Personnel arriving for the first time at RAF Station Bourn – particularly in the depths of winter when the mud was everywhere and the accommodation was draughty and cold – generally did not think much of the place. Bourn was a typical wartime station, constructed of prefabs erected on the various dispersed sites around the huge airfield. Some 1,500 to 2,000 people lived and worked in this makeshift encampment.
Control Tower, RAF Station Bourn, 1942. Prince George, Duke of Kent, is third from the left. He was killed in an air crash on 25 August 1942.RPA/Stations/Bourn
The most solidly constructed building was the Control Tower, the central nucleus around which the station revolved. It dominated the skyline on the edge of the airfield in the perfect position to oversee the three runways.
RAF Station Bourn had only been in existence since 1941. It was sited on the extensive lands of Bourn Grange, between the Grange itself and what little remained of the buildings of the home farm, Grange Farm.
Erks with their petrol bowsers outside one of the Grange Farm barns. Walter Bushby, a bomb gear electrician, is third from the left. The bowser on the right has its name ‘Big Ben’ painted above the windscreen. The bowser on the left also has a name, which appears to be ‘Popeye’ after the cartoon character.
RPA/H97/Ground Personnel/Bushby, Walter
97 Squadron arrived at Bourn in April 1943. The prevailing winds at the airfield were south-westerly. It was therefore seldom that the squadron’s Lancasters would take off for an operation using the shortest runway, NW.-SE., which meant that just after becoming airborne they would pass over Highfields and Hardwick, close to St Mary’s Church. When they did so, it was an awesome experience for the village folk.
A local man, Bob Plane, vividly recalled the Lancasters straining and labouring to gain height as they came directly over Hardwick:
“They used to come over the tops of the houses, laden with bombs, and one would think ‘Please God, let them get over’. You would be sitting there with a cup of tea, and when they had gone over the saucer was full of tea and the cup was only half full because of the vibrations.”
Exert from “Fire By Night”, by Jennie Mack Gray (Grub Street, 2001 & 2011)
97 Squadron at Bourn, squadron code “OF”, summer of 1943