Bluebells and brave, young “Boys in Blue”

NGS Gardens open for charity

Dunholme Lodge, Dunholme, Lincoln LN2 3QA. Sun 5th May, Sun 30th Jun (11am–5pm). Adm £5, chd free. Light refreshments in aid of St Chad’s Church. Most areas wheelchair accessible, but some loose stone and gravel.

Woodlands, Peppin Lane, Fotherby, Louth LN11 0UW. Sun 5th May (10.30am -4.30pm). Adm £5, chd free.

66 Spilsby Rd, Boston PE21 9NS. Sun 5th May (11am–4pm). Adm £5, chd free. Home-made teas, refreshments and plant sales in aid of another charity.

Words by:
Steffie Shields
Featured in:
May 2024

Steffie Shields visits Hugh and Lesley Wykes’ Dunholme Lodge garden and a World War II memorial.

What, one might ask, do a farmhouse garden and an RAF War Memorial have in common? But for those many brave airmen serving at RAF Dunholme Lodge, among countless other stations, there would never have been almost eight decades of peace. This freedom has allowed a garden to grow, evolve and flourish, just off the A46 near Welton roundabout, let alone in many, many corners of this green and pleasant land.

If you love exploring other peoples’ gardens and (like me) are married to a retired serviceman, then head to Dunholme Lodge for its NGS charity opening this month for a perfect afternoon’s entertainment, guaranteed to keep you both engaged and stimulated. You will discover a five-acre garden sheltered by mature trees in “line abreast” with the RAF Dunholme Lodge World War II Memorial, a modest stone cairn topped by a small ironwork silhouette of a heroic Avro Lancaster, near to a small museum. This memorial tells the story of the old World War II airfield situated between Welton and Dunholme.

Approached by a long drive, with easy parking in the shade of large modern farm sheds, an amazing spreading beech, centre stage in the middle of a grass turning circle, welcomes visitors with many limbs “reaching for the sky”. What tales this Fagus sylvatica could tell!

Hugh and Brian Wykes’ father, David, farmed here during the last war, and in 1966, to mark his 50th birthday, planted this tree with the mistaken belief it was one of his favourite trees – a copper beech.

David was most disappointed when it turned out to be a common beech, since when someone mysteriously removed the leader, and it created its own characteristic form.

Scottish heritage
If the farming business is in your blood, there’s also likely to be a good number of colourful veteran tractors or other vintage vehicles on display near a large natural pond.

A small “quarry garden” east of the house creates foreground sense of place, sheltered by a belt of mature trees. Rounded mounds of heather interspersed with spring bulbs set off a varied collection of shapely-clipped, cosy conifers contrasted by three, stark white Himalayan silver birches, Betula jacquemontii, those ghostly “look-at-me” trees.

One wonders at the large number of granite boulders dotted around. Hugh and Brian’s mother, Nancy, a true Scot and the first large-animal veterinary surgeon in Lincolnshire, found romance here in the 1940s upon meeting handsome farmer David Wykes over a sick sheep.

As a tribute to Nancy, Hugh brought some Scottish granite boulders back from Scotland, not far from her summer residence, and naturally a splattering of heathers amongst them for good measure.

Taking a clockwise route to circuit the house, a woodland path is a delight. The odd wood carving, honed from old tree trunks, adds texture here and there amongst a carpet of bluebells, narcissi and budding steel-blue camassias emerging amongst fern fronds.

The day we visited was drearily overcast, so the sight of masses of “Smartie”-coloured tulips dotted under the canopy was immensely cheering.

Garden trails
Hugh and Lesley’s historic elegant brick farmhouse, situated on a gentle rise above a patchwork of fields, is detached from the main complex of working areas tucked behind. Less than 50% of the traditional farm buildings remain. The south-facing elevation is clad with a grand, cascading wisteria, soon to be dripping with racemes of fragrant purple blossom. Admire flower borders left and right of the lawn, packed with bright bedding, spring bulbs, perennials and shrubs. Mature trees successfully screen a few remnants of old utility technical buildings. All is quiet – one can only imagine a bustling, active airfield 80 years ago.

Instead a striking, serried rank of Himalayan birch is on parade, backed by evergreen hollies. A bluebell haze attracts visitors like a magnet, intermingled with hundreds of tulips, mainly pale pink to deepest magenta, with some candy-striped. More shady garden walks to the west reveal a second monolith garden, a vegetable garden and an orchard.

But first, the generous sweep of the breathtaking spring tapestry will lead your eye and your steps down to a wide, open pasture beyond the lawn. Here you can immerse yourself in nature by following a mazy trail through a rich, wildflower meadow humming with pollinators.

Historic site
A considerably noisier grass airfield was established in 1941 when RAF Dunholme Lodge became a satellite station to RAF Scampton, acting as a dispersal point for Handley Page Hampden aircraft. It became an operational airfield in May 1943. After three A class concrete runways were built, No. 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron, under 5 Group, Bomber Command, moved in with their heavy, four-engine Avro Lancaster bombers before transferring to RAF Spilsby 15 months later.

Meanwhile, 49 Squadron crews were bussed through Lincoln in full flying kit from RAF Fiskerton, 22nd September–23rd October 1943, most unusual and hence their name ‘Dunholme Lodgers’; No. 619 Squadron arrived April–September 1944, then 170 Squadron in October–November 1944, all three squadrons operating Lancasters.

Latterly, after being closed for operations, the station stored Hamilcar gliders and tested motorised Mark X gliders. Over 4,000 Polish servicemen were repatriated. One can just make out the lettering on the building that acted as the demob station.

In 1947 and 1948, the perimeter tracks took on a different, perhaps even noisier capability as a motorcycle and motorcar racing circuit, once hosting none other than Stirling Moss, who won the 1948 motorcar race.

The Cold War period, April 1959–March 1964, meant that the base returned to operations, this time for Bloodhound SAM (surface to air) anti-aircraft missiles, before eventually returning to its previous original use – farming. Today a few scattered buildings and the eastern end of the east/west runway remain.

War memorial
Brian and Margaret Wykes are credited with keeping the history of RAF Dunholme Lodge alive. After Margaret started in-depth research in 2010, they built the war memorial as a tribute, so we never forget the sacrifice these airmen made, and have maintained and added to the interesting museum each year. The memorial is in private grounds but may be visited by prior appointment with the Wykeses. (Other sites are not accessible to the public.)

More recently, Stewart A. Scott, a Lincolnshire aviation author interested in the airfield’s history, approached Margaret and Brian. Thanks to them, all this history has been collated in his recently published book, RAF Dunholme Lodge – A History, just as 2024 marks 60 years since the station closed for good. Signed copies will be on sale at the museum, which is open on both NGS open days this year, 5th May and 30th June.

This year also sees their 12th year of opening the garden for the NGS. Obviously patriotic, they remain passionate environmentalists and gardeners. The Wykes family decided that the farmland along Ashing Lane would better serve the environment and the community by turning it into a nature reserve. It was sold for this purpose and developed into The Ashing Lane Nature Reserve, begun in 2011, by the Nettleham Woodland Trust.

Three years ago Lesley became NGS organiser for the Lincolnshire branch of the yellow-book charity. Ever energetic, she has also been motivated to open a new arboretum, taking the increased management and care in her stride. Do let her know if you too are thinking of opening your own garden for charity. Lesley will only be too pleased to advise and take you on board an amazing journey with the National Garden Scheme, raising money for healthcare, nursing and gardening charities.

If there are red poppies nodding as you stroll through the wildflower meadow, you will undoubtedly pause to remember. RAF Dunholme Lodge is no longer one of those “abandoned, forgotten and little airfields in Europe”. The Wykeses have ensured that the part the station played is not forgotten. Their enchanting and diverse garden, with bluebell fragrance wafting on the breeze, is enhanced by an extra layer of significance, a unique sense of history.
One hundred and twenty Lancasters were lost on operations from here. Reflect, with heartfelt gratitude, on our generation’s – and the entire nation’s – good fortune ever since 8th May 1945 – thanks to those brave, young airmen who seved there. Dunholme Lodge is well worth visiting, a peace garden like no other.

RAF Dunholme Lodge – A History by Stewart A. Scott. Signed copies can be purchased on Dunholme Lodge open days or ordered direct from the publisher at Price £15 (or £20 with 1st class postage and packing)

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