Great Britain is perhaps the most haunted land on earth. For such a small place we seem to have more than our fair share of ghosts – headless horsemen, phantom stagecoaches, and ladies in grey abound. Almost every castle and stately home seems to have a story about some wandering spirit who just can’t find any rest.
Everybody knows about the Tower of London and its ghosts, and most of us have heard some local ghost story to send a shiver down the spine. But what about our more recent ghosts, the ghosts left to wander after the end of the Second World War?
Many British World War II airbases are reputed to be haunted and sightings of ghost Spitfires are common in many parts of the country. But perhaps the most famous and well-known of them is the Spitfire of Biggin Hill.
Biggin Hill was one of the most important airfields during the Battle of Britain and throughout the rest of the war. Even today many people, including policemen and ex-RAF pilots, continue to report the drone of Rolls-Royce Merlin engines in the air at all times throughout the year – even on clear sunny days. But on searching the skies none of them have been able to see any planes. So what are they hearing – an echo from a distant past?
Another ghostly spitfire allegedly haunts Tangmere airfield, not far from Chichester. Tangmere was where the legendary Douglas Bader was stationed at one point. Bader is probably the most famous World War II fighter pilot with twenty-two kills to his name. He flew and fought in the Battle of Britain without his legs due to injuries caused by a pre-war plane crash. Bader’s story was made famous in a post-war book "Reach for the Sky", written by Paul Brickhill, and a film of the same name starring Kenneth Moore.
Locals and visitors alike have reported a circling ghostly Spitfire coming in to land at Tangmere. It taxis along the runway and then takes to the skies once more and vanishes. Could it be Douglas Bader returning home to fly just one more mission?
During the Second World War Lindholm Park in South Yorkshire was used as an RAF airfield for Wellington bombers. It was from here that some of the first nightly raids on Berlin took place. On one of the very first of these daring missions one of the Wellington’s crashed at the end of the runway and all of the Polish crew were killed.
Soon after, a sad looking figure in pilot’s gear imploring locals to tell him the way home in heavily accented English was reported. When the rumours spread to the nearby villages of Finningley and Hatfield further reports of an apparition of a crashed Wellington’s tail section rising and sinking in the landscape appeared.
In the fifties the airfield was the home of a squadron of Avro Lincoln’s and one evening a mechanic working late was so frightened by the ghost that he ran from his post and was later brought before a military hearing for abandoning his station during active service.
Later, during the seventies, a crashed Wellington was dug up at the airfield and four skeletons were buried at a nearby cemetery soon after.
But still the ghost kept appearing.
In 1975 Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Jenkins and an RAF squadron leader, returning from nearby RAF Finningley, saw a ghostly figure dressed in pilot’s gear standing near to where the Wellington bomber had crashed. But it wasn’t until the eighties, after much searching, that a corpse was found and buried alongside the other four airmen. Since that time the ghost has not reappeared and no sightings have been reported.
Even the British airwaves are full of World War Two ghosts.
The centre tells the stories of the men and women who served there and the radio is part of that story. Incredibly the old Pye valve wireless isn’t even connected to any electrical source, but still the broadcasts continue.
The aerodrome has always had ghostly sightings and sounds reported, but the mysterious wireless broadcasts have left even the most sceptical staff at the station unable to come up with any rational explanation.
Bob Sutherland, a trustee of the air station heritage centre and its treasurer, said: “I have heard it playing Glenn Miller. The volume was very low but the music was quite identifiable. Graham Phillip, another volunteer, has heard what he was sure was Winston Churchill and others have heard it. I was a wireless operator with the RAF and know a bit about them.”
Peter Davis, 65, the heritage centre’s secretary, added: “It is most odd and we cannot understand it. The station has a very abnormal presence. Several paranormal groups have been in to investigate various things, but the wireless has everyone including our radio technicians stumped.”
Phantom spitfires, ghostly Polish pilots, haunted radios – these are just a few of the dozens of stories that are attached to the many World War II RAF aerodromes scattered throughout the country. Most of them are deserted and empty now, but just why so many of them still seem to provide a home for the pilots and crew who lived and died in them is perhaps the greatest mystery of all.