Former RAF Coltishall steward who was on the base during the Second World War revisits historic site
PUBLISHED: 07:00 16 April 2014 | UPDATED: 14:38 16 April 2014
Archant Norfolk 2014
She has supported brave Second World War fighter pilots and witnessed the despair of comrades after servicemen were killed in action.
History of a Battle of Britain RAF base
■Work on RAF Coltishall started in February 1939 and the airfield, then known as Scottow Aerodrome, was initially built as a bomber base on land near Scottow Hall.
■The airfield entered service in May 1940 as a fighter base and the first aircraft movement was a Bristol Blenheim IV L7835 flown by Sgt RG Bales and Sgt Barnes.
■During the Second World War, RAF Coltishall operated the Hawker Hurricane and it later became home to night fighters.
■One of the most famous names at RAF Coltishall during that conflict was Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader, who lost both his legs in 1931 while attempting some aerobatics.
■The ace pilot died in 1982 and was credited with 20 aerial victories during the Second World War.
And these poignant memories of the conflict were stirred up for a former RAF Coltishall steward who visited the historic base yesterday.
Joan Osborne-Walker, 92, from Hingham, who joined the RAF aged 18, worked in the officers’ mess from March 1941 to November 1943.
She is now the oldest member of the 110-strong Spirit of Coltishall Association and was given a tour of the base, including the runway and officers’ mess, by the group and staff from Norfolk County Council which owns the site.
Miss Osborne-Walker started at the base aged 19 and officers she worked alongside included Wing Cdr Roland Robert Stanford Tuck, Group Capt John “Cat’s Eyes” Cunningham, Wing Cdr Percy “Laddie” Lucas, Colin Hodgkinson who was a legless fighter pilot, and Wing Cdr Howard “Cowboy” Blatchford, all of whom were decorated airmen.
She said: “It was very busy. There were crowds of rumbustious young men that were good fun. There were sad days when some went away on missions but didn’t come back.”
Her rank was LACW1 and duties included serving up breakfast and dinners; washing up; and checking which officers turned up for meals.
She looked after Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and RAF officers.
Dances and dinners were held at the officers’ mess and Miss Osborne-Walker remembered looking after officers who had drunk too much.
■The base became exclusively a Jaguar station and the first Jaguar squadron, No. 54 Squadron RAF, arrived at RAF Coltishall on August 8 1974.
■Some of the station’s pink-painted Jaguars participated in the 1991 Gulf War.
■RAF Coltishall was the last surviving operational RAF airbase involved in the Battle of Britain.
■The final frontline RAF movement from the station was by Jaguar XZ112, piloted by Jim Luke, on April 3 2006, before the base officially closed on November 30 2006.
She said: “When people didn’t come back from missions everybody was down. I remember when Wing Cdr Blatchford died on May 3 1943. There was a call over a loudspeaker one lunchtime to go on the intercept of German fighters. He and another fellow rushed off and he did not come back. I remember a hush over the place.”
Miss Osborne-Walker added: “It was a very moving time. I was sad to leave RAF Coltishall.”
She said it was wonderful to return to the base and could visualise how the officers’ mess used to be.
“It is very important to remember this era. These lads gave their lives and were a great lot.”
The 92-year-old, originally from Bedford, was always interested in aircraft and after leaving RAF Coltishall she worked at RAF Carew Cheriton in Wales between 1943-45, before being demobbed.
She then worked as a secretary for the Aeroplane Spotter magazine in London, as one of her many jobs, and moved to Hingham in 1981 after retiring.
RAF Coltishall closed in 2006 and was bought by the county council in 2013 for £4m.
The authority has put in an application to turn the officers’ mess into housing.
Do you have interesting memories of RAF Coltishall? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.