Bedfordshire has a number of war time airfields, all of which have fascinating histories. Many of the activities of these airfields were a closely guarded secret during war time and have only become known in recent years. One such airfield was Tempsford in Mid Bedfordshire.
Work started on the construction of Tempsford Airfield in late 1940. It was built by John Laing and Son and Balfour Beatty. In late summer 1941 the airfield opened under 3 Group who were responsible for Special Operations Executive (SOE) activities until 1945. In March 1942 the airfields first permanent squadron appeared, No. 138 Special Duties.
Much of the work of the squadrons based at Tempsford (including 138 and 161 Squadrons) involved low level arms and ammunition drops to Resistance forces by moonlight. Prior to D-Day Tempsford squadrons supplied war material to Resistance forces throughout Europe. During its time at Tempsford 138 Squadron delivered 995 agents, 29,000 containers, 10,000 packages in the course of 2,494 sorties with the loss of 70 aircraft.
One of the many agents dropped into France was Violette Szabo G.C. Violette was born in Paris in 1921 to a French mother and English father. After the death of her husband she became an undercover agent in France. She flew out on both her missions from RAF Tempsford, the last being on the evening of 6 June 1944. On the 10 June 1944 she was ambushed near Limoges and captured. Despite brutal torture and interrogation, she revealed nothing. Violette was later sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp and was eventually shot on 25 January 1945. In 1958 a film was made of Violette's life called 'Carve her name with pride' starring Virginia McKenna. Violette's code poem which she used for her mission in France (written by Leo Marks) is still one of the nation's most popular poems:
"The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
In June 1947 the airfield was placed under the care and maintenance and in April 1961 many of the buildings were auctioned. The airfield site was sold in early 1963.
The wartime work of the airfield is commemorated on the inside of a barn on the airfield. It records "the brave deeds of the men and women of every nationality, who flew from this wartime airfield to the forces of the Resistance in France, Norway, Holland, and other countries during the years 1942 to 1945. The equipment for their dangerous missions was issued to them from this barn."
- Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire Airfields in the Second World War by Graham Smith
- Military airfields of the Cotswolds and the Central Midlands by Michael J. F. Bowyer
- Tempsford Airfield by Bernard O'Connor
Images of Tempsford Airfield:
Page last updated: 4th February 2014