Not many know the important role that some of Buckinghamshire's top attractions and accommodations played in World War One, World War Two and The Royal Air Force. Discover Bletchley’s code-breaking history, Cliveden House’s WW1 hospital and how High Wycombe was involved in making aeroplane parts.
After failing a medical assessment, Waldorf Astor, was unable to join the army, so instead, he decided to offer part of Cliveden’s estate as a hospital for the British Army. They turned down the request but the Canadian Red Cross accepted instead. A hospital was built and it treated injured allied troops during the fighting of the First World War. The hospital was now where you can find the covered tennis court, racquets court and bowling alley of Cliveden House. Over 24,000 troops were treated at the hospital and it is said that only a relatively small number died. Those who died were buried in ‘The War Memorial Garden’ which can still be visited today.
Although Danesfield House Hotel was not used in the First World War, it played a very important part in the second. In 1941, Danesfield was requisitioned as a base to develop the intelligence section of the Royal Air Force. The property remained in the hands of the RAF until 1977. You are now able to stay in Danesfield House Hotel as well as explore the house and grounds which played a vital part for the RAF during WW2.
Similarly to Danesfield Hotel, Bletchley Park played a very vital role in the Second World War. Bletchley Park was once the top-secret home of WW2 code breakers, where nearly 10,000 people worked. Code breaking at Bletchley first took place in September 1938 and it was the work done here that was essential to allied victory in World War Two. You are able to visit Bletchley and have a good at breaking the codes for yourself.
The Trenchard Museum
The Trenchard Museum displays and preserves items that relate to the history of Royal Air Force Halton. As you cannot visit RAF Halton as it is still used today, the museum is the next best thing! See a variety of artefacts including complete aircrafts, cockpits, aero engines, simulators, as well as memorabilia which illustrate life, training and notable events during 100 years of the Royal Air Force.
Did you know that most of the aeroplane parts for the First World War were made by the furniture factories of High Wycombe. They were given over to aircraft manufacture during WW1, however the factory bosses didn’t like this and proposed a whole new factory dedicated to making aeroplanes, instead of every factory making some parts. Before any aircraft could be made, the war ended and the factory was left derelict. However this still meant Wycombe’s furniture factories were the main manufacturers for aeroplane parts during World War One.
William Bartlett & Son Ltd in Grafton Street made parts for the Handley-Page bomber. E. Gomme Ltd made wings for the D.H.9, and many women were employed in the aircraft factories as the men had gone to fight abroad. Find out more about Buckinghamshire's role during WW1 here>
Latimer House became the centre of highly top secret activities run by MI5 and MI6 during World War Two. The activities were under the obscure name Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Unit (CSDIC). It masked as a supply depot as No.1 Distribution Centre and no one locally knew its true activities. British Intelligence realised that the most important assets in wartime are the prisoners who hold a wealth of information, however interrogations were not necessarily productive. So they decided to secretly bug the conversations of the prisoners in their cells. From May 1942, Latimer House became crucial as the unit’s headquarters. There were thousands of German prisoners, including Hitler’s Generals, that would pass through Latimer House between 1942 and 1945. Latimer House is now a hotel which you can stay in, but if you would like to know more visit the Amersham Museum or read more on their site.
Roald Dahl and his RAF Career
Roald Dahl who lived and wrote in Great Missenden for over 35 years, was previously a RAF pilot. He became a RAF pilot at the age of just 23 where he fought in the Second World War. His love of flying is shown through several of his stories and books but little do people realise it's became of his previous RAF experience. You can visit the museum in Great Missenden to find out more about Roald Dahl's life as a RAF pilot and read more here>
Richard Morgan-Grenville (grandson of the 3rd Duke of Buckingham) ran the Stowe estate from 1908, but was killed at the front just before Christmas 1914. His clergyman brother inherited the estate but was unable to cope with its massive debts, so sold it all in 1921. It became a school in 1923 and still runs to this day. You can visit the hidden gem of Stowe House as well as the beautiful National Trust gardens.
Hughenden was home to a secret map-making operate in the Second World War, so secret that it only was discover 60 years later! Codenamed ‘Hillside,’ Hughenden’s role was vital in supporting the pilots of nearby Bomber Command, so much so that it was on Hitler’s list of top targets.
You can visit Hughenden Manor and take a look through their new permanent display which is an installation which features original photographs, record and memories of personnel involved at the time.
WW2 Nissen Hut at Chiltern Open Air Museum
At Chiltern Open Air Museum, you can discover their Nissen Hut which were invented during the First World War. Experience what it is like in a Nissen Hut at the museum where you can find an original hut, however the age remains a mystery! Step back in time and enter the hut where you can find a WW2 RAF briefing room, where areophane crews would go for their meetings and be given flight instructions. Discover about the history of Nissen Huts, who invented them, why they were built and what they were used for here.
RAF Wing Airfield & Memorial
A new memorial at the old RAF Wing Airfield was unveiled in June 2021 and it's well worth a visit. The airfield at Wing was huge in size, and by 1944 housed 2,500 RAF men and women with 53 Vickers Wellington bombers training under No.26 Operational Training Unit. The role was to take aircrew with core skills, and equip them as teams for full operational fighting duties - a sort of postgraduate course. It also received nearly 33,000 allied ex prisoners of war from 21 nations in 1945 for repatriation in Operation Exodus; saw the final flight and crash of the legendary test pilot Valentine Baker in 1942 in the Martin-Baker MB3 experimental fighter; and the 1943 crash of American air legend Immanuel Klette in his battle damaged Flying Fortress before he relearned how to walk at RAF Halton and went on to fly more bombing missions that any other pilot in the United States Air Force! In addition to this, around 80 wartime aircraft came down in the local fields and approximately 200 aircrew died while serving at RAF Wing, including as part of the famous 1000 bomber raids to Bremen, Cologne and Essen in 1942. The plaques at the memorial pay tribute to the sacrifice of the airmen and women of No.26 Operational Training Unit based at the airfield during WW2.