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Photographs and article by Paul Wright, 2018
Snowdrop Weekend
Snowdrops around the Church
Snowdrops around the Church

Metrological optimists might well interpret the arrival of the "snowdrop weekend" as the end of winter, but some of us might be a bit more guarded and say we are nearly in to spring-time?

the drive
looking toward the church
Snowdrops 'carpeting' along the drive

This annual event held at St John the Baptist church at Chelveston-cum-Caldecott is always well attended, and trying to find a place to park the car can be a bit on the tricky side.

Luckily the event in 2018 was treated to two days of glorious sunshine, so even us cautious souls might have to say it was "spring like after all". Whatever us humans think about the change of the seasons, the snowdrops and aconites had already decided that it was their time to put on a sterling display, with many thousand carpeting the drive and churchyard. As a complete bonus the days were enjoying above average temperatures of 13C. [down to minus 3C ten days later!]

snowdrops and aconites

Some of the delicious cakes
Some of the delicious cakes
Visitors did have the chance to make a purchase of some of the plants inside of the church on numerous stalls.

Large numbers attended over the two days; it was on Saturday 18th February from 10.00-16.00, and on the Sunday 19th, from 11.00 until 4pm. As a musical bonus the Sunday afternoon visitors were treated to singing from the Chelveston chorus.

Loads of hard work had gone on before the snowdrop weekend; this was in the shape of some superb home-made produce that was being displayed on various stalls inside the church. And luckily there was one of my favourites in the shape of a superb Victoria sponge cake, that made its way to our kitchen; a real bargain at £4.

Meanwhile if you fancied having a cup of tea on the day, there was no shortage of sausage rolls and cakes to go with it; the team looked busy trying to keep up with demand, as you can well imagine.

A lady was going around selling raffles tickets at £1 a time for a nice assortment of prizes. Whilst purchasing some tickets I immediately thought of my late mother as she always seemed to get the job of drumming up raffle ticket sales at St Lawrence church events, in our home village of Wymington.

Talking of Wymington, I used to walk our Springer Spaniel dog called Nell each morning to the top of South Grove before I went to school (late 1950's early 60's), and remember very clearly seeing a massive American B-52 Stratofortress bomber coming around and around, as he was doing "circuit & bumps" from Chelveston base. They were massive beasts, and were powered by eight jet engines with exhaust smoke trailing behind them; these were manufactured by Boeing.

Their flying activity was not just restricted to daylight hours either. One night my father called me in to their bedroom on the front of the house to show me the glow in the night sky of the landing lights; this was at about 23.00 hours. At one stage Chelveston was used by reconnaissance aircraft, for about three years. These aircraft were used for specialised electronic reconnaissance & electronic countermeasure. They were there until 1962, and then they were deployed over to France. After the B-66 planes left, the base went to back to reserve status and was maintained by a small RAF support team.

In 1968 it was put back on alert during the Czechoslovakian crisis, although none of the units were deployed there. In the early part of the 1970's it was decided to close RAF Chelveston. This was blamed on budget cuts, and by 1977 the runways were ripped up and used as hardcore. After all of this we got to see quite a lot of radio masts on the airfield, used to transmit "Volmet" information, but that facility closed in 2003.

I was lucky enough, along with so many others, to attend an open weekend to get a close up view of the establishment that employed so many people. It was a very busy event with big crowds taking advantage of the chance to get up close to the hardware. There were uniformed men directing vehicles with arm waving, and lots of blowing of whistles! I would think that this was circa the early 1960's - does anyone else remember attending this open weekend?

One of the memories was of a GI warning everyone to avoid getting to close to the aircraft as they were running up the engines. He carried on giving his verbal warnings every few seconds by saying "stay15 feet away for your own safety".

Chelveston base opened in 1941 as an RAF station, a year later the Americans were based there with their infamous "Flying Fortress," another Boeing aircraft the "B-17".

Some years after the shutdown at the base it came to fame again when the film crew from "Hunters Walk" did location shooting around 1973. "Hunters Walk" was set in "Broadstone" the fictitious setting for "Rushden" Police station which was featured in the ITV series. (yes we did have a police station, and that was permanently manned!!)

So as we continue to enjoy the annual spectacle of the "snowdrop weekend", let’s spare a thought for all of the service people who were stationed on the base, and would have wandered past the church on their way back from visiting the Working Men’s Club (WMC), or the Star and Garter in the village.

There are several memorials to the to the fallen, and of course, the one at the bottom of the hill next door to the pub to remind future generations that as they look over the fields opposite the church, where the "wind farm" is now, this was once the home of "RAF Chelveston".

click here to see an interactive album

of photographs taken in 2009 by George Jennings.

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