RAF Pershore - Tim Hickson

A Vulcan bomber

Unlike RAF Defford, built mainly on a village Common, RAF Pershore was built on what was already an airfield - albeit a grass one. This was Throckmorton Aerodrome, to the north-east of Pershore, the home of the Worcestershire Flying School since 1934. It was a large, level extent of grass which was part of the Tilesford House estate. The C16th, timber-framed house, which became Tilesford Farm, acted as the Club House. Then, in the summer of 1940, Messrs Wimpey and Co. began work to lay concrete runways and build hangers, a control tower and all the buildings needed by an RAF station training bomber crews.

Unfortunately, the Luftwaffe had noticed these developments and, on the evening of September the 11th, enemy aircraft dropped bombs. This was repeated the next day. No people were hurt but some farm animals were killed and buildings were damaged. There were more attacks the following year. Two fuel bowsers and a Wellington bomber were destroyed but, again, no one was killed. When the RAF took over and the first aircraft arrived on April the 1st, 1941, the airfield was still unfinished. However, it became the home of No. 23 Operational Training Unit (OTU) for Commonwealth crews - mainly Canadians. In June, the unit had its first flying accident when a Wellington suffered engine failure. In the resulting crash landing, all the crew bar the rear gunner escaped. Trapped by a leg, he was so badly burned that he later died. Accidents were to become frequent. Of the 64 war graves in Pershore Cemetery, 41 are of Canadians, some only 19 years old.

Pershore residents may well be aware of the crash that took place on the 29th of May, 1943, when a Wellington was taking part in the fund-raising Wings for Victory fly-past. It flew so low that it lost a wing over the Cricket Ground, hit a house before crashing into the roof of The Brandy Cask Hotel and ending up in flames in the garden, killing all on board. By 1944 there was greater need for a base for a Ferry Unit whose pilots were delivering aircraft mainly to Africa and the Far East. Then, after four years, that requirement decreased and in 1948, RAF Pershore became the training centre for the RAF Police. After another four years, the Korean War caused an increase in the demand for pilots and so the airfield became the No.10 Advanced Flying School. After two years that urgent need for more pilots ceased. There then began a period of preparation for the arrival of the aircraft testing radar from RAF Defford. They were now called the Royal Radar Establishment’s Flying Unit. The new, heavy jet bombers needed longer runways than could be made at Defford. So, Pershore’s main runway was strengthened and extended to 2,450 yards so that it could take any aircraft. Indeed, in 1960, the airfield was used as a dispersal site for the RAF Strike Command’s Valiant and Vulcan nuclear bombers on standby to take off within 4 minutes in case Britain was attacked.

By 1977 the place closed as a military airfield and was used by the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment. Eventually the electronics research, based in Malvern was being done by a private company, QinetiQ, and that organisation continued to use the airfield. However, sharing this were chauffeurs being trained to drive diplomats around dangerous places in the world. So fast aircraft were replaced by fast cars and security remained tight!