RAF Beaulieu’s History (+ Air Raid Shelters): Beaulieu Airfield Walk
Every week I try to explore a new piece of wartime history in the New Forest and Hampshire. This week, I took a trip to Beaulieu Heath, which is the site of RAF Beaulieu… or at least what’s left of it.
Also known as Beaulieu airfield, it was a WW2 airfield used by various nationalities and air forces during the Second World War. In my video below, you can see my walk around the perimeter, taking in various detours, and discussing RAF Beaulieu’s history.
Brief introduction to RAF Beaulieu’s history
RAF Beaulieu opened in 1942 and was one of 12 airfields in the New Forest during the second world war. It was initially operated by the RAF and then later the US Air Force. You can read more about it on my RAF Beaulieu website, including what I have found there.
It ended up closing in 1958 with the majority of the buildings being demolished, and if you look at it now, it’s almost impossible to imagine it was a busy wartime airfield with around 2,000 staff.
Nature really has taken over.
However, if you follow my Beaulieu airfield walk video around RAF Beaulieu, you can learn more about the history, including what’s left of the wartime airfield, including the following relics:
- The model airplane club on the surviving section of runway.
- The bomb store at Hawkhill inclosure.
- The control tower, pundit code, and signals mortar.
- The old hangar site.
- The Roundhill campsite with surviving water tower.
- The 2 surviving air raid shelters near RAF Beaulieu.
- The possible location of an old pillbox.
- The burial site for pilots at St John the Baptist church in Boldre.
As you walk around RAF Beaulieu it’s hard to see what it would have once been like. However, if you take an aerial view you can see evidence of where the runways used to be.
What looks like a capital letter A is where you can make out the 3 runways, and there’s still a little bit of runway left which is now used by the local model airplane club.
Now let’s explore more of the RAF Beaulieu airfield history. You can see photos and quick explainers for all the historical relics and surviving buildings I found on Beaulieu Heath’s wartime airfield during late September in 2020.
Bomb store at Hawkhill inclosure
The first stop on my Beaulieu airfield walk was a diversion out of the perimeter tarmac, crossing the road and walking into Hawkhill inclosure. There’s a really interesting ruin there which had an essential role for RAF Beaulieu in WW2, and that’s the remains of the bomb store.
It’s just under 1 kilometre away from the Beaulieu airfield perimeter, and there’s good reason for that… there would have been tonnes of explosives stored here during the Second World War. With all of that incendiary, you wouldn’t want to risk it being near the main airfield.
As you take in this part of the RAF Beaulieu airfield walk, you will see remnants of old brick walls. These are all that’s left of the bomb store now, but with one interesting piece that is still just about visible; the concrete bomb ramp.
By all accounts, lorries would pull up alongside it laden with bombs, and then the bombs would be taken off, onto the ramp, and loaded into trailers that were pulled away by tractors. The tractor trailers would then transport the bombs around Hawkhill inclosure for storage, or take them down the track to the airfield to be loaded onto the planes.
RAF Beaulieu’s control tower
Once you get towards the top of the Beaulieu airfield, near the old hangar site, you need to walk 50 metres or so onto the heath. You will discover the crumbling foundations of what used to be the control tower. In World War 2, it would have given the operators a great vantage point and view across all three runways in front of them.
It might be overgrown when you take your RAF Beaulieu airfield walk, but you might just be able to make out the letters B and L, which is known as a pundit code. The BL stood for Beaulieu and was designed to be a visual indicator for pilots in the air. It would help them identify the right airfield to land at.
Just behind the control tower is this metal tube sticking out of the ground. It’s a signals mortar, and if all else failed with pilot identification, it would fire into the air in bad weather, letting pilots see the airfield’s location for a landing.
Aircraft hangar site
On the opposite side of the airfield walk’s perimeter you can see a large expanse of concrete. This would have been where the hangars were, with planes and equipment being stored in here.
Roundhill campsite and water tower
About a 10 minute walk from the perimeter of the RAF Beaulieu walk is Roundhill campsite. During the Second World war, this was a really important part of the airfield as it’s where the staff used to have accommodation. By all accounts it had a wide range of facilities, even including a cinema!
All that is left now to see if one of the last remaining structures from RAF Beaulieu’s history, the water tower. It looks like it’s still being used, and certainly has been kept in great condition. It’s really impressive, and is now fenced off.
RAF Beaulieu’s surviving air raid shelters
If you walk a little past Roundhill campsite and along the fenced off farmland perimeter, you will find two air raid shelters. They are two of the best examples of surviving air raid shelters anywhere in the New Forest (and possibly the UK).
These are Stanton air raid shelters and were used by the staff at the camp location. Thousands of these air raid shelters were produced by the Stanton Ironworks in Derbyshire during WW2. The reinforced concrete proved an ideal material for air-raid shelters, being strong and resistant to shock with no deterioration with the passing of time – and low in cost.
However, they are on private land, so please respect the farmer’s property here and don’t trespass onto them. My video and photos were all taken from behind the fence and gate.
Being that they are on private land is probably why the two air raid shelters at RAF Beaulieu are amongst the only remaining military buildings on Beaulieu airfield to this day. I assume it’s because they are on private land and so haven’t been at risk of vandalism, or the Forestry Commission pulling them down after 1958’s handover from the RAF.
The burial site for pilots at St John the Baptist church in Boldre
From my research I’ve found records of 19 pilots who died due to crashes to and from the wart-time airfield. The first of these were Kenneth Crabtree and Kenneth Hunt. On the 7 November, 1942, they were flying a Liberator which hit the ground and exploded.
Over the next few months, a following 17 airmen were killed due to accidents, with a mix of British and Canadians in the fatalities.
All men were buried at a local churchyard just a few miles from RAF Beaulieu; St John the Baptist in Boldre.
I also visited there, to pay my respects which you can see at the end of the video.
Want More Walk Ideas? Please visit my RAF Beaulieu walks project, which has more historical walks you can make around he airfield.
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