A faint throb of a Lancaster returning in the morning mist, a light flickers in a disused control tower and a roar of laughter comes from the derelict pilot’s quarters. The ghosts of Britain’s abandoned airfields have intrigued investigators for years. These ghostly tales are from people who have experienced a close brush with the supernatural in some of Britain’s most eeriest places.
There are at least eight books that detail the appearances and habits of ghosts at Lincolnshire’s airfields, whether derelict or not. What attracts people to read these books is the reality behind the stories, often very sad or heart-warming but most of all chilling.
Waltham’s Ghostly Airman
The Royal Air Force quickly abandoned many airfields after the Second World War, RAF Waltham, near Grimsby is one such airfield.
RAF Waltham was opened as a heavy-bomber station with squadrons of Wellington Bombers stationed there. While stationed at Waltham, No. 100 squadron attacked targets across Germany and the occupied countries of Europe. In 1945 the station closed and the No.35 maintenance unit used the airfield for storage but this wasn’t for long and they too left.
According to Bruce Halpenny in “Ghost Stations” late in 1969, Susan Burchell lived on the perimeter of the airfield, and her house was built on the foundations of old wartime huts. One night, Susan awoke to see in the gloom, somebody standing at the foot of her bed. She switched on her bedside lamp and clearly saw the figure of a young ginger-haired airman in uniform, with one sleeve pinned to his shoulder.
The phantom airman continued to stare at Burchell before moving slowly towards her wardrobe and disappearing into it.
Susan began to scream and awoke her parents. They began to search the house and garden, including the wardrobe but found nothing. Although the airman never appeared again, the family soon moved out.
Local folklore claims that the hut which Burchell’s house was built over was destroyed when an ex-crew member who had done many missions and been declared unfit for flying, due to injuries caused in an attack, killed himself with a hand-grenade.
Other airmen have been seen walking around the airstrip, once a popular area for courting couples. In 1982, a phantom airman was seen walking up and down before vanishing into the darkness. A memorial for the No.100 squadron situated on a nearby road also has a phantom airman who appears regularly.
RAF Metheringham’s Phantom Lady
Although little remains of RAF Metheringham, its ghost continues to remind people that it played an important role in World War 2.
A young lady, in her late teens, is often spotted standing at the side of the road between 9:30 and 10:00 pm. She stands on what was once part of the airfield and wears a pale green coat with a grey scarf. Pinned to her lapel is an RAF wings badge. The ghost has stopped cyclists, motorists and pedestrians, asking for help, telling whoever she stops that her fiancé has skidded riding his motorcycle and is lying injured nearby. The ghost appears quite real rather than the ethereal. As with most road ghosts, there is a sinister side to the sighting. On her sudden disappearance, the witness is stricken with inexplicable fear, panic and sense of unreality. The ghost leaves behind a powerful odour of putrefaction. One witness who met the lady said, “I could not see her eyes, or horribly, no eyes in the sockets at all, the frontal skull orbits were empty!”
Halpenny claims that the young lady was killed near the end of World War 2 when her fiancé crashed his bike, throwing her off it, and breaking her neck and causing terrible head injuries. The two were due to be married and she had just ordered her wedding gown.
The Most Haunted Airfield?
RAF Elsham Wold opened in July 1941; similar to Waltham, as a heavy bomber station and from the outset it held Wellingtons, Halifaxes and finally Lancaster Bombers. Elsham Wold is a cold bleak site and the squadrons based there had many losses and accidents caused by ice and freezing fog.
In January 1945, Corporal Hilary, took a van across the far side of the airfield, due to the thick fog, Hilary had to drive with the van lights full on. It was midday and Hilary became lost out on the airfield. She stepped out of the van to try and locate her position when she saw coming out of the fog into the van headlights three aircrews in the full flying kit. She asked them for directions but they just walked past and disappeared into the fog. That day no flying took place because of the fog and aircrew would not have walked across the field. Did Hilary see a phantom crew?
The airfield closed in 1947 and a new road cuts through the airfield. For many years the Gregory family lived in the wartime control tower at Elsham Wold. They often heard mysterious morse code messages and saw phantom airmen walking around their home.
Their first experiences came as soon as they moved into the tower. A tapping noise could be heard on one of the walls, the noise continued for months and the Gregorys realised that there was a pattern to the tapping. When ex-servicemen visited the tower, they told the Gregory’s that it was in fact morse code.
As with most haunted airfields, a phantom airman kept the family spooked. The airman would appear at the bottom of Mr and Mrs Gregory’s bed, smile and then disappear. One night he was seen by Mr Gregory sitting in one of their chairs smiling once again when Gregory moved, the airman stood up and disappeared.
Another incident involved the Gregory’s son, Paul. One night, Mrs Gregory heard her son screaming in the middle of the night.
“When I went in his room, he was sitting up in bed screaming his head off,” she said. “He said ‘Can’t you hear that plane? It’s taking off and it’s not coming back.
Paul described in great detail a four-engined aircraft and its seven-man crew he had seen taking off from the old main runaway, which is less than 100 yards from his bedroom window in the control tower.
Today, the tower no longer exists, demolished to make way for a new road from the M180 and the Humber Bridge. The road also follows the line of one of Elsham Wold’s runways – so one foggy night you might meet one of its phantom aircrews.