During WWII, Essex was critical to the defence of London, which was a host to numerous significant businesses, as well as a camp for British and American aircraft fighting the Germans.
One particular place was Hornchurch Country Park, located on the borders of Essex, and the site for family get-togethers. The park was also classified as a Grade I Site of Borough Importance for Nature Conservation.
However, unbeknownst to some, the 104.5-hectare public park has a strong war past and used to be the former site of Hornchurch RAF with lots of historical remains still scattered around the huge field.
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The ex-army airfield was known as Sutton’s Farm during the First World War until it was decommissioned when the war ended. It was made dominant until it was relaunched as a considerably bigger RAF Hornchurch, which was built slightly to the west.
Following WWII, Hornchurch was headquarters to Flying Training Command’s Aircrew Selection Centre before the RAF station closed in July 1962 and relocated to RAF Biggin Hill, London.
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The land was transformed in 1980 into the country park that residents in the London borough of Havering know today.
The majority of the infrastructure at the location, which included two Type-A hangars and one 1936 Type C hangar, was levelled as a result of the conversion.
Hornchurch commemorated its aerodrome history when a new heritage centre was unveiled last month on the 81st anniversary of the Battle of Britain during World War II victory to pay tribute to brave pilots and men who served at RAF Hornchurch.
The war structures that still exist in Hornchurch Country Park
RAF Hornchurch played a crucial role in the defence of London to protect it from the threat from German airforces.
The station is well-known for being the base of the night-flying No. 39 (Home Defence) Squadron where Lieutenant Leefe-Robinson VC became the first World War I pilot to shoot down a German aircraft in Great Britain.
It also played a massive role in World War II as it was an established fighter station and supplied mostly Spitfire aircraft. As a result, it served as a key front line station during the Battle of Britain, and many notable pilots of the period took to the skies from here.
The station was bombed numerous times during World War II but many military facilities were constructed to help combat the enemy.
Although some are withered or buried some of the structures, which includes pillboxes, dispersal pens and tett turrets, are still intact and accessible to park visitors. Sadly, it appears that people have vandalised and littered some historical areas of the park.
The commemorative memorial site marks were a field gun emplacement that was based during the war, which protected crews from return fire from the enemy.
This was gated and was in immaculate conditions, not a speck of rubbish, as well as surrounded by lavenders to add some colour to the scenery.
The park also had two turrets and pillboxes further down the park. The turrets are domelike, sometimes heavily armoured structures, usually revolving horizontally, within which guns are mounted.
The turrets are a rare form of protection, with a handful made during the war, and this park boasts the largest concentration of surviving tett turrets in the country. This structure could relatively fit one crew member and would have been extremely cramped and restrictive for the person inside.
During my visit, one of the turrets was nearly buried with earth with plants, but the other was initially discovered courtesy of the team from BBC’s “Two Men in a Trench”. Sadly, on my visit that turret was littered with bottles.
The pillar boxes are concrete blockhouses or dug-in guard post that has loopholes through to allow crews to discreetly fire weapon on the field.
I saw two common hexagonal Type 22 designed blockhouses during my visit – though in good condition, the inside was vandalised with graffiti.
However, it is clear that the park still maintains its legacy and how it helped the country win the war.
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