The village of Woodhall Spa is at the heart of what is often referred to as 'Bomber' County. By 1945 and the last few months of the 2nd World War the RAF and USAAF had 49 operational airfields in the county of Lincolnshire, with Lancaster bombers based at half of them. The majority of these bases have long since closed, but in recent years several have become the home for aviation heritage centres or the site for Squadron memorials. 617 Squadron (the 'Dambusters') operated from RAF Woodhall Spa from January 1944 to May 1945 and the Petwood Hotel was requisitioned by the Air Ministry to serve as the Officer's Mess. The village, is therefore an ideal base from which to tour these sites and those within a 15 mile radius are described below.
RAF Coningsby & the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight
Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Visitor Centre
Tel: 01526 344041
Five miles to the south of Woodhall Spa lies RAF Coningsby, a front line airbase. Coningsby is now home to 3, 11 and 29 Squadrons flying the Typhoon.
Coningsby is also the home of the Fast Jet and Weapons Operational Evaluation Unit (FJ&WOEU), badged 41 Squadron. The squadron flies the Typhoon and the Tornado GR4.
Finally, RAF Coningsby is the home of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF). BBMF will be celebrating its 60th Anniversary on the 27th of April 2017.
Avro Lancaster displaying the nose art of 61 Sqn's 'Mickey the Moocher in 2006. The Lancaster has since been repainted twice. First in the markings of 100 Sqn's 'Phantom of the Ruhr' and then 617 Sqns 'Thumper'.
The BBMF formed in 1957 and moved to RAF Coningsby in 1976, having previously been based at North Weald, Martlesham Heath, Horsham St Faith and Coltishall. BBMF now operates a Lancaster, five Spitfires and two Hurricanes. A Dakota and two Chipmunk aircraft are also on charge for crew training purposes.
The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum brought their prized Avro Lancaster to England in August 2014 for a six week long visit. The Lancaster joined the only other airworthy Lancaster in the world, owned and operated by the Royal Air Force's renowned Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF), and participated in several events around the UK. A selection of photos covering joint operations can be viewed in the gallery below.
Website: Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum
Opened to the public in 1986 in conjunction with Lincolnshire County Council you can now take a tour of the Memorial Flight conducted by ex-members of the Royal Air Force. The aircraft participate in many airshows around the country during the summer months, so check the information board by the car park for planned aircraft arrival and departure times.
Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk IXe with engine cowlings removed and sporting the colours of 443 Sqn RCAF.
For more information on the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight visit the Royal Air Force website: www.raf.mod.uk/bbmf
RAF Coningsby website: www.raf.mod.uk/rafconingsby
Find RAF Coningsby on Google Earth: 53° 5' 39'' North 0° 10' 51 West.
LN10 6QF Tel: 01526 353473
Fax 01526 353473
Many of the large houses in Woodhall Spa played an important role during both World Wars by opening up as hospitals for the sick and wounded. In addition to these, one of the most famous wartime squadrons was situated in the town.
Petwood House was originally the home of Sir Archibald and Lady Weigall, but during the war it was requisitioned by the Royal Air Force and in 1943 it became the Officers Mess for 617 Squadron ( the 'Dambusters') who flew from RAF Woodhall Spa.
The house is now a beautiful country hotel, set in 30 acres of attractive gardens and woodland. The Squadron Bar is dedicated to this famous group of men and houses a collection of photographs and memorabilia.
Visit the Petwood Hotel website: www.petwood.co.uk
The Dambuster Memorial erected in 1987, serves memory to the heroes of 617 Squadron. The monument stands in Royal Square, formally the site of the Royal Hydro Hotel and Winter Gardens which were both destroyed by a bomb in 1943.
For more information on the Dambusters raid visit: www.dambusters.org.uk
617 Sqn Memorial
On the 19th of May 2013 a new memorial was unveiled in Royal Square Woodhall Spa. This granite memorial is dedicated to more than thirty members of the squadron who have died since the 2nd World War
Thorpe Camp Visitor Centre
Tel: 01526 342249
Tattershall Thorpe Visitor Centre
Formerly part of RAF Woodhall Spa. The site was constructed in 1940 and housed the Officer's and Sergeant's Messes, Airmen's dining hall and NAAFI building. Several of the buildings have been returned to their original condition and now house displays depicting the stories and the history of RAF Woodhall Spa and the Squadrons based there during World War II.
Other displays are devoted to 'Civilian Life in Lincolnshire' 'Arnhem in Lincolnshire' and the Air Training Corps'.
Thorpe Camp preservation Group Secretary:
Tel: 07963 513287
RAF Woodhall Spa is located just a couple of miles away. Although the runways have long since gone, there is still an engine testing site here controlled by RAF Coningsby and buildings belonging to the bomb dump can are still standing in Ostler's Plantation.
Visit the Thorpe Camp Visitor Centre website: http://thorpecamp.wix.com/visitorscentre
Google Earth: Lat 53° 7' 12'' North, Long 0° 11' 00'' West
RAF Woodhall Spa Dispersals and Bomb Dump
If you take a walk through Ostler's Plantation you will encounter the concrete circular hard-standings once occupied by Lancaster bombers on the northern perimeter of RAF Woodhall Spa. Elsewhere in the forest are numerous revetted bomb stores and magazines linked by a concrete track.
97, 617 and 627 Squadrons operated from RAF Woodhall Spa during WW2. From the late 1950's to 1965 the airfield was the base for Bloodhound Missiles. Most of the old airfield has now been quarried for sand and gravel, however some of the dispersals and several buildings belonging to the bomb dump are still visible in Ostler's plantation. Go the Heritage page for a full description of RAF Woodhall Spa 'past and present'
Visit the 617 Squadron (Dambusters) website: www.dambusters.org.uk
Visit the 627 Squadron website: www.627squadron.co.uk
Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre
East Kirkby Airfield
Tel: 01790 763207
An aircraft museum based on the former 1940's RAF Bomber Command airfield of East Kirkby. Displays include Avro Lancaster bomber 'Just Jane', an original Barnes Wallis bouncing bomb, WW2 control tower, air raid shelter and blast shelter. Although 'Just Jane' is not airworthy the four Merlin engines can frequently be heard as the aircraft makes taxi runs to entertain visitors in the Summer months.
For the latest information please visit the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre website: www.lincsaviation.co.uk
Metheringham Airfield Visitor Centre
Metheringham Airfield Westmoor Farm
The Visitor Centre is on the site of the former Bomber Command airfield known as RAF Metheringham. The Avro Lancasters of 106 Squadron flew from here between 1943 and 1945. Although little remains of the airfield, the former ration store has been restored and now houses an exhibition of photographs, uniforms, artifacts and memorabilia relating to the airfield and 106 Squadron.
The Visitor Centre is situated at Westmoor Farm on the B1189 Sleaford to Metheringham road. Head west from Woodhall Spa on the B1191 through the village of Martin. The centre is directly opposite the junction with the B1189.
Easter To October
Wednesdays 12.00 noon - 4.00pm
Saturdays, Sundays & Bank Holidays
12.00 noon - 5.00pm
Visit the Friends of Metheringham Airfield website: www.metheringhamairfield.co.uk/
The airfield opened on the 20th of October 1943 and was occupied by 106 Sqn during November. In March 1946 the airfield was put into 'Care and Maintenance ' and returned to agricultural use in early 1947.
Most of the taxiways and sections of two runways remain and are still in use as farm tracks and storage sites. A substantial number of buildings, including the ruined control tower, can be seen from the roads.
RAF Digby Sector Operations Room Museum
"L" Sector Operations Room Museum
Group bookings (Tel) : 01526 327262
e-mail : email@example.com
An RAF sector operations room restored to how it was at the outbreak of World War Two, complete with plotting table, state boards, period furniture and equipment and contemporary side offices.
RAF Digby is still an operational station, however it is not used for flying. On the B1188 north of Sleaford.
Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
High Flight’ was composed by Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., an American serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was born in Shanghai, China in 1922, the son of missionary parents, Reverend and Mrs. John Gillespie Magee. His father was an American and his mother was originally a British citizen. In 1939 he went to the United States and earned a scholarship to Yale, but in September 1940 he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and graduated as a pilot. He was sent to England for combat duty in July 1941.
In August or September 1941, Pilot Officer Magee composed ‘High Flight’ and sent a copy to his parents. Then on the 11th of December 1941, whilst serving with 412 Squadron, his Spitfire collided with another plane in cloud over Digby, Lincolnshire and Magee, only 19 years of age, crashed to his death. His remains are buried in Scopwick cemetery just 9 miles from Woodhall Spa. His grave, and several others including a Luftwaffe crew, are beautifully tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Follow the signs from the village church or access directly from a small side road off the B1188.
His poem has been adopted by pilots the world over and is often read at Remembrance Day ceremonies.
Other places of interest
There are several more aviation heritage sites within a 15 mile radius of Woodhall Spa.
The disused airfields of:
RAF Bardney - Control tower still standing and memorial to 9 Squadron in the village of Bardney.
RAF Coleby Grange - Derelict control tower still standing.
RAF Fiskerton - Memorial and plaques alongside former runway and in Fiskerton church.
These airfields are still active:
RAF Cranwell: www.cranwell.raf.mod.uk
RAF Waddington - now hosts one of the largest annual airshows in the country . Waddington Airshow website: www.waddingtonairshow.co.uk
Daily operations can be observed from a purpose built viewing enclosure on the A15.
RAF Wickenby - now a civilian airfield. Memorial stone at the entrance dedicated to 12 and 626 Squadrons. The RAF Wickenby Memorial Collection is housed in the former Watch Office: www.wickenbymuseum.co.uk
Visit the RAF Lincolnshire website: raf-lincolnshire.info/index.htm
Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire website: www.aviationheritagelincolnshire.com/
Coming soon - the International Bomber Command Centre
Blue Bell Inn
Tel: 01526 342206
Three miles south of Woodhall Spa on the road to Coningsby and very close to Thorpe Camp Visitor Centre. The Blue Bell dates back to approximately 1250 AD. During WW2 the pub was used by the bomber crews, including 617 ('Dambusters) and 627 (Pathfinders) squadrons.
Heritage Trail locations
The trail can be started at any location, but we suggest you also visit the Cottage Museum to see the photographs taken by John Wield during the heyday of the Spa and items associated with this unique Victorian Spa town.
The Trail is just one of several projects in the hands of the Woodhall Spa Parish Council sponsored Heritage Committee. Click here if you are interested in the committee or their projects.
How well do you know Woodhall Spa?
See if you can identify the location of these architectural features and items of street furniture! Or find the Letterbox (coming soon)
Find out more about the Woodhall Spa Conservation Area