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RAF Hornchurch 1947 – 1962

In 1947 RAF Hornchurch became a training establishment with the establishment of the Aviation Candidate Selection Board, the Officers Advance Training School and the Recruits Advanced Drill Unit. Flying continued from the air field with the 86th Reserve Centre providing refresher training for de mobilised airmen. In 1948, the training establishment was extended with the formation of the Combined Selection Centre which ran aptitude, intelligence and medical tests for air crew selection. This was renamed the Air Crew Selection Centre in 1952.

In 1949 the demolition of the air fields facilities began with the dismantling of the 12 Blister Hangers. The same year, however, also marked 30 years of the RAF at Hornchurch which meant that a station badge could be awarded.

With increasing industrial discontent and the onset of a series of dockers strikes RAF Hornchurch became a mobilisation depot for service personnel who were to cover for the striking dockers in what was to be called Operation Homeland. Further strikes by dockers, power workers and cold storage workers saw similar preparations being made in 1950. In 1953 RAF Hornchurch was again mobilised as a centre for servicemen and women tasked with providing much needed relief and medical aid to thousands of people affected by or made homeless by the great east Coast floods of that year.

Throughout the immediate post war period RAF Hornchurch once again played host to impressive open days and air displays. The At Home Air Displays of 1951 and 1952 both attracted massive crowds that at 40,000 in 1952 rivalled the gate of the famous Empire Air Days of the pre war period.

The RAF presence at Hornchurch was, however, steadily cut back during the 1950's as large parts of the aerodrome were moth balled only to be reopened as emergency depots when required. By 1960 even theAir Crew Selection centre was beginning to see a drop in the numbers passing through and the final death knell for RAF Hornchurch was sounded when it was announced that a purpose built Air Crew Selection centre was to be opened at RAF Hornchurch's great pre war and war time rival Biggin Hill.

On 9th April 1962 RAF Hornchurch passed into the history books. Within a year the site had been sold for storage and gravel extraction. Most of the airfield facilities and structures were demolished by 1966 and in the 1970's extensive gravel quarrying tore up the old flightways and technical areas.

The memory of RAF Hornchurch, it's glorious history and the famous pilots who flew from it in two world Wars has not, and should never be forgotten. Much of the old airfield area is now a housing estate but it is an estate with street names that are redolent with a glorious past and connection with the RAF. Wander through these streets and you will find streets named in honour of the Zeppelin Busters Leefe Robinson, Tempest and Sowrey of World War I and the many Spitfire Aces such as Al Deere, Rob Stanford Tuck and Eric Lock of World War II. Parts of the old airfield can still be seen in the island of tranquillity that is now Hornchurch Country Park.

If you visit this place remember that this place once throbbed with the powerful roar of Merlin engined Spitfires flown by brave young men, many barely out of school. Remember this but also take a moment to reflect on the ultimate sacrifice that many of them made to help fashion the world that we now live in.

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