Before the airfield’s construction by John Laing & Son in 1939, arable farmlands and fields fields stretching over 1000 acres was owned by a family - the Hodges. By 1940 and with the outbreak of war 600 acres had gone; the Air Ministry took 426 to build the airfield and nearby another 200 became a Royal Engineers’ depot otherwise known as the Long Marston Army Barracks.
At the end of the airfield's construction the standard 'A' configuration layout produced three tarmac runways with the main runway measuring 1,500 yards and the other two 1,100 yards each. This was later changed when runway two was extended to 2,400 yards. Three hangers were also erected and billets for over a 1000 permanent staff, RAF and WAAF trainee air crews were built and stationed across what is now the B4632 Stratford to Cheltenham road yards from the airfield's main entrance. This was one of many satellite airfield's in the area; the closest being RAF Honeybourne.
During the war years Long Marston Airfield became the home to hundreds of Royal Air Force servicemen who operated the RAF’s Group of Ferry Commands in 1941. The RAF also provided training flights and missions to Gibraltar and the Middle East before the mighty twin engined Wellington Bombers (otherwise known as the flying coffins) started pounding the runways in 1942.
Legendary aircraft such as Beauforts, Doninies, Hudson's, Bristol Bombay's, and the American built Marylands also flew missions from the Warwickshire RAF station. Some missions were a success, others were not so lucky.
The first recorded incident on the airfield occurred in March 1943 near to Knobbs Farm when a Whitney V crashed on take-off after its undercarriage collapsed A month later, a Wellington III crashed after making an emergency landing having taken off from nearby Gaydon after suffering engine failure. The bomber crashed into two stationary Whitley V's. Four Canadian airmen in the Wellington were killed and another injured. Five months later in two fatal accidents, ten RCAF airmen from Long Marston were also killed.
With the war over stationed personnel began to disband as the airfield began winding down its operations under instructions from the Air Ministry. Training flights were still operational but in very frequent circumstances. With the last units gone, the airfield ceased operations in the summer before being placed in the hands of No 8 Maintenance Group from nearby Little Rissington. For months, the runways fell silent. The only lasting memory left were the wartime buildings, bunkers and a large collection of redundant and dismantled Wellington's.
As the years rolled by, the airfield was placed under a Care and Maintenance Order by the Air Ministry and was subsequently refurbished for training purposes as young eager 'National Service' pilots jammed the skies with their Airspeed Oxfords from the No10 Advanced Flying School. Sadly, those training flights only lasted until 1954 after another Order was issued from the Air Ministry finally calling time on RAF Long Marston after the war in Korea. The airfield fell silent. It's infrastructure of buildings one by one began to disappear. Only a few buildings and the old control tower now exist
With the airfield's ownership now back in the hands of the Hodges several locally based motor sporting clubs began looking for alternative venues to host there events. One club in particular, the Evesham Motor Club ran several successful sprints for cars and motorcycles in the mid to late fifties to compete in. Some were straight line events while overs were held over a 700 yard dash into a 110 degree right hand bend up to a 900 yard sprint to the finish line. Not to be left out the Cheltenham & District Car Club also held successful quarter mile sprints, some of which took place on the same runway as today's drag racing in the early to mid sixties.
Long Marston also played host to motorcycle road racing utilizing bits of the airfield's perimeter roads and runways with many of its competing riders considering this to be one of the countries challenging of circuits with its long straights, chicanes and tight corners.
The airfield also was used for single stage car rally's, bike sprinting, traction engine rally's and nationally televised Rallycross events broadcast by Birmingham based ATV Midlands. Jalopy Racing, a poor man's form of Banger racing and Autocross also took to the grass often with events held in the next field by the control tower.
Long Marston Airfield also played host to several local football and cricket teams with pitches marked out where today's Sunday Market overflow car park is situated. Even the burning of Crossroads Motel (a popular Midlands based TV soap opera) was filmed on the airfield.
Long Marston Airfield also played host (and still does), to the crazy world of drag racing with the first event taking place on Sunday 9th September 1973.
With the strip laid out on the shorter of the three runway's with the start line situated where the Sunday Market entrance is today, racing was a little unpredictable as over a 100 racers struggled to find any grip on the far from ideal bumpy surface. However, not to go unnoticed Clive Skilton ran his Castrol GTX dragster to 208 mph in 7.23 seconds over the quarter mile distance. The rest, as they say is history.
Today, there's still a thriving community of leisure pursuits and sporting activities taking place on the airfield almost seven days a week from model flying to full size microlights and gliders, clay pigeon shooting, driver training days to drag racing. Two of Europe's best known festivals - the Global Gathering and the Bulldog Bash - are held here every year. With its knowledgeable staff and a keen interest to see further events flourish on the old World War II airfield you can rest assured that the site's history, its fallen hero's and present day people will never be forgotten.
Further airfield history and photos can be found on the Long Marston Airfield Sports & Leisure Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Long-Marston-Airfield-Sports-Leisure/377205635638604 or in the following publications:
Warwickshire Airfields In The Second World War by Graham Smith (ISBN 1 85306 867 5) www.countrysidebooks.co.uk
Angry Skies Across The Vale by Brian Kedward (ISBN 09527002 0 4)
Long Marston Airfield's Timeline...
1939 - Construction work began at Long Marston Airfield
1940 - RAF planes began to fly from the airfield
1942 - First recorded operations flights for Whitley Bombers started
1943 - First recorded Wellington Bomber air crash was reported near Knobbs Farm 28th June when HF643 crashed into two empty Whitleys.
1945 - 24 Operational Training Unit was officialy disbanded on the 24th July
1954 - The year RAF Long Marston was decommissioned
1955 - First recorded 1600 yard motor sprint with a 110 degree bend was held by Evesham Auto Club
1964 - Sydney Allard's first dragster appears at the Evesham AC Sprint
1971 - The first in a series of Rallypoint races sponsored by Philips Electrical took place
1972 - Rally star Roger Clark wins the first Rallycross event at Long Marston
1973 - Formula 1 driver James Hunt competed in an airfield Special Stage of the Tour of Britain Motor Rally in a Chevy Camaro ~ The first official drag race took place on Sunday September 9th ~ Tom Airey wins the Castrol Rallypoint Championship
1974 - Stratford Gliding Club was formed and based 4th April. Its founding chairman was Andy Coffee, an ex RAF Spitfire pilot.
1978 - Eighth round of the Castrol/BTRDA Rallycross Championship was staged at Long Marston on Sunday 24th Sept. Jenson Button's late father John was competing in a VW Golf.
1981 - Long Marston Airfield plays host to The Alan Goldsmith Vintage Air Display on the 24th/25th May Bank Holiday weekend featuring the RAF Red Arrows.
1981 - An ATV Outside Broadcast Unit films the popular TV soap Crossroads Motel fire scenes on the southern side of the airfield.
1983 - Speedway star Simon Wigg won the first leg of the Shell Oils British Masters Grass Track Championships in August; a short oval event for motorcycles and sidecars.
1987 - The first Bulldog Bash takes place at the Long Marston drag strip
1989 - Work begins on a new American style drag strip to be known as Avon Park Raceway.
1990 - The Midland Warplane Museum opens at Long Marston Airfield telling the story of the 24 Operational Training Unit whose Whitley and Wellington Bombers use to occupy the airfield in the war years ~ Avon Park Raceway opens with the BDRA Nationals.
1993 - The first of five Phoenix Festival music concerts takes place headlined by Billy Bragg and the Buzzcocks
1995 - A new sound wall surrounding the drag strip's start line is erected.
2001 - The first ever Global Gathering music festival saw 25,000 party people attend shaking the airfield foundations
2003 - Hundred's of microlights from around the world took to the skies over the airfield for the years Microlight World Championships
2007 - Status Quo and the Wurzels are the headline acts at the Bulldog bash
2009 - Motorhead hits the stage at the Bulldog Bash
2010 - The first Long Marston Model Air Show takes place
2012 - The first organised Tractor Pull takes place on its own pulling strip
2013 - The popular Volkswagen based event GTi International takes to the drag strip ~ Mad inventor Colin Fruse sets a new Guiness World Record for the World's Fastest Pram in front of BBC Officially Amazing cameras