In the same year that the RAF celebrates its centenary, 514 Squadron marks a significant milestone – 75 years since its formation in 1943. At its annual reunion, veterans of 514 Squadron were joined by their families and the families of former Squadron members – some coming from as far as Australia and Canada – to commemorate those who had been stationed at Waterbeach.
The reunion started at St Johns Church in Waterbeach where the 514 Squadron book of remembrance is displayed. The service was conducted by Canon Brian MacDonald-Milne, former officiating chaplain at Waterbeach Barracks, to remember the 435 air and ground crew from the Squadron who lost their lives during World War II. Three tributes were displayed from two Lancasters that flew from Waterbeach but did not make it home; one from France, from a person who saw the Lancaster come down outside his village.
During the ceremony, which was attended by over 125 people, wreaths were laid by Squadron veteran Syd Cooper in honour of those who served from the United Kingdom, Wendy Fleming in honour of those who served from Canada and Anne Carrigan-Harrip in honour of those who served from Australia and New Zealand.
It was the first time Anne Carrigan-Harrip has attended the reunion and she flew over in remembrance of her father Charles Carrigan, a wireless operator who was based at Waterbeach in 1944. She said:
“Lots of Australians volunteered and came over to the UK to join the war effort and my dad was one of them. He didn’t talk very much about the War and his experiences and I wanted to come to the reunion to find out more about the place he was based and the people he served with. The experience has been inspiring. I have been able to put together some links in his life and feel even more motivated to find out more.”
Following the service, people gathered on the former runway to watch an impressive flypast by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane to pay tribute to the brave air and ground crew who served at Waterbeach during the War.
Clive Hill, who runs the 514 Squadron Association and has organised the annual reunion for the last 18 years, said: “The reunion is always a special event and it is an honour to be able to mark the 75th anniversary with veterans of the Squadron, including Eddie Humes, Sergeant Navigator, who was one of the first to join 514 in 1943. Families travel from all over the country and from as far as Canada and Australia to reminisce and share stories about their loved ones.”
Tony Crossinggum, another of the 514 veterans said: “They (the reunions) are very enjoyable and the thing I find remarkable is the young people who come to them to represent their families. I think it’s wonderful that they find it interesting enough to come. They have to make that effort to come and I think it works really well.”
During the reunion, people went to the memorial garden to pay their respects and visited the Waterbeach Military Heritage Museum, which was officially reopened this time last year. The Museum, which covers the RAF period and Royal Engineers occupation from 1940, was set up by the Royal Engineers at Waterbeach Barracks and was open from 1984 to 2013, when the Barracks closed. The Museum subsequently reopened in a building at the entrance of the site after the MOD appointed Urban&Civic as master developers of the site.
Adrian Wright, Chairman of the Museum Trustees, said: “We have an extensive collection on display at the Museum and would like to thank the families who brought additional donations during the reunion – this included six Lancaster artefacts and other memorabilia. We are very proud of the collection and we are always pleased to receive things relating to the Squadrons and Royal Engineer units based at Waterbeach. We look forward to keeping the history of the Barracks and Airfield alive as it moves into the next stage of its evolution.”
The military role of the airfield, along with many other layers of history, are expressed in several features of the future plans for the site including the Runway Park, which will include commemorative features and a heritage trail that will cover the centuries of past activity on this unique site.
The veterans who attended the reunion said that Waterbeach was a good place to be based, largely because it was brick-built with hot and cold running water unlike the damp Nissan huts they had previously experienced. They also recalled the warm reception they received from the villagers and trips into Cambridge – which was a cycle ride away, so the flat terrain of the region was greatly appreciated.
To find out more about Waterbeach Barracks and Airfield and the men and women who served there, you can visit the Military Heritage Museum from 10am to 4pm on the first Wednesday and Sunday of each month from March to October and by appointment.