Memories of RAF Beaulieu

As I’ve worked on this project to document my discoveries on the WW2 airfield, people have started to comment and get in touch with their own memories. This has included secondhand stories that have passed down through generations by relatives.

Being memories there’s no guarantee that the detail here is 100% accurate, so where I felt relevant, I’ve added my own comments and linked back into any evidence found.

If you would like to share any of your own memories, please do get in touch with me.

Want to read more stories?

Below are just short stories. For more in-depth accounts please explore the Airfield Stories section.

During the Second World War

Working as a civilian at Beaulieu during the war

“I was on Beaulieu Airfield for roughly two years, from the winter of 1943/44 to February 1946 as an ENSA cinema operator.”

“Beaulieu was my first experience of living in a Nissen hut with its red-hot stove in the centre and its freezing periphery. Sleeping on an air force bed with its mattress of ‘biscuits’ (three squares laid in line) which Air Force personnel had daily to pile neatly at the ends of their beds with blankets and sheets folded on top. Being civilian, I quietly resisted the hints of the WAAF sergeant with whom I shared the hut that I should do the same.”

Angela Wyatt (read more in her full account)

Local scouts invited onto USAAF Station AAF 408

“My late father actually had a tour round the airfield with his scout troop during the war. He often told me how he cut his hand on some metal object or other and was given a lift to the medical hut.”

“Apparently, the American driver jokingly said to him, don’t bleed in my jeep, sonny! The Yanks showed the scouts round the base and gave them chocolate and candy, but they had to go home before the bombers returned from their day’s raid over northern France.”

Trevor Phillips

“I spoke to one of my Dad’s old scouting friends yesterday and I asked him about their visits to RAF Beaulieu. He’s nearly 90 and his memory’s not so good but he does remember two visits in 1943 and 1944.”

Trevor Phillips

Post-war up until 1959

Gliders with dummies being used for target practice

“My great uncle Fred was storeman for the boatyard in Bucklers Hard. At the time, the Navy was using Beaulieu Airfield to tow targets out for firing practice. Great uncle Fred came out with a story that the gliders being used for target practice had pilots and the navy were firing and killing men piloting the gliders.”

“He said he would see a pilot waving at him from the glider as it went down the flight path right over Beaulieu river. None of our family believed him.”

“Many years later I was working for a company and there was a caretaker called Harry. He told us a story one day about how being stationed at Beaulieu airfield was such a skive that they use to play about. One favourite trick was to stuff a boiler suit with paper and stick a flying helmet on a football and then place it in the glider to look like a body. They then found out that if they put a length of wire on the cuff out the window with a piece of rag on it the dummies hand waved.”

“So great uncle Fred did see a pilot waving at him, but it was Harry’s joke dummy, not a real person.”

John Lewis

Local people working on the Beaulieu airfield

“After the war my dad’s friend worked on the site converting one of the huts to a mini cinema for the airmen who remained on the site before it closed as an airfield.”

Trevor Phillips

Living on Beaulieu Aerodrome after World War 2

“My wife was born in one of the huts in 1949, don’t know the number. Her father had been stationed there during the war. He met his wife to be in East Boldre village and the rest is history.”

“My wife said it was lovely and warm in the winter, with the combustion stove which used to throw out a lot of heat. At the time, it was council accommodation, and they used to pay sixpence a year to the Forestry Commission. They could pick up as much wood as they liked for the combustion stove.”

Jeff Williams

“We lived in a hut on site 4 between 1948 and 1949. We were then re-housed in Pilley in about 1950. The huts on site 4 were not as nice as the ones on site 6. Ours was corrugated tin and rain used to drip though the roof if it was heavy. I often had to go to bed with a raincoat on the bed.”

Maureen Harvey

“The RAF were leaving Beaulieu Airfield and the council were taking over some huts and converting them for civilian use. We were offered one; Hut 7, Site 6, with the rent being about 8 shillings a week.It was good to be living on your own as a family, but it was really hard going in those days. No fridge, no washing machine, only a coal range for cooking.”

“There were quite a few families living in the site. All young, mainly ex-service people. I did not hear anyone complaining of the hardship of living in a hut. They were probably thinking how lucky they were in surviving the war.”

William Phillips (read more in his full account)

“Of the 4 or so places I lived as a child, Beaulieu airfield was my favourite. We moved there in1951 I think when I was 8. Our hut was number 23 and we went to school was in Beaulieu. Having all that open forest and wooded areas to play in was wonderful.”

“There were several WW2 buildings still standing, although they had been partially disassembled making them great for adventurous kids to play in. The airfield was still active, so civilians were not allowed to access all areas. The buildings that we kids roamed in though were derelict. The water tower was a dare to climb although I never knew anyone brave enough to take it on.”

“There were 2 accommodation areas in the area of Roundhill. One was abandoned for temporary housing after the war, but the other was located near the water tower and remained occupied until the mid 1950s. Our hut was next to the washroom and toilets which was very handy.”

Maggie Kant

“My parents moved into Hut 5 on Site 4 of Beaulieu Aerodrome on 8 June 1952, just three weeks before my older brother’s 1st birthday. I was born there seven months later in early January 1953. Six weeks later, we moved into a new council house in Hythe. I remember my mother saying the house was so new the plaster was still wet on the walls.”

“I, of course, have no memories of the Nissen hut but I do remember on several occasions, when we were driving home to Hythe after visiting my grandparents in Brockenhurst, my mother would point out a lane to the right and say, “You were born just there.” I always looked but my only memory is of pine trees and a dark green water tower. I was very young at the time and did not have a clear view out of the car window.”

“I also remember my mother saying that, when I was born, it was freezing cold in the hut- so cold that my father would venture into the woods at midnight to chop logs for the stove. Sixty-eight years on, I still use my father’s axe.”

Steve Antcazk

Motorcycle racing in the 1950s

“My dad and his mates used to race around the perimeter track on their motorcycles in the 1950s. It was obviously illegal, but they just did what young blokes do! Sadly, one of them was killed in an accident doing this, and that is what prompted the Forestry commission to gate the perimeter road.”

Paul Phillips

1959 onwards

The early days of model airplane flying

“When I was young I remember going up the aerodrome with my uncles once the air ministry had finished there. I remember seeing model airplanes flying that were powered by elastic. The elastic was wound up using a brace and then let it go. When it ran out someone would hop on the back of a motorcycle and go flying across the forest to retrieve it.”

John Lewis

Learning to drive on the Beaulieu Airfield runways in the 1960s and 70s

“My father taught me to drive on the Beaulieu runways some 45 years ago; I then taught my daughter on the roads abutting the runway 13 years ago – we both passed first time so clearly it was a good place to learn!”

Martin Halliday

“My earliest memory from there is when my father tried to teach my mother to drive on the long gone concrete tracks in the 1960’s. It scared me so much that I jumped out of the car… My father gave up too! I don’t think the local ponies were too impressed?”

Peter Luke

Local children playing on the RAF Beaulieu site in the 1980s

“Not sure if anyone has mentioned the ‘Hump‘ in the previous posts about RAF Beaulieu. It’s a mound of earth, sand or whatever to the south of the airfield not too far from the main road.”

“When we were kids we were told it was an ancient burial mound, but in 2015 when I went on a tour around the WW1 East Boldre airfield the chap showing us round said that the ‘Hump’ was part of the firing range used by the servicemen stationed at the WW2 airfield.”

“There’s also another smaller mound closer to the current entrance to the site which was built for the same purpose apparently.”

“To the south west of the airfield towards the village of Pilley is a crater us kids charmingly entitled ‘Bomb Hole’.”

“I was told it was made by a German bomb but I also recall reading somewhere that that part of the Forest was used for target practice by Allied bombers so perhaps it was one of ‘ours’ (although I doubt if proper bombs would have been used so close to a village). It’s full of water at the moment but can be seen on Google maps.”

Trevor Phillips

“I am 48 now and have so my memories of bullet digging and exploring the site from the early 1980’s. We tried to dig for bullets on the “mound” several times but never found a thing, which is why we assumed it must have been the plane guns as they were higher calibre and penetrated deeper?”

“We found literally hundreds of bullets and casing on what we knew were the old rifle ranges. We used to put them in vinegar to clean them and then use Brasso on them to shine them up. My mum still has some of the better examples to this day!” 

“We were always told that the large gravel pile visible from the main road before you get to the airfield turning was there for the planes to test fire their guns on take off, but not sure how true that was.”

“I went to William Gilpin school in Pilley and there used to be an engraved stone on the old toilet block honouring some Canadian pilots whose Liberator came down in the woods next to the school on the way back to RAF Beaulieu.”

“The AA gun placements were quite near a bomb hole if I remember rightly. I remember seeing fish in there once so we took our rods and gave it a go, and caught a fair few. Guess they must have arrived in there as eggs on ducks’ feet as not sure how else they would have naturally occurred!”

“The other big bomb hole we used to play in is in the car park of Morley wood enclosure on the crossroads on main road to Lymington. Apparently, that was dropped on one of the nights Southampton got raided. My Dad still lives in East Boldre and was brought up there. He was only young but does remember a German bomber coming down in in fields right behind where he lives now. A JU88 I think.”

Paul Phillips

“Lots of the people who lived in and around the airfield from East Boldre to Furze and west to Dilton were only too glad to make use of anything free from the base or the small air strip at South Baddesley. My father was one of those who slept under ex-RAF coats at Stockley Cottage. My family were Forest keepers and knew the Humbys. I have great memories of the place. Climbing the old water tower as a kid and staying in the old huts on the western perimeter. In the late sixties I would watch the large scale ww2 model planes flying off the old runway apron.”

Ricky Gulliver

New Forest scouts using the old grocery store as a scout hut

“One of the ex RAF buildings, Chorley Lodge was leased by the Scouts in Southampton. The building had no electricity or sewage system so was very basic. It was an excellent facility to enjoy the New Forest. Unfortunately when the lease expired the Forestry Commission would not renew.”

“Before they dug up the concrete roadways it was a great tool for navigation when teaching orienteering as it was so obvious. We also used the circuit as part of the athletics badge as a running track.”

Keith Petty

“As a leader, we had many fun activities weekends out at Chorley. For many years had a pre-Christmas camp. Very popular with the boys and parents too! Originally there was a complete sewage system available, but that was destroyed by the Forestry Commission and then years later had to install collective waste tanks for Roundhill camp site, which was a bit short sighted!”

“Incidentally, my wife and I were out in our caravan at Roundhill, the week they bought in the bulldozer and knocked it down. but as far as I know, to this day, the base was left so it wasn`t completely cleared! I admit I shed a tear, knowing the fun it had provided to thousands of kids over the years and would do so no more.”

Richard Jacob