Crowds assemble to mark 80th anniversary since opening of RAF Welford
BRITISH and American military personnel and civic dignitaries gathered to mark the opening of RAF Welford, 80 years ago.
RAF Welford, just nine miles from Newbury, has been an active military installation since 1943.
The base closed after the Second World War, but was reopened as a USAF base in 1955 – and remains one of the largest ordnance depots in Western Europe today.
An estimated 160 visitors attended the event to commemorate the base’s 80th anniversary on Friday, June 23.
The proceedings began with a talk by RAF Welford Historical Society chairman Alan Bovingdon-Cox.
Mr Bovingdon-Cox presented an overview of the base’s long history, from its wartime roots to its Cold War role supporting Strategic Air Command bases in the ‘Oxford Triangle’, comprising RAF Greenham Common, RAF Fairford, RAF Brize Norton and RAF Upper Heyford.
Observers viewed a collection of old photographs, each showing the base as it was.
“In 1941, they had the authority to build an airfield primarily for the RAF,” Mr Bovingdon-Cox explained.
“But we’re not too sure how involved the RAF was.
“It was going to be a training base, and in 1943, the first Americans moved in here.
“The 413th Troop Carrier Group moved in from RAF Aldermaston, and then, a little later, the 435th Troop Carrier came in and stayed here until they went over to Normandy.”
When asked why he thought RAF Welford was not redeveloped for the Cold War as bases such as Greenham Common were, Mr Bovingdon-Cox added: “To have a big bomber base, you need the infastructure.
“There’s no major roads coming to here. The M4 wasn’t built in those days.
“When the Americans were looking for a new bomber base in this area, in addition to Greenham Common they looked at this base to see if it could be adapted into a bomber base, but it would have needed at least a 10,000 foot runway.
“Whether you could have got that here or not, I doubt it.”
At 1pm, USAF Major and 420th Munitions Squadron commander Preston Smith cut a cake and thanked everyone for joining the celebration.
Major Smith said: “We first conceived the idea for this event about a year ago.
“We started working about four or five months ago to really start putting an event together where we could invite members of other communities and some of our key civic partners to come in and showcase who were are, what this base has done over the last 80 years, and what we’re doing today.”
He added: “RAF Welford is a great place to work and this is a great area to live in.”
Guests enjoyed viewing an array of military vehicles and ordnance on display under glorious sunshine.
But one of the main highlights could be found inside the RAF Welford Museum.
After months of working behind the scenes, the museum team – now amalgamated from the Friends, Family and Veterans of RAF Welford and Ridgeway Military and Aviation Research Group – used the occasion to unveil their new diorama, spanning a seven-month period of RAF Welford’s history from November 1943 until June 1944.
“We wanted something more than just a map and a few photographs of how RAF Welford looked,” added Mr Bovingdon-Cox.
“With the help and hard work of my team, this is what we’ve created, and I’m chuffed to bits with it.
“In time, we’re going to add more, but not clutter it.”
USAF supplied the wood to build the structure, which was funded by society reserves and private contributions.
The museum volunteers, or ‘Wednesday crew’, thank the following organisations for their contributions to the diorama: Malcolm Childs, Gary Morris, Ady Embley and James Skiffins of Models for Heroes, Laurence Cassidy, Simon Moffat, and Simon Fisher of IPMS UK Abingdon Branch, and David Farrell of Newbury Scale Model Club.
The RAF Welford Historical Society started as a group of enthusiasts who met in a pub in Wantage, until the then RAF Welford base commander invited the group to set up at the base and the rest is history.
The next event at the base will be Remembrance in November.