Welcome. Here for the first time is the untold story of Birch Airfield, Station 149, East Anglia’s forgotten airfield.
“Nothing ever happened there”, that’s the answer I received when I first made enquiries about the remains of what was an active Second World War airfield at Birch, near Colchester Essex England, “It weren’t never used” quickly followed. Then almost as an afterthought came, “gliders, that’s the only thing that flew out of there boy”
With my family roots in Messing, a nearby village that had direct links with the airfield, my curiosity got the better of me, so I decided to find out more. Surely an airfield that had been built and was ready for use at the war’s most critical stage, spring/summer 1944, the big push into Europe, must have a history worth discovering.
When travelling past the site of the airfield today, it’s difficult to imagine what did happen all those years ago. Indeed, if you aren’t familiar with this part of Essex, you would probably struggle to find its location at all. A place that was once home to several thousand servicemen has all but disappeared. Seventy five years have passed since American aviation engineers set the first bricks and poured the first concrete and now it’s just memories.
Research can be a constant source of fascination. With every letter or telephone conversation, long forgotten memories and facts resurface. My only disappointment during the research and writing of this project, was the inability to locate and talk to a single American serviceman that was stationed at Birch during it’s construction. It’s for this reason I rely solely on American official records for direct quotations and information, which vary in quality and quantity.
Trying to locate official records from this period in history is a very difficult task. Although a relative short time in modern history, much of this information has been lost. Wartime record keeping was often made in difficult circumstances and sometimes not made at all. The records for Birch airfield are very uneven in content and availability. Most American official documents were taken back across the Atlantic at the end of hostilities making access to these even harder. Having said this, the ones that I did find, American and not forgetting our own are very good indeed. These records plus a mix of personal recollections by locals and those people brought together by wartime circumstance, give a fascinating insight into daily life on the base.
After several years of patience, frustration and my share of luck, I found that Birch airfield did have a history worth discovering and equally important worth sharing.
Let me take you back to when Glen Miller was ‘In the Mood’ and so were the Yanks! …..to when kids asked for ‘Gum Chum’ and you could jitterbug the night away with the best of them.
“Nothing Ever Happened There”, quite the opposite……