During the Second World War the airfield was a US air base. Information on its history can be found by clicking here, here and here. A brief history of of the airfield (including its use as a film location) is here. Further information is available in Ray Potter's Bovingdon Airfield, published by the Dacorum Heritage Trust in 1998.
(Interview by Lynda Abbott and Fay Breed, November 2011.)
John Stanbridge worked on his family farm during the war and was a member of the Home Guard. He told us his vivid recollections of Americans in the local area:
One thing that comes to mind is the relationship between American and British troops stationed locally. The only Americans that I knew of were stationed at Bovingdon airport. The issue was complicated because in practice, but not in theory, there were two separate armies here. One white, one black. What friction there was, was between these two groups.
There was a Black American transport company stationed at Bovingdon. These gained a reputation for the quick delivery of goods from point A to point B. This was especially true of the run between Boxmoor station and the airport. One ventured very carefully up Bovingdon Hill in those days as it was not unusual to be passed by a powerful and heavily ladened lorry at 50 plus MPH.
One natural resentment against the American troops was that they were paid a lot extra per day than all other allied troops. This enabled them to purchase from their well-stocked stores such items as nylons, cookies, fruit that was not available to the British public. These goods were given to the British girls with the odd bottle of ‘Jack Daniels’ for Dad, to keep him happy and not interfere too much!
This obviously caused resentment and in the phraseology of the time it was said that the Americans were cocky little devils who were “Overpaid, Oversexed and over here!”
Read more of John's recollections about our American guests here.
(Interview by Richard Grayson, May 2020.)
Eric recalled the excitement of watching American B-17s take off from Bovingdon: ‘we children used to go up to Bovingdon – you’d hear the engines roaring and you’d know they were getting ready to take off en masse […]. We’d all go round on the Chesham Road out of Bovingdon and sit on the end of the runway which ended about fifty yards from the road, and they’d had to cut the hedge down because the planes were so low taking off. We’d lie [down] – we daren’t stand up because we thought we’d get our heads knocked off. Right at the far end we’d see these Flying Forts taxiing round and they’d come thundering towards us down the runway, and we’d be thinking “they’re never going to take off, they’re never going to take off”, and they’d roar over our heads […] ten feet above us […]. It was wonderfully thrilling. Of course the control tower eventually would send a chap round on a bicycle telling us, “Hey, come on you kids, beat it now, beat it, you’ll get your heads knocked off, now beat it, come on, go on home”.’
Read more from Eric Kemp here.
(Written by John Bray, August 2020.)
I attended the village school, about a mile away and learned of the black/white problem which existed between the GIs. Obviously the village girls didn’t discriminate between the two since all had money to spend on them plus ability to provide things such as stockings but the whites were not happy to share them. This came to head in the local pub and caused some physical altercations. The publican resolved the issue by threatening to refuse service to both parties and the military authorities reinforced him. End of story!
One sunny morning our dog Timmy and I were checking the vegetable and fruit gardens and were between the summer- house and the tennis court when we heard a loud crashing noise coming from the copse area. As we looked up, we saw a large plane sliding on its belly and almost reaching the tennis court. Several figures dropped out of various openings and ran in all directions. One of them ran by me shouting `run kid it’s going to blow’. If it had you would not be reading this. It turned out the B17 had some problems, aborted its mission came back and circled the airfield once and a half times landed half way down the runway, skidded off and slid across the two fields separating our property from the airfield. It managed to kill a couple of cows on its way. It still retained its bomb load, the reason for the `run kid’. Rather exciting at the time. Of course, the authorities came to remove everything i.e. the bombs, guns, radios and gun sight leaving the bare bones carcase: this provided an excellent playground for my friend and me until they took that away.
My next memory was of the long line of American tanks all along our country lane waiting to take part in the D-Day operation. That day, we watched many different aircraft B17s, Thunder Bolts and Lightnings taking off followed by gliders being towed toward the Channel. The sky was filled with aircraft.
Read more from John Bray here.