Post War Years

Post War Years 1946-1962

Hornchurch and the rest of the country suffered in the freezing conditions during the winter months of 1946-47, but the RAF personnel stationed at Hornchurch continued to operate as a marshalling depot for service personnel and vehicles, as well as being the home to the 55th Maintenance Repair Unit.
The 6221st Bomb Disposal Flight, who were also based at the aerodrome, although only for food and board were actually operating from a remote site a little distance from aerodrome in Gerpins Lane, this was known as the ‘Upminster Bomb Cemetery’. This land had been requisitioned from its then owners Walker Sand and Ballast Company, this site today is the local authority recycling centre.

Men of the 6221st Bomb Disposal Flight, operating from the Gerpins Lane site. Photo source, Mr. D. Kilgariff.

On the 28th June of 1947, Air Commodore Douglas MacFadyen was appointed Station Commander, he was the highest-ranking officer ever to hold the post at the aerodrome.
By October of the same year, RAF Hornchurch aerodrome was officially adopted by the Hornchurch Urban District Council.

Although all operational flying had ceased at the airfield by the end of 1945, various Air Training Corps units still continued to regularly use the landing ground for their training days, as well as No.86 Reserve Centre who were tasked with re-enlisting 300 ex-service pilots and 250 ex-navigators back into the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

Officers and cadets from 2048 Dagenham Air Training Corps Squadron on a visit to RAF Hornchurch in 1946. Photo source, 2048 Dagenham ATC Squadron.
A Chipmunk trainer and Tiger Moth, which is in front of the main hangar at Hornchurch circa 1951. This aircraft belonged to No.17 Reserve Flying School, which was operated by Short Brothers & Harland on the site. Photo source, Mr. David Bendon.
Air cadets of the Malvern College are briefed of the controls of Hornchurch’s last Spitfire. Photo source, Air Historical Branch.
A Tiger Moth, which is being refuelled by David Bendon in front of the main hangar at Hornchurch circa 1951. The aircraft belonged to No.17 Reserve Flying School, which was operated by Short Brothers & Harland on the site. Photo source, Mr. David Bendon.
A Slingsby glider of No.614 Air Training Corps Gliding School. Photo source, R. Little.

By 1947, Hornchurch had become a training centre with the establishment of the Aviation Candidate Selection Board, along with the Officers Advanced Training School. On New Year’s Day 1948, the Recruits Advanced Drill Unit arrived staying at the aerodrome for the whole year, they were formed to provide RAF Guards of Honour on Royal and State occasions, ceremonial parades, military funerals and lining the route at public displays. These were the forerunner of today’s Queens Colour Squadron.

The Recruits Advanced Drill Unit, circa 1950. Photo source,

1948 had also seen the training establishment at Hornchurch extended with the formation of the Combined Selection Centre which ran aptitude, intelligence and medical tests for Aircrew selection, one of the new applicants to pass through the centre in 1949 was 2435575 Aircraftman Second Class Norman Tebbit, who later in his life became an MP and then Lord Tebbit.

Photo source, Daily Mail-online.
The new candidates arrived at the Aircrew Selection Centre and were booked in by a Sergeant instructor and then put through their paces with a series of aptitude tests. Photo source, Air Historical Branch.

By the start of 1949, the demolition of some of the redundant airfield buildings had begun, and this started with the dismantling of the twelve Blister hangars from around the site.

This photograph of a Blister hangar is shown as an example, but this was not at RAF Hornchurch. Photo source,

The ironic thing was that in 1949, the same year that parts of the airfield were disappearing, the RAF was marking 30 years at Hornchurch and the airfield was awarded a station badge.

Photo source, the Romford Museum.
These pictures show the station badge (Kings crown), the first one came from RAF Hornchurch and after its closure it was given to the Hornchurch Urban District Council and was located in the Library, but since the libraries refurbishment the badge is now housed in the Romford Museum. The second badge is the later version showing the (Queens crown). Photo source, the RAF Heraldry Trust.
An aerial view of Hornchurch aerodrome taken some time in the early 1950’s. Photo source, the National Archives.
The Bishop of Chelmsford The Right Reverend Falkner Allison, (standing third from left), performed the dedication service for St. Michael’s and All Angels, the RAF church within the aerodrome, the service was held on the 10th March 1952. Standing to the Bishops right is Group Captain Jefferson the station commander and to his right is the Chaplain in Chief of the RAF, Reverend J. A. Busley. Photo source, Unknown.
Corporal Lennon. Photo source, Lennon family.
Corporal Lennon with Binder, Paddy Finucane’s dog, outside the guard room circa 1950’s. The dog was looked after by Sergeant O’Rourke until Binder passed away in 1953. Photo source, Romford Recorder.
Drivers of the RAF Motor Transport Section lined up proudly with their cars. Photo source, Mr. J. Cox.

With the increasing industrial unrest and the onset of a series of London dockers strikes, RAF Hornchurch became a mobilisation depot for service personnel who were to cover for the striking dockers in what was called ‘Operation Homeland’. Further strikes by dockers, power workers and cold storage workers saw the RAF and the Army having to cover various labouring aspects of everyday day life in keeping the power stations at Littlebrook (situated on the south bank of the River Thames, in Dartford), and Barking (situated at the Creeks mouth) running.

RAF and Army personnel took over the work of the 15,000 striking London dockers. Photo source, Pathe News and the Daily Mail newspaper archives.

In 1953, RAF Hornchurch was again mobilised as a centre for servicemen and women tasked with providing the much-needed relief and medical aid to thousands of people made homeless or affected in some way by the great east coast floods of that year.

The RAF and Amy were called in to help rescue the public and try and hold back the floods with thousands of sandbags. Photo source, Getty Images.

Throughout the immediate post war period RAF Hornchurch once again played host to impressive open days and air displays. The ‘At Home Air Displays’ of 1951 and 1952 of which both attracted massive crowds of around 40,000, this certainly rivalled the gate numbers that had attended the famous Empire Air Days of the pre-war period.

Although not at Hornchurch, scenes like this one at Hendon in 1951, were very much the norm at the Hornchurch aerodrome with crowds flocking to see the marvels of the aviation world. Photo source, George Trussell Collection.

The RAF presence at Hornchurch was now steadily being cut back during the 1950’s, with large parts of the aerodrome now being moth balled and only reopened as emergency depots as and when required.
Sport was always a big factor to RAF life and even when personnel numbers were diminishing sport still had a role to play.

The RAF Hornchurch football team of 1954, the goalkeeper is corporal Lennon. Photo source, Lennon family.
Both these photographs were taken in 1959 at Hornchurch and show men from 289th Parachute Light Regiment Territorial Army Reservists, preparing and jumping from the static balloon cage at a height of around 800 feet. The Barrage balloons were brought down by a detachment from the Royal Air Force Balloon Unit based at RAF Cardington in Bedfordshire. Photo source, R. Little.
Left to right, Ronald Adam, former sector controller, Colin Gray 54 sqn, Ronald Berry 603 sqn, Robert Stanford Tuck 65 sqn, unknown and Norman Ryder 41 sqn. Photo source, R. Hill.

Some of Hornchurch’s former Battle of Britain heroes re-visited the aerodrome in 1960, and were there to be filmed for a prologue to use in a television play written by Ronald Adam, entitled ‘An English Summer’ which related to the summer of 1940. The programme was directed by another former wartime pilot Anthony Bartley who was working for the television company Associated-Rediffusion.

The final air Display took place on the 3rd September 1960, it was organised by the Joint League of Friends of Romford, Hornchurch and Dagenham Hospitals. At 12 noon, the main gates were opened and crowds of over 20,000 were reported to have attended to view the ground based displays as well as the flying demonstrations.

These three photographs were taken during Hornchurch’s last air show on the 3rd September 1960. Photo source, Mr. Ron Cranham.
Another photograph taken at the final air show outside the main hangar, shows Spitfire is a Mk XIV RM694 with ATC cadets in attendance, to the left of the picture can be seen a Slingsby glider belonging to No.614 Air Training Corps Gliding School. Photo source, Mr. Howard La Roche.

Also by 1960, the Aircrew Selection Centre was beginning to see a drop in the numbers of candidates passing through it, and the final nail in RAF Hornchurch’s coffin came when a new
Aircrew Centre was opened at Hornchurch’s great pre-war and wartime rival Biggin Hill.
On the 9th April 1962, RAF Hornchurch passed into the history books when the Aircrew Selection Centre the last unit left the aerodrome.

The last Air Training Corps Wing parade took place at the aerodrome in 1961, the inspecting officer was Air Commodore A. G. Dudgeon, who was escorted by Wing Commander J. Ireland. Photo source, unknown.

Within a year of closure, the site had been sold for overflow storage to the Ford Motor Company at Dagenham and then the ultimate humiliation of being sold on for gravelling and then the dumping of refuse under the hallowed grass fields of Sutton’s Farm – RAF Hornchurch.

The hangars and hard standing being used by the Ford Motor Company for overflow storage of their cars from the Dagenham plant. Photo source, The Ford Motor Company archives.
These photographs were taken in 1963 after RAF Hornchurch closed and show the abandoned guard room, block houses and two views of the main hangar. Photo source, Mr. E. G. (ted) Ballard.