The Indiana Jones of Alconbury: uncovering Alconbury history

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima
  • 501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs

Paul George Bellamy’s interest in military aviation began when he was a little boy, playing at RAF Grafton Underwood, a World War II-era U.S. Army Air Force base.

Bellamy previously worked as a freelance historian for large organizations such as the Imperial War Museum in Duxford and the National Trust. He now works at RAF Alconbury and is the director of archives and collections for the Airfield Research Group. It is a charity group founded in 1977 to gather information on aviation sites, specializing in those within the U.K. He started the First Air Division Historical Society and Alconbury Airfield Heritage collection and holds the Eighth Air Force Historical Society U.K. records.

“Rather than just looking at one little base, I ended up knowing the nuts and bolts of all of them,” said Bellamy.

Bellamy’s knowledge of RAF Alconbury’s past gives insight into the base’s character and continued use. Thanks to his efforts in searching and organizing historical data, information about historical events and the individuals involved, he has been able to discover and preserve what otherwise would be lost to time.

“Alconbury has led the way pretty much from day one,” said Bellamy. “It’s always been at the front, doing new things, leading the way. It makes you proud to be on a base that has that long heritage behind it, and it’s still going, still plugging away, doing its job.”

RAF Alconbury started out as a cornfield, and was opened in 1938 to be used as a grass satellite airfield for the now shuttered RAF Upwood.

“A satellite base is a remote landing ground,” said Bellamy. “The Germans would know where all the permanent airfields are. If you could put your planes somewhere else, it spreads your assets a bit further out.”

The base experienced a catastrophic event on May 27, 1943. While preparing for their seventh mission the following morning, the bomb load of one of the 95th Bomb Group’s B-17 accidentally detonated. Nineteen men were killed and many were injured. A total of five B-17s were decommissioned, and a further 11 required major repairs before they could fly again.

Bellamy researched the event and created a memorial to honor those who were lost. It stood outside the former control tower. He continues working to find photographs and information about the 19 who perished.

“We knew some people had been killed but all their names had been lost, until six years ago when I went through the records and found them all and gave them their names back,” said Bellamy. “The next job is to give them their faces back.”

RAF Alconbury has one Medal of Honor recipient, 1st Lt. John C. Morgan, who received recognition in 1943 for his bravery during a flight over Hanover, Germany in World War II.

“I’m in touch with his granddaughter,” said Bellamy. “He’s Alconbury’s Medal of Honor winner and nobody here knows who he is!”

Bellamy has an interest in informing interested listeners about Alconbury’s history.

“I used to do two or three heritage presentations on base throughout the year,” he said. “I now started putting them together as PowerPoints and training other people. It’s now part of the FTAC program.”

RAF Alconbury holds many little-known facts. Bellamy is ready to share his wealth of knowledge with a ready listener.

“Before the airfield reopened, we became the USAFE tactical atomic weapons reserve,” said Bellamy. “All the spare atomic weapons for the whole of USAFE lived at Alconbury.”

Now the storage units hold a different purpose, including fireworks storage and a film studio.

“We’re trying to get a copy of as many virtual World War II documents over here,” said Bellamy. “I have about 1.5 million pages of documents at the moment. This is 30 years of research, and it never stops, because if you stop looking you’re going to miss something.”