As time flies by

Jim Empson, now 82 and living in Ipswich, grew up in Gamlingay and this summer returned to the countryside of his roots to visit the Little Gransden Airshow at Fullers Hill Farm where he is “considered family as my eldest brother married the aunt of the two landowners, Mark and John Jeffries”. The trip brought back memories and he has kindly written in to Memory Lane to share them.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 24th October 2014, 2:33 pm

Driving to Fullers Hill Farm, Jim passed the house where he was born. He said: “My mind went back to the 1940s when Leonard Jeffries, the boys’ father and I would cycle to RAF Gransden Lodge to see 142 Squadron Mosquitos and 97 Squadron Lancasters or go to the Astra Cinema”.

Despite the horrors happening across Europe, for young Jim and his friends wartime in Gamlingay was a youthful adventure spent “chasing around the countryside on our cycles to see the various crashes in the area”.

Jim recalls: “One, a Short Stirling, lay in a field for many months at Lords Bridge. We spent a long time trying to join together charred pieces of maps of Germany before Sellotape!”

Jim also recalls the time a Thunderbolt did a “wheels up” landing at the top of Fullers Hill in 1944. Fortunately, the pilot was unhurt. Jim explains: “When we got there, the American pilot sat on the wing smoking a cigarette awaiting transport back to base.”

During the 1950s, John Surtees, who was later to become a Forumula One World Champion, used the aerodome facilities to tune his motorbikes by trying different length trumpets on the Amal carburettors. Fisons Airwork would also use the airfield for Auster crop spraying work and Jim says that many a teenager learned to drive there on Sunday mornings.

When he flew his first solo cross-country journey in 1969 to quality for his pilot’s licence, Jim bumped into Leonard Jeffries again who coincidentally was also learning to fly.

Cambridge University now uses Gransden Lodge for its gliding club.

Jim considers the airshow at Fullers Hill Farm to be one of the best in the UK with its classic car, military vehicle, farming and motorcycle displays.

“The show was opened by a Spitfire and closed officially by the BBMF Lancaster and its cousin, built in Canada in 1945. I understand one wealthy passenger paid £45,000 to fly the Atlantic in this historic plane!” says Jim.

Thanks go to Jim for sharing his memories with us.