October 28, 2021

Charles Rigg remembers: –

Hi Anne,

Many thanks for your reply.

We moved here in Sept 1969, with a thunderous noise the next day to see a C130 Hercules some 200 – 300 yards away and 200 feet up about to touch down, so for an aircraft/history/military history ‘nut’ I wasn’t complaining!  So since I have always had an interest in Pershore Airfield.

During the WWI anniversary years I did a lot of research into and writing a local book on the village guys that went to war, and that also threw up things about WW2 and later.  As is my habit, there was later digging further into those, and it became apparent that despite general conceptions of this area and Worcestershire being a quiet backwater in the war, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

That resulted in a talk to our local U3A Family History group, and now expanded into another book for the village; so many people here, especially newer residents, have no idea what went on locally.  All the local substantial properties hereabouts were earmarked for use by Royalty/Cabinet/Government/etc – which included Malvern College for the RRE – and nearby Coughton Court for the House of Commons (seeing its connection with the Gunpowder Plot, did someone have a sense of humour?!).   All a bit surprising when another Army Intelligence scenario  was that there could be a secondary invasion via the South West/Bristol and/or Wales and Ireland aimed directly at Birmingham and the Black Country which would came straight through this area.  Churchill’s We shall not surrender speech probably generally regarded as a morale booster – but he knew, with his own input, that there very strong defences put up around the country including the regular Army, reasonably well-armed Home Guard (unlike Dad’s Army) – and local top secret underground resistance units of some six or eight personnel, who were armed with latest equipment and explosives even before the Army got them.

Like your parents, they had to sign the Official Secrets Act and kept so secret that virtually nothing became known about them until the mid-1990s.  Pershore Airfield had a ‘claim to fame’ in that it was the only one of the many in the Midlands that had one of those resistance units (The Stay Behinds), comprising local men here, which was set up principally to watch on and sabotage the airfield if taken over during any invasion.  But I digress.

Pershore Airfield was established in the mid-1930s as a private grass airfield and flying club, being taken over by the Air Ministry at the start of the war and then being built as a full-scale bomber specification airfield.  At the same time, the Ministry purchased land at Croome Estate to build Defford Airfield, to bomber spec but slightly smaller than Pershore.  R A F Pershore was used as an Operational Conversion base for training bomber crews throughout the war, as was R A F Defford for a very short while; that then was changed to operating the test flights for the equipment being developed at RRE Malvern, being the main base for that.  Those operations continued at Defford until that closed in 1957, when they were transferred to R A F Pershore where they operated until that closed down in December 1977.  During that time, R A F Pershore became a dispersal airfield for units of the nuclear bomber force, so several times we had Vulcan bombers flying in.  RRE had some 500 personnel on site and a fleet of some 40 aircraft.  All very interesting when we went into nearby Pershore with the road crossing the main runway, and we had to wait behind crossing barriers if aircraft were landing/taking off.

You mentioned in your article that your father, apart from some flights on operational sorties, did several flights around the country on test flights for their equipment, as it seems several ‘boffins’ did.  I would suggest therefore that those latter would probably all have been from R A F Defford.  Do you know of the Defford Airfield Heritage Group that is based at Croome Court – https://deffordairfieldheritagegroup.wordpress.com ?

I mentioned in the first para one other item local to here (about a mile away) that was one of RRE’s projects, that being the Sheriffs Lench Observatory.  Again, something I knew basics about, but then stumbled across a website where a guy recently had taken drone photos of the redundant site with some extra details.  When I put this to The Malvern Radar and Technology History Society they gave me complete ‘chapter and verse’ on it.  Might have been after your parents’ time, but for your interest I have attached my chapter on that.

With regard to other sources etc, a local-ish guy (Glyn Warren) in the 1980s produced two small books on the airfields – RA F Pershore – A History, and The Endless Sky, Pershore and Defford; despite being small (a bit larger than A5 size) they contain a lot of info/photos/personal recollections from the relevant times.  Probably cost (metaphorically) a fiver in those days; The Endless Sky can be bought on-line – at £100+ !!  Ironically, after a very long loan, I have just returned those to the local library, but I could get back The Endless Sky and scan/copy the relevant section on Defford.  I would hazard a guess that being local books they only are in Worcestershire Libraries, but I remember that with one thing to do with my personal family history research I was able to have transferred/loaned a local family history book from Lancashire Libraries, so I don’t know whether that is a system that is generally available.  I have to assume that Glyn Warren is no longer with us as I can find nothing about him.

Apologies if this has ‘rambled on’ a bit, but hope that some may be of use/interest.

Regards

Charles Rigg

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