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.
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.
A Chipmunk trainer and Tiger Moth, which is being refueled by David Bendon in front of the main hanger at Hornchurch circa 1951. Both aircraft belonged to No.17 Reserve Flying School, which was operated by Short Brothers & Harland on the site.
Photo source, Mr. David Bendon.
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.
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.
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 hangers from around the site.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.