The 20th August 2010 marked the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, an anniversary that was rightly commemorated especially to remember those who served in the RAF and who fought so bravely and gave their lives. The Battle of Britain was without doubt one of the major Allied victories in the war because had it been lost then the outcome would have been tragic for this country. Many people might assume that the battle was fought exclusively in the South East but on 15th August 1940 a huge attack was launched by the Luftwaffe against the North East…. and RAF Acklington was at the very heart of the action. Here are some memories of ninety year old Nigel Drever, one of “The Few” spitfire pilots who took part in this historic event and who was later shot down by the Luftwaffe, captured and taken to prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III where he was part of The Great Escape.

Memories of a Second World War RAF Spitfire pilot

“I was just 19 when I got my RAF wings on the day war broke out in September 1939 and training was tough and disciplined.

Less than a year later I was posted to RAF Acklington and joined 610 Squadron a month before the Battle of Britain when the Germans mounted a heavy air attack in an attempt to gain superiority in the sky.

The Spitfire was magnificent to fly, so agile and easy to handle. When you got in the cockpit it was like the aircraft became part of your body. The speed was incredible and your reactions had to be lightning fast to avoid flak and the enemy fire of the Messerschmitt BF109. We were up and down, rolling left to right. Both the Me-109 and Spitfire were similar in performance and each side would look to anything to give them a tactical advantage. I continued to fly various sorties until March 1941 when I was shot down in a Spitfire MkII by a Me-109. There were flames in the cockpit and as they got higher I bailed out, landing in France.

My parachute got badly tangled up in a large oak tree but eventually my body weight dragged me through the leaves to the ground. I was captured by the Germans and confronted by a commandant who took me for a meal and appeared to be showing me off like a hunter with its prey before I was imprisoned.

I was taken to the Stalag Luft III prisoner of war camp on the Polish border and about 100 miles south east of Berlin. It became known for The Great Escape which was conceived in March 1944 and I helped to dig the tunnel. It was only 2ft square, dark, wet and difficult to breathe. It took a year to construct and it was agreed only a third of the 600 men who worked on it would be able to escape.

Some were guaranteed while the others drew lots. I was unsuccessful but maybe I would not be here today if I had. Of the 76 men who crawled their way to freedom only three made it back to the UK. The rest were either captured or killed.

I remained at the camp until the end of the war whereupon all the prisoners were taken on what became known as the Long March, trudging through the snow in the bitter cold. One by one the German guards began to fall away until there were none.

We were left to find our own way back to Britain, scrimping along the way. One kind local gave me a leg of ham as we made our way back home.

The war was finally over.”

Nigel Drever

 More Images linked to RAF Acklington



The following article was featured in the Northumberland Gazette (03/04/2010)

Air Vice-Marshal Sandy Hunter unveils the memorial plaque
and lays a wreath

A GRANITE memorial plaque to commemorate fallen airmen based at a Northumberland RAF station during the Second World War has finally been unveiled, more than 60 years after their heroic efforts took place.

The base at Acklington opened in 1938 and during the war it was an active fighter station protecting the industrial areas of Tyneside and Teeside.  Many famous squadrons and airmen of various nationalities were stationed there, and it continued to house a fighter base, flying training school and a search and rescue unit long after 1945.  But following its closure in 1972, the area was used for opencast coal extraction and is now the site of a prison and a young offenders institution.

The only remaining sign of the station's role during the war since then has been 42 gravestones in nearby Chevington Cemetery.

Now, after a concerted effort by campaigners, a memorial has been created there to remember those who put their lives on the line during Britain's darkest hour against the Luftwaffe.

Air Vice-Marshal Sandy Hunter (retired), who learned to fly at RAF Acklington, unveiled the plaque and RAF Padre Paul Rennie conducted prayers of dedication and the blessing.

Also present was Group Captain Phil Cox, Station Commander at RAF Boulmer, along with dignitaries from Commonwealth Air Forces, veterans from the Royal Air Force Association (RAFA) and Northumberland county councillors.  All paid their respects by laying wreaths, while Air Cadets from 1110 Squadron based in Ashington planted poppy crosses and saluted as the 42 names were read out.  RAF Boulmer's Sea King helicopter, trailing the RAF Ensign, did a flypast and station personnel went on parade.

Group Captain Cox said, "It was wonderful to see Acklington remembered in full and in fine style. We must never forget the sacrifice of those who flew and fought and Sunday's ceremony and the memorial, which was unveiled, will remain a lasting tribute to the airmen that served RAF Acklington. My congratulations to the newly formed cadets of 1110 Squadron Ashington, their turnout and drill was quite exceptional." RAFA members and personnel from RAF Boulmer raised £2,000 for the memorial plaque.

Newcastle RAFA chairman Sydney Graham said: "Members are pleased that 65 years after the end of the Second World War, RAF Acklington and its brave airmen will no longer be forgotten." Local county councillor, Glen Sanderson, said: "There has never been a proper memorial in the cemetery and I was very proud to be involved. The RAFA has done a tremendous amount of hard work to leave a fitting tribute to these few brave men."

By clicking on the following link you can see a video relating to RAF Acklington and the memorial.