Second World War
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Wratting Common (formerly West Wickham) airfield

The largest local impact on Carlton of the Second World War was the creation of the RAF airfield of Wratting Common. Although the airfield itself was mostly in the neighbouring parish of Weston Colville (extending into West Wratting, West Wickham and Withersfield parishes), two large groups  of buildings housing the personnel were in built in fields in Carlton Green (see the map below).



From a combination of the RAF website and the St Edmundsbury website:

The bomber airfield that was built to Class A standard, located on the Cambridgeshire side of the boundary with Suffolk in the parishes of West Wickham and Little Thurlow, three miles north-west of Haverhill, was officially named West Wickham. Built in 1942-43, the three intersecting concrete runways were 1331 at 2,000 yards and 02-20 and 07-25 both at 1,400 yards long. All 36 hardstandings were loop types. A T2 and a B1 hangar were erected at the main technical site between runway heads 13 and 07, and another three T2s for gliders on the north side of the airfield between 13 and 20. The technical site was on Western Woods Farm and the ten dispersed domestic and mess sites, catering for 2,507 males and 486 females, were in fields towards Weston Green. Bomb stores were to the east at Skipper's Hall Farm.

The first operational unit arriving, No. 90 Squadron, came from Ridgewell where a US Eighth Air Force B-17 unit was expected. West Wickham was far from complete at this time - late May 1943 - but had sufficient facilities to enable No. 90's Stirlings to return to Bomber Command's campaign four nights after arrival.

In June their targets were Krefeld, Mulheim and Wuppertal, with raids on Hamburg in July and 15 planes went on the Peenemunde raid. In August they attacked Turin twice.

In August that year notice was received that on the 2lst of the month the official name of the station would change from West Wickham to Wratting Common. Only one other such change for an operational bomber station is known, and that due to the possibility of confusion with another airfield of the same name. In West Wickham's case there was no other airfield with the same or similar name although a possibility is confusion with High Wycombe (Bomber Command HQ), it being common practice in vocal communication to omit the `West' or `High'.

In October 1943, No. 90 Squadron was moved to Tuddenham when No. 3 Group decided to concentrate Stirling conversion units in the Stradishall clutch, No. 31 Base, of which Wratting Common was a satellite or sub-base. No. 1651 Heavy Conversion Unit was moved in from Waterbeach in November and remained for a year. By this date few Stirling squadrons remained in No. 3 Group and No. 1651 HCU was shifted to Woolfox Lodge where crews were trained for transport squadrons.

No. 31 Base was destined to hold operational squadrons once more and in October 1944 the Lancasters of No. 195 Squadron arrived from Witchford where it had been re-formed from `C' Flight of No. 115 a few weeks earlier. No. 195 grew to three full flights with 30 Lancasters, remaining at Wratting Common to see out the war. In 79 raids from the station its losses were 9 Lancasters.

The No. 195 Lancasters concentrated their attacks on oil targets. They also attacked Dresden, and finally Bad Oldesloe in April 1945. Number 195 then did eight supply drops to the Dutch and POW repatriation missions before disbanding on 14th August 1945. Following its disbandment no further flying units were based at the station. During the war bomber losses in operations flown from Wratting Common totalled 43 of which 34 were Stirlings.

Wratting Common continued as support for Stradishall, then as a camp for displaced persons.  The surplus of wartime-built airfields that then existed found the reduced Bomber Command force moving back to the more comfortable, pre-war establishments with their permanent buildings. Wratting Common was soon reclaimed for agriculture with much of the concrete taken for hard core. The hangars survived as did many of the larger Nissen huts, serving as cover for commercial enterprises. Most of the site is part of Thurlow Estates owned by the Vesty family.

In 1941 a Stradishall plane fell at West Wratting, killing all its crew.

Also in 1941 a searchlight unit at Hanchett End was attacked by an enemy plane. Later it moved to Horseheath where the unit helped rescue the crew of a crashed Stirling Bomber from Wratting Common.


A picture of the memorial for the airbase is shown here.