Storm Clouds of War
Mount Farm was sold to the RAF as a satellite for Benson. Arthur Olley from London was one of the many conscripted under the Direction of Labour, an Act of Parliament issued by Ernest Bevin, to provide the work force required as part of the War effort. At 45 he was too old for the armed services and was assigned as part of the team to construct Mount Farm airfield. The land was changed to an airfield, originally with grass runways, but this was unusable during the autumn and winter months because it was so waterlogged. As training intensified and the Wellington Bombers started using it day and night three concrete runways, perri-track and hard-standings were constructed. The first planes were the Fairey Battles and Lysanders, later the Wellingtons and Dakotas.
12 Operational Training Unit (OTU)
Number 12 OTU was formed at the outbreak of war in September 1939 and placed under the control of the newly formed Number 6 (Training) Group. Initially it was allocated to act as a reserve aircraft pool and administered Numbers 52 and 63 Group Pool Squadrons operating Battles and Wellington Mk.I aircraft which were originally based at Benson. Battle airplanes of 12 OTU began using Mount Farm from July 1940 for day and night training. The accommodation was primitive for those who were guarding the airfield as only tents were provided. After the attack on Stanton Harcourt a few light machine guns were introduced to Mount Farm for protection, and due to its strategic positioning major developments began with the construction of concrete runways. Because of this development day and night time training flights were often diverted to Mount Farm from Benson¹s grass covered runways. As a result of this increased usage a proposed 300-yard extension to the main runway was planned. Mr Garlick, like Arthur Olley, was involved in the construction of Mount Farm. Mr Garlick told me he was involved in building the extension to the main runway, which had to be built to a tight deadline. When they started to find pots, bones and other artefacts, it was decided not to tell the authorities and they completed the extension, burying the artefacts to one side of the runway. The 12th OTU carried on training Wellington crews with a few minor interruptions until the afternoon of the 27th February 1941 when an enemy bomber using low cloud cover dropped 2 bombs half a mile from Mount Farm before going on to Benson. A night attack resulted in 13 x 50 kg bombs being dropped - one cratered the northeast southwest runway, two burst the perri-track and an NCO was killed and three men injured with the damage to two Wellingtons and a Magister. A third raid arrived on 12th May 1941 when a large bomb caused a 50 ft diameter crater together with smaller bombs which caused minor damage to the perri-track.
15 Operational Training Unit (OTU)
The 12 OTU was moved to Chipping Warden and 15 OTU took over control of Mount Farm as a second satellite to Harwell. Mount Farm became very active with Hampdens from 61,106,144 and 408 squadrons and Wellingtons from 218 squadron. Number 15 OTU initially was allocated to act as a reserve aircraft pool and administered Numbers 75 and 148 Group Pool Squadrons operating Wellington Mk.I aircraft. However, as the war progressed Number¹s 75 and 148 Squadron¹s were activated as front-line squadrons, leaving 15 OTU as an individual unit. 15 OTU was based at Mount Farm under Harwell control from July 1941 until September 1941 and it was during this time that one of the many great acts of heroism took place. These times were confusing to our own air crew with squadrons being relocated, but this was to prevent squadrons to be easy targets for the enemy bombers. 75 squadron was the only New Zealand squadron in Bomber Command and on the night of the 7th July 1941 Sergeant James A.Ward from Munster crawled out onto the wing of his Wellington while it was in flight to extinguish a fire, he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Another Wellington from the 75th, coming back from a bombing raid at the end of 1941, was not so lucky. On a dirty foggy night, it was a bit off course, and with its wing and engine on fire and smoking. They were above Chalgrove village, when it swerved left by the monument, it missed the houses at Rofford and ended up in a large elm tree where upon it exploded, killing all six crew. It was reported that the wheels remained up in the branches of the tree for nearly a year. Colin Winterbourne and his family had some close calls as 3 Wellington Bombers crashed close to his home in Dorchester. One night in particular, they had been hiding in a ditch for safety, when a Wellington crashed. The fuselage broke and the tail landed in their hedge with the tail gunner still inside. Colin¹s father and brother rushed out to save the rear gunner but, with the rest of the plane in flames, the remaining crew perished. The police advised Colin¹s family to leave their home that night. They had to walk to Burcot, to his brother Harry¹s place and stay there for the rest of the night, all except one brother who had to get up early, he was a cowman and had a lot of cows to milk by hand. This happened the same night a German bomber, unable to locate any airfields, dropped its load of bombs over Warborough, blowing off the end wall of a house, leaving the occupants inside unhurt, if not a little colder.
Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris was accused by some as being callous and incompetent; callous in that 51% of air crews in Bomber Command were killed on operations and over 600,000 Germans were killed in his campaign, they say that it achieved nothing. However, Albert Speer, who was in complete charge of German industrial production from 1942, said ³The strategic bomber was the cause of all our setbacks.¹ and the failure to stop the bombers was "The greatest lost battle on the German side". Bomber Harris's strategy was proved right and the air crews who took part in that campaign with such determination, and at such cost, deserve our thanks and respect. Sergeant James Ward was killed in action on a raid to Hamburg on 15th/16th September 1941. 75 Squadron carried out the fourth highest bombing raids of all heavy Bomber Command squadrons, suffered second highest casualties and was believed to have dropped the third greatest tonnage of bombs (21,600 tons) and dropped 2,344 mines, most likely representing the second highest in Bomber Command.
RAF 140 Photo Reconnaissance
Once again Benson took control of Mount Farm for 140 Photo Reconnaissance (PR) Squadron, which was equipped with PR Spitfires and a handful of Blenheims for night time reconnaissance. As the war progressed intelligence became a more important factor to victory, the major photo reconnaissance activity being concentrated on Dieppe, when out of 75 Spitfire sorties carried out in August 1942, 63 of them were from Mount Farm. On 17th August 1942, the squadron flew 22 Spitfire sorties. Blenheim night time reconnaissance became dangerous due to fighters and was stopped on 15th August 1942. On 15th March 1943 the 140th Squadron was moved to Hertford Bridge and Mount Farm¹s future immediately changed.
USAAF 7th Photo Reconnaissance Group
Photo Reconnaissance (PR) played an important role during WWII. The 13th (PR) Photo Reconnaissance Group left their training base in Colorado Springs and on 2nd December 1942 arrived at Podington and waited for an operational base.
On 13th February 1943 they moved to Mount Farm (AAF Station 234), bringing L-4 Piper Cubs, P-38's and F-5 Lightning's. Spitfires still played an important role in the squadrons flying from Mount Farm. They were used to obtain target and damage assessment photographs for the 8th AAF (American Air Force) Bomb Groups.
Next to arrive at Mount Farm was the 14th Photographic Squadron on the 12th May 1943, equipped with P-38's, F-4's, F-5's and later Spitfires. On 8th June the 22nd Photographic Squadron reached Mount Farm bringing more P-38's and Spitfires.
The 13th began PR flights on 28th March 1943 and the 14th Squadron commenced PR operation in July. These squadrons became part of the "7th Photograph Group" on the 7th July 1943, which was almost immediately renamed the "7th PR and Mapping Group". With the arrival 27th squadron, which consisted of; P-38's, F-4's and F-5's, on 4th November, this group of squadrons became known as the "7th Photograph Group (Reconnaissance)" on the 13th November 1943. They commenced operation on the 30th December 1943 and were affectionately know as "The Eyes of the Eighth".
Sgt. Jim Hotaling worked in the dark room of the photographic lab. The Spitfire had two cameras of 500 shots, which had to be cut into two for processing - four loads. A F-5 (Lighting) had 5 films of 250 shots of 9" x 9" film - five loads. The filming runs were done either early morning or late afternoon so that the buildings had shadows and would be better depicted on the aerial photographs. There was also a B26 and B25 (Night Intruder) used for dropping flash bombs to light up the targets.
Christmas & Entertainment with the 7th Photo Recon Group
Jim Hotaling was in a hut next to the gravel pit close to the Roman Road, which was used by the local Home Guard to practice their exercises (south of the present day village). Jim needed a bike to get to the Mess which was situated close to the Roman Road (now Barrrington Close). This meant cycling past the Officer¹s mess by the Main Gate and Guard House (now the end of Fane Drive by the shops and church). There was a Red Cross Club and a PX Club next to the Mess which was the heart of the base, but the airmen needed a break and bikes were essential to get away, Jim remembers The Bell at Shillingford run by Mr Cobb and how "you could really work up a thirst because of rationing" (You had to go to 12 pubs to get six pints). Christmas is still Christmas even if you are miles away from home. The airmen made it special for the local children plus children from Shillingford Orphanage. The airmen would put their sweet and biscuit rations into big tubes at the entrance of the PX Club weeks before Christmas. They also made toys to ensure each child had a present and a bumper bag of goodies. These duties often fell to Major John G.Anderson of 22nd Squadron seen here inspecting the toys. "Even Santa needs a hand". He also arranged special visits, for instance, the Polish orphan choir at the PX Club at Christmas.
The tradition in the villages around Mount Farm, as with the whole of the country was to bring evergreens into the house during the Christmas period. A local girl remembers how she and other children used to collect "chaff" - thin aluminum strips dropped from planes to confuse radar, this was draped over the evergreens - tinsel!
Major John G.Anderson role as Special Services Officer also involved special visits, entertainment and the physical training of the men. The entertainment involved "Hollywood stars" of the day; Bob Hope, France Langford, Bing Crosby, and Glenn Miller & His Orchestra. This was one of Glenn Miller¹s last shows was at Mount Farm before he disappeared. These were big affairs held in the blister hangers so they could get everyone in.
The war continues
The first sortie to Berlin was by a Spitfire flown from Mount Farm on the 6th March 1943, the group produced maps for ground forces, spotted enemy transport movements, installations and gathered weather reports. The 7th at Mount Farm played its part in the run up to the D-Day landings by photographing airfields, towns, French ports and targets in the Low Countries. The runways at Mount Farm were also used for other training exercises as shown by the photograph of a Wellington towing a D-Day Glider. In the last months of the war P-51's (Mustangs) were assigned for defence and escort of PR aircraft. On November 9th the 27th squadron was moved to France and later came back to Chalgrove. The remaining three squadrons - 13th, 14th and 22nd, moved to Chalgrove on 1st May 1945 and ran post war damage assessment flights until they were disbanded in December 1945. The 7th Photo Recon Group was awarded numerous honours. A roll of the Honoured Dead is to be found in the church of the names of 45 American and one British airmen who gave their lives fighting for peace. Wg Cdr Adrian Warburton DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar, DFC(USA) was the RAF Liaison Officer to the USAAF 7th Photo Reconnaissance Group here at Mount Farm Airbase during World War II. He was regarded as the supreme photo reconnaissance pilot of the war having flown hundreds of missions for the RAF. It was Elliot Roosevelt who specifically asked for Warburton to be his deputy at Mount Farm. Wg.Cdr. Adrian Warburton was lost on a mission from Mount Farm on 12th April 1944.
Back to the R.A.F, then the Army
Once again, Mount Farm was used by RAF Benson as a satellite station for 8 OTU, until 4th July 1946, when the 7th Photo Recon Group moved to Chalgrove. Mount Farm was then transferred to the Army. Corporal Rita Lowson, now Rita Greenaway of Colwell Road, had been stationed at Burnham Beeches near Slough with the 2VRD - RAOC (Vehicle Reserve Depot - Royal Army Ordinance Corps) which included the A.T.S. and a detachment of R.E.M.E.(Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers). In 1946 they moved to Mount Farm. Rita was in hut 13 of the old WAAF huts (in the approximate area of the War Memorial) and worked in the company office, which was near the green hut. The war had finished so Rita was involved with the processing of the men and women who were being demobbed. Charlie Brown was stationed at Mount Farm and drove the big Fodens up to Glasgow until he was demobbed. He also transported Jeeps, 3 & 4 tonners, landing craft and other vehicles to be relocated at other depots - Glasgow or Barnstaple. By 1949, the area around Mount Farm became farmland once more.