Gainsborough, Lincolnshire: home to some pretty tremendous views, some very friendly people, and more significant in an historical sense, the former Royal Air Force Station that lies just shy of 8 miles east of Gainsborough proper. Though many younger people these days won't be hugely interested in what (to most) seems like a load of ex-military buildings, true aficionados of history as well as aviation buffs will be familiar with this site's history, as a base from which thousands of launches of some of the greatest aircraft in the world took place, as well as playing a vital role in World War I, World War II, and the cold war. It's even got some Hollywood in its history wouldn't you believe it!?
World War I and II
Though you're more likely to see a pig fly than an aircraft take off from the now-disestablished air strip that forms part of this base, Hemswell is rich in history that takes its past all the way back to the First World War. Far from its use today as civilian trading/industrial estate, the year of 1918 saw the airfield's first runway established. This landing strip was used as a night-landing ground by the Royal Flying Corps in the same year in the closing months of the First World War, but it returned to being farmland once again after the end of the war.
Hemswell as it is known today by many didn't exist properly until the 1930s. During this period, a fully-fledged RAF base was being built in order to accommodate demand for space as a result of the newly-established Royal Air Force, which as many will forget was newly established and growing at an extremely rapid rate. 1936 was the year that Bomber Command was formed; December of that year saw Hemswell being officially opened as the one of the very first airfields where the No. 5 Group of the aforementioned command would carry out their service.
By the time 1939 and the beginning of the Second World War had arrived, Hemswell saw a great number of planes taking off from its runway. Perhaps one of the most famous is the 144 Squadron, which also suffered quite heavy losses of its Handley Page Hampden aircraft. The variety of aircraft that Hemswell was party to is actually quite incredible and includes the Avro Anson and the Hawker Audax, a variant of the Hawker Hart.
Hemswell clearly played a vital role in the Second World War along with the satellite airfield of RAF Ingham. So significant was their role that the by-then Group 1 airfield at Hemswell saw heavy losses of its planes. A short closure in 1944 allowed a runway upgrade to take the base to a Class A-Standard airfield. 25th April 1945 was the last hostile mission of the Second World War was launched.
The variety of aircraft that befell RAF Hemswell during the two World Wars didn't diminish even after the closing of these two conflicts: the post-war humanitarian efforts to drop supplies on Holland and Berlin saw Avro Lancasters, English Electric Canberras, and Mosquitos, among others. RAF Bomber Command finally ceased operations in 1956 where it became instead an RAF Bomber Command missile unit, housing Ballistic Nuclear Missiles until 1963. History buffs will know these warhead-tipped missiles to be part of the now-infamous UK-US dual-key arrangement.
It was in 1974 that the last RAF activity ceased to be and Hemswell was largely sold, with many of its buildings deteriorating significantly after that.