1944 to 1945 - The latter half of the Second World War and its aftermath
As the war ground on, the flying training establishment at Denham continued to grow to meet the demand for glider pilots. Over one third of the glider pilots who took part in Operation Market Garden, the airborne operations to capture the strategic bridges in the Netherlands in 1944, were trained at Denham. One student, Mike Brown, who had joined up as a tank driver, kept a diary and in it he recorded how he was billeted in High Wycombe and taken by bus to Denham every day when he started his training in January 1944. It was expected that a student would be able to go solo after 10 hours dual in the Tiger Moths, Mike managing it in just eight. The students began with straight and level flight, followed by turns, climbing and descending. This was followed by circuits and bumps, the student completing this part of the course solo. There was very limited local flying, and only a few hardier souls tried a loop or roll. Mike completed his basic training at Denham before being sent to Wanborough, a satellite airfield of Stoke Orchard near Cheltenham, to complete his glider training. Mike took part in several glider operations and his recollections are now part of the Imperial War Museum’s audio collection.
Testing of the rocket projectiles also continued, on one occasion the entire War Cabinet visiting the site in early 1944 to view a demonstration of these and other secret weapons which had been brought to Denham for the event.
Myles Bickerton was now a Wing Commander in the RAF Volunteer Reserve, serving as a Medical Officer but retaining a close interest in the affairs at Denham. His Jacob’s Spanish Sheep were still allowed onto the airfield each day after flying had ceased, Myles employing a shepherd called Mr Webb to tend the flock and oversee their shearing and well being. Visiting the flock on one occasion brought him into conflict with a young Pilot Officer who ordered Myles, who was in civilian clothing, to cease his activities. Myles explained to him that that given the threat of U-boats to shipping convoys, the still difficult supply situation and shortages of many commodities in the UK, the sheep, their wool and if needed their meat may well become more useful to the country than a rude Pilot Officer!
In April 1944, a new unit was established at Denham, No. 125 Glider School. It was equipped with Slingsby Cadet TX.1, TX.2, TX.3 and Sedbergh TX.1 training gliders. This was an Air Training Corps glider school, a happy association with the Air Cadets that continues to this day as 2370 Squadron ATC is again based on the aerodrome. Cadets could complete their basic flying training prior to joining the RAF, streamlining the wartime training process. No. 125 Gliding School was taken over by 65 Group of Reserve Command in June 1946 and eventually moved to Langley in 1947.
A number of temporary lodger units passed through Denham during early 1944 on their way south as part of the Allied build up for D-Day. One of these was 652 Squadron of the Army Air Corps, an Air Observation Post (AOP) unit equipped with Auster Mk.IV light observation aircraft under the command of Major Ralph Richard Cobley DFC. These were to be used to direct artillery fire and report on enemy movements at the forward edge of the battle area. The Squadron followed the Second Army throughout the advance across Europe, and is credited with firing the last British shots of the war while directing fire at the siege of Dunkirk on 7 May 1945.
The Second World War ended in Europe on 8 May 1945, but fighting in the Far East and Pacific was to continue until the Japanese surrender on 2 September. With the end of the war, it was expected that Denham Aerodrome would be returned to its original owner, but the reorganisation of the Royal Air Force was no small task in the aftermath of war. The Air Ministry had built and taken over hundreds of airfields throughout the conflict, the decision as to which of these would be kept and which would be disposed of took many months to finalise, so it was not until 1946 that the airfield was decommissioned. The two flights of 21 Elementary Flying Training School, F and G, ceased training on 9 July 1945, the unit’s staff returning to the main unit at Booker that month.
With the exception of the Air Training Corps' No. 125 Gliding School, the last RAF personnel left the airfield in August 1945. Despite the presence of the school, the site quickly fell into disrepair. The gliders, hangars, Nissen huts and fences soon began to be vandalised and elements of the structures were stolen, there being a dearth of building supplies available to civilians in the months immediately after the war. Cattle and motor vehicles roamed at random over the area and damaged the surface of the aerodrome and the swimming pool in the west corner had been blown up by a demolition charge, for some unknown reason.
The site was at its lowest ebb, but things were about to change as will be seen next.