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RAF Hemswell – a potted history and why it’s important to us


At Hemswell Antique Centres, we are enormously proud of our links to the Armed Forces. Here, as we approach Remembrance Day, we take a look at the history of Hemswell and the part it played in WWII and The Great War.

Hemswell during The Great War 1914-1918

In 1916, in the middle of the First World War, the land at Hemswell was used as a night landing ground, while work was carried out to convert it into an airfield for The Royal Flying Corps (RFC). The first airfield was completed in 1918 and was named RFCS Harpswell, after the nearby village. RFCS Harpswell was used initially as a night landing ground but later, various squadrons were based there. By June 1919, after its role in the Great War, RFCS Harpswell was disbanded and the land returned to farming.

Hemswell in World War II

RAF Bomber Command was formed in 1936 and controlled the Royal Air Force’s bomber forces. Following a compulsory repurchase order, the former RFCS Harpswell was taken over by RAF Bomber Command. A new airfield was built which opened on New Year’s Eve 1936 and was renamed RAF Hemswell, starting a long and illustrious military association. Between 1937 and 1945, RAF Hemswell was home to several squadrons including 61 and 144 Squadrons, 150 and 170 Squadrons for operational flying, two Polish squadrons and 1687 Bomber Defence Training Flight Squadron. It was also home to the No.1 Lancaster Finishing School.

Hemswell continued to be used by Bomber Command in operational flying until 1956 and was subsequently used as a school for recruit training. It famously stood in for RAF Scampton in the 1954 film The Dam Busters, but finally closed in April 1974.

Remembrance Service held every year at the RAF Hemswell Memorial

On the closest school day to the 11th November, an annual remembrance service is held at the Station Memorial on the former Parade Ground at the centre of the site. The memorial was erected in 1995 to commemorate all those who served at RAF Hemswell between 1937 and 1967, and it was originally unveiled by the sister of Ronal Herd, one of 16 killed in action in September 1939, and the first of RAF Hemswell’s many losses. The children of the local Hemswell Cliff Primary School lay a rose each and wreaths are laid as a mark of respect to the squadrons that served at Hemswell.

Polish Bomber Squadron Trail

As well as being stationed at RAF Hemswell, there were Polish service personnel based at RAF Swinderby (Aug 1940-July 1941),  flying Fairey Battles and then Wellington bombers, RAF Ingham (May 1942-March 1944) , and RAF Faldingworth (March 1944-1947). RAF Dunholme Lodge, a Polish Resettlement Corp from December 1946, was where members of the Polish armed forces who did not want to return to Poland under Communist rule were assisted in transitioning into civilian life.

To honour all the Polish squadrons, a new heritage trail has been established which will link to a Polish Air Force Heritage Museum that is due to open at Ingham, later this year (2022). The trail takes in all the above mentioned bases, concluding with Newark Cemetery, which has 397 Polish military - mostly air force – graves. General Władysław Sikorski, who led the Polish government in exile, was buried at the cemetery after his death in a plane crash in 1943. His remains were eventually returned to Poland in 1993.

Hemswell today

Now converted to private use, the former RAF Hemswell is quite unique in having retained its pre-war layout and several of its buildings, and it has been home to Hemswell Antique Centres since May 24th 1986, when we first opened with just 150 dealers. We are extremely proud of our military connection and are honoured to be part of the new heritage trail.

Antique militaria for sale at Hemswell Antique Centres

Given our military history, it is no surprise to find that Hemswell Antique Centres have attracted several antique militaria dealers, each with their own specific area of expertise. When visiting the centres, militaria antiques and collectables can be found in Buildings One and Two, as well as in The Guardroom. Our dealers offer everything from antique guns and antique flintlock pistols, to WWI trench art and military binoculars, and everything in between.

For those able to visit the Centres in person, a day at Hemswell offers room after room of the most diverse selection of antiques with someone for everyone. Alternatively, sit back and relax while you browse our antique militaria online.

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