A Walk Through History – Ridgewell Airfield, Essex

On a chilly and breezy April morning we were once again thrilled to have a fantastic turn out of people as we led a Walk Through History around the historic airfield at Ridgewell, home to the 381st Bomb Group of the 8th USAAF during World War Two.

The day saw 80 people (and once again quite a few dogs) explore their local airfield, led by our community archaeologist Martin Cuthbert, with superb support from the chair of the Ridgewell Airfield Commemorative Association, Paul Bingley. Paul really knows his stuff and shared many important pieces of the history of the airfield along the way.

Construction began in the autumn of 1941 and at this peak time a new airfield was under construction every 3 days. Station 167 as it was known (by the US Army Air Forces) was initially an R.A.F. station and although many buildings were not completed was first used in January 1943 by RAF number 90 squadron flying Short Stirlings. In early June 1943 the US Army Air Force arrived with the 381st group of B17 Flying Fortresses who flew 297 missions with a loss of 165 aircraft.

This was the eleventh airfield walk that we’ve led and possibly the coldest with strong winds and occasional hail showers. The walk began at the Ridgewell Airfield Commemorative Association Museum housed in a Nissen hut which was once the Sick Quarters site of the Airbase.

The walk enabled us to visit a number of the living quarters sites including surviving Nissen huts used as dining rooms and barrack huts; surviving brick built toilet blocks as well as the gymnasium, cinema and chapel building; all constructed to house the 3000 personnel based at the airfield. We also visited the airfield site itself where Bing Crosby entertained some 4,000 people on the 2nd September 1944 in one of the large T2 hangers that once stood in the Technical area of the airfield.

We would like to say a big thank you to Paul Bingley and his team at the Ridgewell Airfield Commemorative Association Museum, they made this walk possible and kept every one refreshed afterwards. And we’d also like to say a special thank you to our volunteers who help make these walks come alive for visitors, and the local land owners who enabled us to visit their properties. Thank you.

Following the great success of our first eleven heritage walks, we will be delivering more across the region in the future. If you would like to keep in touch about future events, or if you, or your museum would like to host an event then please drop us a line.