3rd Year, Adam Simpkins talks about his new personal project documenting Decommissioned Airfields
13th August 2020
During these different times we have been experiencing recently I decided to take a completely different path with my Photography, I would say that my specialism is motorsport based, however I have now been experimenting with Aviation Landscapes. Where I come from in Bedfordshire, very close to the Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire boarder, there is a wealth of Aviation history that is now sitting vacant so I with the easing of lockdown I started on a project to Document these now Decommissioned Airfields that were once at the heart of Britain’s defence using more traditional film techniques not to dissimilar to the way they would’ve been photographed when they were operational.
I started with RAF Tempsford, which has been earmarked by some as the most secret airbases during World War II. Squadrons 138 and 161 would call it home for the war and they would run covert SOE operations into occupied Europe under the cover of darkness. Today not much remains, you can see the faint outline of perimeter tracks and runways, and part of the original barn of Gibraltar Farm where you would receive your equipment and details of your sortie.
After RAF Tempsford I went to Visit RAF Steeple Morden used as a grass satellite dispersal airfield by NO.11 Operational Training Unit (OTU) of RAF Bomber command. Following this Steeple Morden was part of the ‘friendly invasion’ and handed over the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) until the end of the war. Nowadays a striking memorial is in place on the side of the carriageway for the pilots and personal who were once based there.
Airfield three on the list was RAF Fowlmere which was the oldest on the list with over 100 years of aviation history, beginning life in World War I as a training airfield, it returned to agricultural use during the brief 21 year peace time but was quickly returned to and active runway for Squadrons 124, 125 and 126 it was intended as a satellite airfield for RAF Duxford. The most well-known accolade for Fowlmere is it was home to Squadron 19, who were first to fly the Supermarine Spitfire in World War II. Upon decommissioning the concrete pads and buildings were ground up for aggregate and sold for construction purposes. A small grass runway is now visible and used by light aircraft and a memorial has been placed in the grounds for you to reflect upon.
The fourth and Final airfield that was visited is possible the best preserved out of all the above. RAF Twinwood is well known as the airfield where Major Glenn Miller made his final flight from before his plane would disappear over the channel, he was never to be seen again. With a museum in his honour within the grounds of the original compound. I was only able to get to a few derelict taxiways and an aviation petrol installation as the original runways have now been returned to agricultural use.
With 2020 being the year that we were forced to stop and slow down it was poignant to travel back 80 years to a time where we were fighting a very different battle.