VISIT | Wings of Change at the Down Ampney Airfield Memorial | Gloucestershire
Discover RAF Down Ampney and its role in World War Two
A Second World War Airfield that once was in the rural Gloucestershire Cotswolds
Come and find the memorial to the people that once made this quiet place a bustling part of the war effort
Learn, learn and remember - that this place was once here!
"...the legacy of a wartime airfield - where ghosts keep these Cotswold village company..."
From this airfield in 1944-5
Douglas Dakotas from 48 and
271 Squadrons RAF Transport
Command carried the 1st and 6th
Airborne Divisions, units of
the Air Despatch Regiment
and Horsa Gliders flown by
the Glider Pilots Regiment to
Normandy-Arnhem and on the
Crossing the Rhine Operations
We will remember them
This is the memorial which sits a striking reminder of this quiet corner of the Cotswolds. Surrounded by fields, the cherry trees, and the birds. But history tells us of a time and place when the soundscape in this village of Down Ampney was different when the winds told a tune of a different time. A time of war. The Second World War. For these empty crop-lined fields once held the stories of this place, not as a quiet village, but as R.A.F. Down Ampney. It was an airfield where once men flew planes to far off troubled lands and skies. And returned, piecemeal, buffeted by their experiences; and with them the casualties of war to be patched up and soothed. When life was tense, and time was precious. And who knew if these airmen would return?
This memorial stone stands at the southern end of the runway. Where wheels once left the earth and where for some they returned.
There is more at the church, much more. For the church spire was once a marker to those airmen returning home that home was close. But for now, this is just about the landscape. For it is almost gone. The skeleton is mostly disappeared and now only fragments of the bones remain.
RAF Down Ampney and the associated airfield was only operational between February 1944 - February 1947 after it was built in 1943. But it became home to many thousands who appeared and disappeared from all parts and all nations of the war effort; not just the Brits.
And its constituent parts made up the best of them – from the E Squadron Glider Pilot’s Regiment, the Air Despatch Regiment, the Air Ambulance Section, the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (who flew out of Down Ampney to Arnhem) to 271 Squadron and 48 Squadron of the RAF. They were training in all aspects of what would be the D-Day landings – gliders and the airborne attack onto the Normandy Beaches of northern France. They were working with the 1st and 6th Airborne Divisions. This place was a hum of busy war effort. The women of the W.A.A.F. were also in contention – working on board returning planes tending to the wounded and the dying.
These were the transport of the British war effort. And Down Ampney, this place would be at the very heart of that most heated of days – D-Day - the Allied advance into France to beat back the German forces in 1944. The Dakotas which launched from here on the 5th and 6th of June, and many, many days beyond would be taking with them Horsa Gliders and Pilots, the men of Airborne Division themselves and the supplies which would allow this attack to continue apace and with some degree of success. The planes and personnel of RAF Down Ampney would also be the receiving planes taking back the wounded from the beaches and inland areas of Normandy; giving those casualties a chance of surviving the Second World War.
It seems utterly preposterous now, as you look out over these grassy fields and you stand in obdurate silence. That this quiet corner of the Cotswolds would be the scenes of such action. What of the disquiet of this place as they waited for their people to return? Checking in with each plane and waiting for the next. How many walked to the church to sit and pray? And wait in hopeful return?
In September 1944, the airmen of RAF Down Ampney were at Arnhem in the Netherlands, heavily involved in the re-supply operation against massive German hostilities where many got bogged down. In the cacophony of war on the 19th September 1944, the Douglas Dakota III plane KG374 flown by Flight Lieutenant David Lord was hit – his wing on fire – he flew on succeeding in a second and a third drop knowing how urgent and desperate his cargo was to the men down below. The plane never made it, the wing falling and him and his crew crashed to their deaths, except for one lucky survivor. The story came out post-war when this prisoner of war made it home and Lord was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for bravery for actions beyond the call of duty.
The people of RAF Down Ampney carried on with heavy involvement in Operation Market Garden and the Crossing of the Rhine into Germany in 1944 and into 1945. Towing gliders, transporting the essentials of a fighting war, the most essential of the logistics of war. Each time taking off from the airfield, now disappeared, from the tiny village of Down Ampney in Gloucestershire.
And when the war in Europe died down, even then their jobs here did not stop. This place, quiet and unobtrusive, was it seems at the centre of most things. In 1945, Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary arrived at Down Ampney on a plane back from the Potsdam Conference keen to hear election results at his constituency in Leamington. Churchill had arrived at RAF Northolt and went off to brief the King about peacetime affairs. Election ballets had even left Down Ampney for the Channel Islands and mainland Europe for the 1945 election.
Down Ampney had seen its fair share of walking wounded from D-Day, Arnhem and beyond. But as the war quieted in actuality, the airfield became a Casualty Air Evacuation Centre. Here under the secrecy of war conditions, Red Cross Welfare Officers welcomed back the prisoners of war, some in poor condition indeed, off the air transports from Germany and other countries continuing right up until 1946. This tiny village would be the welcome, the countryside welcome and return to Britain of men who had suffered so much as POWs. Some had returned from the worst privations that humanity can imagine. And here they came. To be treated, to be talked to, to be allowed to breathe and exist from one human to another. Here, here at Down Ampney.
The marker gives you the merest taste of the place. The church offers more. But it relies on you, the people who see and listen, those who learn, that this place was more than just an airfield. It was a place where people left, where some returned and where others came back to. Such stories as these are what makes Britain’s histories. Remember them. Remember this place long after the fragments have for the last time been all blown away.
Directions and Map |
Find the Down Ampney Airfield Memorial adjacent to the little village of Down Ampney in Cotswolds Gloucestershire off the A419. There is a walk from the church to the memorial or take the turning down Oak Road