Weird Suffolk: The phantom airmen of Great Waldingfield

A google street view of the White Horse at Great Wadlingfield

In 2012, a driver saw something strange on the B115 close to the White Horse pub in Great Waldingfield. - Credit: Google

This quiet Suffolk village was once a hive of activity, the skies filled with planes, the streets teeming with friendly invaders: the American airforce.

Great Waldingfield was transformed when its population of 250 was swelled by 3,000 when military personnel from the USAAF made it their temporary home from 1944 to 1945: and while most of the crews that survived went home, some airmen remained.

A report on the wonderful paranormaldatabase.com tells a spine-chilling tale of an encounter between a car driver and three men from the past. In 2012, something strange was seen on the B115 close to the White Horse pub. As a driver was close to the pub, they suddenly saw three men wearing long coats and large boots who were walking in the road. Their appearance was so sudden that the driver thought he was going to hit one of them and slammed on their brakes at which point, the figures disappeared.

Shocked, when the driver recounted the tale, they were told that this was an area where many phantom airmen had been spotted and where the rumbling of old aircraft had been heard caught in the wind.

RAF Sudbury itself is now a ghost. The site opened in 1944 and was a Class A heavy bomber airfield with three concrete runways and two hangars to meet the USAAF bomber requirements. Temporary accommodation  as built for 3,000 men in and around the village of Great Waldingfield which was accessible by crossing the B115 road from Sudbury to Lavenham.

Known as Station 174 by the USAAF Eighth Air Force, which was stationed there, the 486th Bombardment Group flew the B-24 Liberator and the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress from the site until May 1945. The Americans who arrived at the base in March 1944 came from a balmy Arizona, where the temperature had been around 24 to 28C to the tail-end of an English winter in freezing Nissen huts heated by tiny coke stoves that were difficult to light.

Pilots during World War Two would wear large boots which were bulked out by wool lining designed to keep feet warm at high altitudes. If an aircraft flies above 14,000ft and higher into the atmosphere, the outside temperature begins to rapidly cool in a range from -5C to -40C and in cockpits, could affect the use of limbs and movement if not properly protected. Great coats were typically worn by Americans struggling with British temperatures and sound similar to the outerwear described by the witness in 2012.

READ MORE: The ghost that passed through a car in Great Ashfield.

Tragically, in the 16 months that RAF Sudbury was operational, 33 aircraft were lost in raids over Europe and another 23 in training and other accidents. The average age of an airman on the base was 22 and 207 were killed in action: the first casualty was recorded on May 8 1944, 10 more died 12 days later when two Liberators crashed in heavy fog as they took off from Sudbury.

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Today, the airfield has been returned to agriculture and is buried beneath fields, the runways have been broken up and there are only small signs that this was once a thriving village within a village. Those small signs and the spirits that remain on the base, returning for one last mission in the sky, that is.

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