Home of the Polish Bomber Squadrons.
For anyone looking for the wartime RAF station at Ingham today, the chances are that they would never find it. Only by careful reference to maps and plans made during the war will the exact whereabouts of this now incredibly important airfield be found.
To many people the existence of another wartime bomber base is probably of no extra significance but to a great many others RAF Ingham was, and is certainly destined to be, one of the most important historical sites of the war in Europe. Throughout the duration of the war, RAF Ingham had very strong affiliations with the Polish Air Force, which together with the RAF played such a prominent role in the battle for Europe.
This airfield, fifteen miles north of Lincoln, only ever existed during the Second World War and since then it has almost been lost in time and reality; for after it was eventually returned to farmland, much of its history became lost too. Today we can rest assured that this former RAF base will most definitely benefit from a special makeover thanks to an organisation called the RAF Ingham Heritage Group.
The Heritage Centre project is the brainchild of Mr Geoff Burton, who became fascinated with the airfield’s hidden history and was spurred into researching its past. His vision for the future took off from relatively humble beginnings. In order to project his ideas and to create interest in the immediate locality, he put on an exhibition on 1st May 2010 in Fillingham Village Hall. The primary objective was to put out the information concerning the airfield and what happened there.
Geoff was surprised by the amount of interest shown by the community and more so, the fact that so many of the locals who had lived in the area all their lives had never known of the existence of the RAF station. Out of the 200 visitors that attended, a steering group of twelve was set up to research the project’s aims. A group of volunteers and enthusiasts then emerged to form the first inaugural committee of the RAF Ingham Heritage Group in the following November. A constitution was drawn up with charitable aims and objectives, with their express aim being to create a permanent Heritage Centre wherein the story of RAF Ingham and its servicemen and women could be preserved and told.
Meetings ensued with the landowner William Rose, and the tenant farmers David and Andrew Carter, which yielded their kind permission to access the site and start to clear the land in the spring of 2011 – prior to a twenty-five-year lease being secured in the spring of 2012 – for a footprint of land, which included the dilapidated former Airmen’s Mess buildings. Many of the buildings, and especially those in the village area, have been used (post-war) by local businesses. An excellent example is the Airmen’s Mess itself – now destined to be the new Heritage Centre. It was previously used by the landowners Rose Engineering of Gainsborough. The family used the building for the experimental design and manufacture of ‘self-wrapping’ machinery; for the packaging of individual items such as razor blades, soap, bottles of Lucozade and chocolates. Cadbury became so interested in the machines that they bought them and used them in their own factory. Cadbury Roses is a trade name which stems directly from here, and bore the Rose family crest on its original boxes.
The site clearance commenced and was greatly assisted with the help of No 12 (Air Support) Group, Royal Engineers, in April 2012. This unit with their heavy machinery created, in record time, an access road and car park area. Spring 2013 saw funding help from the Lincolnshire County Council along with building company John Martin Hoyes for the creation of a new entrance for the main Heritage Centre, from the public highway. Volunteers are still working hard on the renovation plans and it is hoped that the Heritage Centre will be open to the public in 2016.
In May 2012, a larger free exhibition was put on in Ingham Village Hall. It was widely advertised throughout the county and from the 700 who attended, many more members joined the Heritage Group. The desire for more Polish involvement is always conveyed. It is hoped that a Temporary Visitors’ Exhibition will be available from June this year. Being free, it will be open 9am until 12noon on Sundays.
The site of the airfield was initially considered and surveyed during the mid-1930s – a time of defensive expansion prior to the outbreak of war – but it was never thought to be large enough to form a standard configuration three hard runway bomber airfield. As soon as the war started, however, all possible airfields were pressed into service. Construction of RAF Ingham did not start until 1941 but by the end of the year it was, along with its grass runways, in use as a relief landing ground for RAF Hemswell.
In May 1942 RAF Ingham officially opened with the arrival of No 300 Masovian (Polish) Squadron flying Vickers Wellington Mk IVs; they stayed until January 1943. The following month, No 199 Squadron arrived with Wellington MK IIIs. June 1943 saw the departure of 199 and the arrival of No 305 Wielpolska (Polish) Squadron flying Wellington Mk Xs, along with the return of their countrymen of No 300 Squadron. The decision was made in late 1943 to re-equip No 300 Squadron with the new, heavier four-engined Avro Lancaster. But due to the poor state of RAF Ingham’s grass runways, the decision was made to move the Squadron to RAF Faldingworth, with its new concrete runways. Interestingly enough, after the cessation of operational flying at RAF Ingham, the Air Ministry decided in November 1944 that the name of the RAF station had to be changed from Ingham to Cammeringham; the reason being to avoid further confusion, caused by urgent aircraft spares being wrongly delivered to the village of Ingham in Suffolk.
The Polish as a nation had a great interest in joining the war against fascism, after the invasion of their home country by Nazi Germany which had started the Second World War. The Polish Government was in exile in London and many of the already serving Polish airmen could only join the war effort by coming to the UK. Over 8,000 Polish airmen and women arrived in England in 1940. They had already fought in Poland and escaped; then they had fought in France and escaped again; and now they had reached what they called ‘The Island of Last Hope’. For many of them, the way forward was to join forces with the RAF in order to strike back at the enemy. In doing this, they either joined the eleven Polish Fighter Squadrons of Fighter Command or one of the four Polish Bomber Squadrons of Bomber Command; with Nos 300, 301 and 305 flying in Lincolnshire and No 304 with Coastal Command.
All four squadrons served with great distinction, dedication and relentless hard work; with RAF Ingham’s three squadrons engaged in a diverse range of operational sorties. Incendiary and bombing raids on Cologne, Duisberg, Düsseldorf, Mannheim and Hamburg became the norm; in addition to the laying of sea mines at locations off the French and German coasts. By March 1944, a total of 142 aircrew from all three squadrons had lost their lives whilst engaged on operational sorties from RAF Ingham. The main Polish war graves cemetery is situated in Newark, Nottinghamshire where nearly 400 Polish airmen are at rest.
General Wladyslaw Sikorski, a soldier with a very distinguished career, became the first elected Prime Minister of the exiled Polish government and Commander-in-Chief of the Polish armed forces. He left London to visit Polish forces in the Middle East in May 1943 and on his return, after taking off from Gibraltar, his plane immediately crashed into the sea killing all passengers on board. The funeral of General Sikorski took place at Westminster Cathedral in London on 15th July 1943 and he too was buried in the Polish War Graves plot at Newark cemetery. His remains were later transferred to his homeland for reinterment in 1993.
At the end of hostilities, all serving Polish service personnel had to decide on what to do next. The option to return home was not so attractive after the war. With the onset of communism in all Eastern Bloc countries, Poland under Stalinist domination was not so welcoming. Alternative options included the emigration and resettlement to Commonwealth countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa, as well as the USA. Some did start a new life in these countries but a huge number opted to stay in the UK, having made strong ties with the local community during their stay here. Collectively, the Polish contribution to the WWII effort was truly outstanding, and it is this fact that led to the 1947 Polish Resettlement Act. This was the very first immigration legislation of any UK Parliament. It gave British citizenship to over 200,000 displaced Polish service personnel on British soil who had fought against Nazi Germany and opposed the Soviet takeover of their homeland.
Many Polish Resettlement Units were built to accommodate this new influx and a Polish Resettlement Corp was formed. Many had married into the local community and the units catered for married couples as well as single people. One of these camps was Cammeringham Polish Resettlement Unit, which utilised an accommodation block on the former RAF base located near the southern edge of Ingham village. Polish families occupied this site for many years after the war, before being used by other families from the locality. Many of the new Polish community were taught a new trade from many new workshops which were introduced for this sole purpose. Today we have a large and thriving Polish community throughout the country; several Lincolnshire towns such as Lincoln, Grimsby, Scunthorpe, Grantham and Boston have their own indigenous populations.
The present Polish Air Force Memorial is situated at Northolt in London. This is the focal point of remembrance for the Polish veterans who served with the RAF during the Second World War. RAF Northolt also has a small heritage room which is dedicated to the Polish Air Force Fighter Squadrons that flew in the Battle of Britain. Whilst Polish Air Force involvement with the RAF is quite well represented at Northolt, it essentially concerns the Fighter Squadrons; thus, sadly leaving the Polish Bomber Squadrons overlooked.
The Polish Air Force Association Charitable Trust (PAFACT) became aware in 2010 of the intention of the RAF Ingham Heritage Group to create a Heritage Centre at the site of the old airfield. Being greatly impressed by the vision and having such an intrinsic interest in the scheme, they agreed to give their full backing to the project. With such a strong joint historical partnership between the RAF and the Polish Air Force during the war years at RAF Ingham, the PAFACT asked the Heritage Group to accept the honour of becoming the permanent ‘Home of the Polish Bomber Squadrons’ in the UK. The Heritage Centre at RAF Ingham will now be dedicated to, and tell the story of, the Polish Bomber Squadrons who served with the RAF during WWII.
Richard Kornicki CBE DL, chairman of the Polish Air Force Memorial Committee has highly commended the initiative, dedication and sheer hard work of Geoff Burton, Brendan Pritchard and their team of volunteers, in the undertaking of this project. He did remind us of the fact that those Polish airmen and women are part of the shared history of Lincolnshire and Poland and it is a credit to the county that the people of Lincolnshire are prepared to do so much to commemorate the pilots, crews and ground staff who together fought ‘For Your Freedom and Ours’.
RAF Ingham Heritage Group Membership: