Weird Suffolk: There’s nothing like a haunted airfield for raising spirits – the many ghosts of RAF Honington

Ghost stories haunt the RAF base.
Picture: Sonya Duncan

Ghost stories haunt the RAF base. Picture: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Archant

Most haunted airfields are derelict, overgrown and deserted – but the ghosts that walk amongst the living at RAF Honington do so on a very active base. From the famous smoking ghost to a gibbet casting its curse over the centuries, the Suffolk base is a paranormal hotspot.

Phantom aircraft, ghostly airmen, cursed gibbets – RAF Honington is the final resting place for a host of spirits.

RAF Honington in Suffolk is the home of RAF Force Protection, which is responsible for protecting the RAF at home and abroad, three front-line RAF Regiment field squadrons and several operational and specialist units including a specialist RAF Police Wing and a unit with responsibility for countering chemical threats.

It is also home to a veritable village of aviation spirits.

Honington Airfield opened in May 1939, almost 82 years ago to the day: it was, as with all airfields, the scene of both triumph and tragedy.

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The Luftwaffe targeted the airfield several time, on one occasion killing around 20 airmen as they crossed the old parade ground on their way to tea while another bomb demolished part of Barrack Block 76.

In 1941, a Junkers Ju 88 was shot down by ground fire from Honington, crashing close to a hangar and in May of the same year, a Wellington returning from a night mission crashed on landing and burst into flames – just two of a list of tragic crashes involving planes and the base.

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The superlative – Weird Suffolk’s online Bible and an incredible source of information – includes the tale of the smoking ghost, seen in June 1983 by two RAF police officers who were taken aback to see another man in Second World War pilot’s uniform.

The man was smoking a cigarette between two barbed wire fences and, assuming him to be a re-enactor who had wandered too far into the airfield, went to challenge him at which point the man turned, walked through one of the fences and then faded away. Could it have been the ‘missing’ crew member from a bomber which exploded on take-off during the war?

Another story, mentioned in Alan C Wood’s Military Ghosts, tells of the ghost that re-enacts the fall and death of a pilot forced to bale out over the airfield who died when he landed on a hangar roof while one of the bars at the base has been visited by the ghostly form of an RAF officer who disappears on second glance leaving some bar staff reluctant to lock up alone.

And then there was the case of the ghostly Senior Air Traffic Control Officer said to appear in spectral form on dark nights, twice a year.

Another persistent tale is, to some degree, backed in fact.

There are claims that one of the Hardened Aircraft Shelters on the old squadron nine site had been built on the site of a cursed gallows and was, as a result, haunted – the shelter was built on the site of Gibbet Covert, a place where executions took place.

When RAF Honington was built, construction workers found the remains of an old gibbet, complete with the skeleton of its last occupant – the gibbet is now in the Moyse’s Hall Museum which overlooks Bury St Edmunds’ marketplace, where it swings nonchalantly from the ceiling by the front door.

The iron cage dates from the 18th century and, when found, contained the earthly remains of John Nichols, 59, still wearing his boots.

He and son Nathan, 19, had been convicted of murder, and were hanged in Bury St Edmunds in the spring of 1794. John’s corpse was then displayed in the gibbet as both evidence that justice had been done and as a grisly deterrent to others.

The victim was his daughter Sarah, who was bludgeoned with a hedge-stake and strangled at Fakenham Magna, a neighbouring village to Honington: no-one knows what prompted the murder, and father and son went to the gallows accusing each other – blood, in this case, was definitely not thicker than water.

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