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RAF Wroughton was a Royal Air Force station located just south of the village of Wroughton, Wiltshire, UK. It is 4 miles (6.4 km) south of the town of Swindon. The station was an operational military installation from the late 1930s through the 70s, during which time it served as host to maintenance units. Although it is no longer a military installation, the airfield and some of the original buildings still exist today.
Ownership of the 545-acre (2.21 km2) site was passed to the London Science Museum in 1979 to be used as a storage facility for the largest objects of the National Museum of Science and Industry (NMSI). A collection of approximately 20,000 objects are currently kept in six of the hangars, from the first hovercraft to MRI scanners, and computers to (de-activated) nuclear missiles. The Science Museum Swindon is currently a museum store serving the conservation, object storage, and transportation needs of many museums, and therefore is not open to the public except during occasional Open Days, special events, and for pre-scheduled school tours. However, it has plans for an ambitious project called Inspired which will open up all of the Science Museum's hidden treasures to the public for the very first time.
Planning for Wroughton Airfield begin before the start of World War II. It was to prove to be a valuable asset during the war years, as it is reported that over 7,000 aircraft of approximately 60 different types underwent modification, service, or repair by No. 15 Maintenance Unit (MU) . Beginning in 1941 the packing of aircraft into large crates for shipment overseas was handled by another Wroughton unit, No. 76 MU.
In late 1943 Wroughton became an assembly point for many of the Airspeed Horsa gliders that during the following June played a key part in the D-Day invasion of France. During the build-up to D-Day the mostly-wooden gliders were transported to Wroughton in sections that were pre-fabricated by woodworkers of the cabinet and furniture maker trades. Upon arrival the sections were assembled, and flight-tested. It has been reported that on the eve of the invasion that almost 600 aircraft were on-site.
With the end of the conflict there was no longer a need for a large air force of wartime proportions, and as a result Wroughton received demobilised Avro Lancaster bombers, most of which ended up as scrap metal. Meanwhile, Wroughton was home to continued work on Avro Lincoln and Gloster Meteor jets. By 1953 yet another type was in the skies over Wroughton, the English Electric Canberra bomber. For the next 19 years Wroughton was to provide support for this important aircraft. During the 1950s, aging aircraft such as the de Havilland Mosquito and more Lancasters made ferry flights to Wroughton, where most of them met their fate on a scrapheap. A notable exception was Lancaster PA474, which after an overhaul in the early 1960s joined the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, of which it is still a member today.
In the 1960s, Wroughton became host to Westland helicopters, but its life as an RAF installation ended by 1972, when the Royal Navy took over - largely because the RN took over responsibility for servicing all military helicopters. This continued until Wroughton closed (as a military airfield) in 1978. Shortly after, Wroughton was given a new lease on life by becoming a storage annex for part of the Science Museum's aircraft collection, and other exhibits.
RAF Wroughton was also home to the RAF Princess Alexandra Hospital, providing full hospital services to the Armed forces personnel, their families and the local civilian population. The RAF General Hospital (as it was known) opened on 14 June 1941 during the second world war. At the end of March 1944 the bed capacity was 1000. SECO hutting with inter-connecting corridors added a further 350 beds. Wroughton’s busiest period followed the allied landings in Normandy on D-Day. The first casualties arrived on 13 June 1944, landing at nearby RAF Lyneham. In the 6-months following D-Day 4,811 casualties passed through Wroughton. Wroughton continued as a General Hospital treating military patients, and from 1958 took NHS cases as well to relieve backlogs in the Swindon area. Following a visit to the hospital by Princess Alexandra on 4 July 1967, the Queen conferred the prefix “Princess Alexandra’s” on the hospital on 4 October 1967. The hospital also received the first casualties from the Falklands War on 4 July 1982 having arrived that night at nearby RAF Lyneham. When the hostages from Beirut were released in August 1991, Wg Cdr Gordon Turnbull a psychiatrist based at Wroughton, with his team, debriefed John McCarthy, Terry Waite and Jackie Mann and provided the counselling necessary to ease them back into freedom. The hospital closed on 31 March 1996 as part of the Conservative Government's defence cuts at the end of the cold war. The hospital was eventually demolished and the site, called Alexandra Park, contains housing and a Conference Centre.
- Science Museum at Wroughton
- Photograph of two Wroughton hangars at geograph.org.uk - Accessed 30 Jan 2007
- Wroughton Science Museum photo gallery at The BBC
- Wroughton Science Museum photo gallery - Accessed 1 Jan 2007
- Wroughton Science Museum photo gallery - Accessed 2 Jan 2007
- Brief Wroughton Airfield history