RAF Lichfield, or Fradley Aerodrome as it was sometimes known, was Staffordshire’s busiest airfield during the Second World War. At its peak, there were over 3,500 people serving there. Note I say people and not men. At Fradley, as at other airfields up and down the country, women made an enormous contribution.
Some of the women associated with RAF Lichfield were Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) pilots, who delivered aircraft to and from the base. It’s said that Amy Johnson was amongst them and that Johnson, the first female pilot to fly solo from Britain to Australia, was the first person to touch down on the runway at when the airfield opened on 1st August 1940, and 51 Maintenance Unit (M.U.) took up residence. Johnson lost her life on one of the ATA ferrying missions, flying an Airspeed Oxford from Prestwich to RAF Kidlington. After the war, the job of 51 M.U. was to break up aircraft. Although these were mostly recycled, according to David Mace of the Jet Age museum who contacted me early last year, some parts may have been dumped in the hedges and woodlands surrounding the airfield. Although nothing has turned up yet, several walks in the area have brought other new discoveries and so, I remain hopeful that some trace of the 900 Typhoons , 500 Liberators and 150 Fortresses broken up here might still remain in amongst the surviving hangars and other buildings.
From 23rd April 1941, until the end of the war, RAF Lichfield was home to 27 O.T.U which trained crews from mainly Australia (you may have noticed a bench in The Close with a plaque commemorating the many Australian airmen who served at Fradley) and other Commonwealth countries before they went on to join their squadrons.
Sadly, some didn’t get that far and many of those who were killed whilst training at Fradley are buried at the church of St Stephen in the village. They may have lost their lives but I’m determined that we don’t lose their stories, or the stories of the other ordinary men and women who were brought together at RAF Lichfield in extraordinary circumstances and loved and lived, laughed and cried here. Later this month, we’re holding a community meeting in Fradley to discuss how best to carry on the work of the now defunct RAF Lichfield Association and continue to tell the stories of the airfield and its people. Together, we will remember.
If anyone would like to get involved, or has any stories or information to share regarding RAF Lichfield and those who served here, please do get in touch via the blog.