RAF Waddington through the Ages: The Early Years
RFC Waddington first opened in 1916 in response to the need for more pilots to fill the ranks of the expanding Royal Flying Corps. The airfield was completed in autumn of 1916 with the first aircraft arriving in November of that year. Seven large aircraft hangars were built on the Mere Road, which ran between Waddington and Branston villages with a further 3 large aircraft sheds being built alongside Ermine Street.
RAF Waddington 1919 – the main hangar complex on Mere Road. The sheds on Ermine Street (known locally as High Dyke) can be seen in the distance.
A succession of flying training units were based at Waddington – most associated with No’s 47, 48 and 51 Reserve Squadrons and alongside trainees for the RFC, Waddington trained pilots from both the United States Air Service and the White Russian air force that was fighting the Bolsheviks in the Russian revolution civil war.
Life was not comfortable for the student pilots who lived in tents at the junction of High Dyke and Mere Road. Many were killed in aircraft accidents which began to be blamed on a German saboteur suspected of working in the area. Many victims of these flying accidents are buried in Waddington Churchyard, although most of their graves were destroyed in an air raid in 1941.
The transport section from 1918.
The Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service joined forces on the 1st of April 1918 to form the Royal Air Force and RAF Waddington was born. Training continued until the end of WW1 in 1918 and was then used for squadrons returning from the Western Front until the airfield closed in 1920.
RAF Waddington reopened in 1926 when No 503 (County of Lincoln) Special Reserve Squadron stood up in April 1928 with the Fairey Fawn and from 1930, the Handley Page Hyderabad. Little was done to the airfield facilities although a new officers’ mess, Newell House was built in 1929; this remains the oldest building at RAF Waddington.
A Handley Page Hyderabad of 503 Sqn over Lincoln Cathedral in 1930
The Expansion Period
The threat to Britain posed by a resurgent Germany was finally recognised in 1935 and an expansion of the RAF quickly began. Land to the West of High Dyke was purchased and aircraft dispersals were constructed east of the A15 (on the ground where you are now standing) although the runways remained as grass strips to the West of the road – aircraft having to taxi across the road to operate from the runways.
A reorganisation of RAF Bomber Command at the end of 1938 saw further changes to Waddington. Under the control of 5 Group, No 44 & 50 Sqn converted to the Hampden Bomber by 1939 and became the sole flying units at RAF Waddington at the outbreak of the Second World War.