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A Fighter Command Station at War
A photographic record of RAF Westhampnett
An unusual book this, and it does what it says on the tin. Pictures take up more space than prose. For Mark Hillier this has clearly been a labour of love, and he has diligently placed photos in their modern day context, where possible.
RAF Westhampnett is better known as Goodwood, or Chichester (Goodwood) to modern-day pilots. Part of the Earl of March’s estate, it is now best known as the location for his Revival Meeting. It was first created as an aerodrome by the current Earl of March’s grandfather, as a base for his light aircraft. So it was not a classic RAF fighter airfield like Duxford, or even a bomber airfield like Linton-on-Ouse, with a traditional brick built Officers’ Mess, and runway layout. It was hurriedly put into service after the start of WW2. One of the striking parts of the early chapters is the amazing privation suffered by both officers and other ranks (but particularly the latter), as billets were found in nearby cottages, barns, or less. Much servicing was done in the open.
The aerodrome was initially a satellite of the better known Tangmere, but came into its own due firstly to its proximity to Southampton (a Heinkel magnet), and latterly as a forward operating base for fighter sweeps across Northern Europe. As well as the Battle of Britain (obviously), it was involved in some of the key operations of the war: the Channel Dash, the Scharnhorst attack, the Dieppe raid, the Amiens Prison break-out, and so on.
Hillier has relied heavily on the Operations Record Books of the based squadrons, and the prose too often descends into a litany of movements of squadrons in and out. He has also found a few diaries of based personnel, and these provide much more interest. That of Douglas Bader’s wingman, for example, shows he was in thrall to the legless ace.
Most of the copious photos are taken from private sources. Whilst they have a welcome degree intimacy, they are of the poor quality typical of those taken at the time on box Brownies. Overall of great interest to those focussed on wartime aviation in West Sussex; of much less interest to the rest of us.