Woodford at War 1939-1945

This page looks at what is known about Woodford and the surrounding area during the second World War.

Lichborough Radar Memorial. Photo: John Williams

Lichborough Radar Memorial. Photo: John Williams

Four years before the start of the Second World War, an historic experiment took place near Lichborough, not far from Woodford Halse. A test flight using an old metal-winged Heyford bomber took place on 26 February 1935 to test Robert (Later, Sir Robert) Watson Watt and Arnold Wilkin’s theories for the radio detection of aircraft. This pioneering experiment led to the creation of the radar network that was to prove so valuable during the Battle of Britain. A memorial can be seen beside the road from Lichborough to the A5.

Between 1941 and 1946 the skies around Woodford were busy with aircraft from the airfield at Chipping Warden. This airfield had three concrete runways (now used for storing cars) and was host to a number of training units. Some 3000 RAF and WAAF personnel were based here during the war and the airfield’s base hospital is now used as Chipping Warden School. (hence the plane in the school’s logo).

Operational Training Units (OTU’s) prepared crew to fly in particular aircraft. Generally OTU training did not involve  missions over enemy territory although in some cases OTU crews carried out leaflet dropping missions. The heavy cost of this training is highlighted in the toll of aircraft and crews lost at Chipping Warden.

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This must have been similar to scenes at Chipping Warden. Wellington Bombers at an RAF base, 1939. Photo: Uploaded to EN Wikipedia by Winstonwolfe. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

32 Wellington bombers were destroyed and 74 crew killed in accidents at Chipping Warden between 1941 and 1946 (Details from the Midland Aircraft Recovery Group).

In January 1945 an Airspeed Oxford aircraft was abandoned and crashed near Woodford Halse when its engines iced up.

Airspeed AS10 Oxford Photo: Bob Brown, via Wikimedia Commons

Airspeed AS10 Oxford Photo: Bob Brown, via Wikimedia Commons

The surprising thing is that Woodford’s railway yard – with its capacity of over 3000 wagons – was never damaged by bombing. Although attacked on one occasion in September 1940, the bombs fell between Cherry Tree Farm and the top of Roundhill Road. A week later another single bomb fell near Dairy Farm.

Recruiting for the Women's Land Army. Picture: UK Government Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Recruiting for the Women’s Land Army. Picture: UK Government Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Woodford’s farms lost men to the armed forces but in their place members of the Women’s Land Army arrived to help make sure that farms continued to produce the food so desperately needed to keep the country going.

The wage for “Land Girls” as they were known, was £1.12 a week after deductions for lodgings and food for a maximum working week of 50 hours in the summer and 48 hours in the winter – five and a half days working with Saturday afternoon and Sunday off. Members of the WLA posted more than 20 miles from home received a free rail warrant for a visit home every six months.

By the end of the war over 80,000 members of the Women’s Land Army would be contributing to the war effort across the UK and while almost none of them had any knowledge of farming at the start they proved an invaluable work force and some remained at the end of the war marrying farmers sons or railwaymen.

Of those from Woodford that left to serve in the armed forces, eight never returned. Their names are commemorated on the War Memorial beside Saint Mary’s Church.