flew Hurricanes in the Far East, so the account is somewhat strange.)
Grantham – Old RAF Spitalgate, now RLC Transport base. Joe ‘Tiny’ Harris, a former telephone operator during the Second World War, has been seen standing in the shadows, heard walking down corridors, and is blamed for flicking lights on and off.
Great Driffield – Driffield RAF base. A pilot who bailed from his aircraft above the airfield landed on the tower while in a controlled descent, though died falling from the tower onto the ground. His shadow has been seen slowly parachuting onto the building.
Hemswell – RAF Hemswell. Two ghosts have been reported at this former World War Two airbase. A pilot who crash landed runs down the runway with his clothes on fire, while an engineer who lost his arm in machinery staggers around screaming. A ghostly rendition of the Missouri Waltz is also reported.
Honington – RAF Honington. Two RAF police officers spotted a man dressed in Second World War flying kit smoking a cigarette between two barbed wire fences. They challenged the man, who turned away, walked through one of the fences, and faded away. A local story reports that a USAF bomber exploded on take-off during the war, and one of the crew’s bodies was never found.
Lindholme – Former WW2 Air Force Base. A Polish airman who died when he crash-landed, ‘Pete the Pole’, aka ‘Lindholme Willie’, turned up at the airbase several times in the years following his death. Even when the former airbase was replaced by a prison in later years, the pilot reportedly turned up in prisoner’s cells. In 1957 a misty shape was seen walking along the runway before vanishing, while in 1977 a shuffling figure crossing the parade square was spotted by an Air Traffic Assistant. The figure disappeared into the shadows by a sealed door.
A witness recalled how he and a friend were walking across the deserted airfield at night, and seeing a strange light in the control tower. Both knowing that the building should have been empty, the illumination unnerved them slightly. As they passed by a hanger, they were suddenly surrounded by the sounds of activity – they could hear the hanger doors screeching open, the engines of aircraft starting up, and the patter of many pairs of feet running by them, though nothing could be seen.
© Blown Periphery 2017
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