The Cold War
Bicester’s involvement with the military did not cease after World War II. It remained as a Garrison Town in essence from that period due to the proximity of the Central Ordnance Depot at Arncott. Significant other Cold War bases were established in the area many of which had American involvement.
Following World War II the Ordnance Depot increased in importance as it began to take in stores from ordnance depots that closed down in other parts of the country. The Depot supplies stores to all the armed services and covers an area of twelve square miles. In 1977 links with the town of Bicester were strengthened as the Town Council granted the freedom of the town by awarding Civic Honours to the Central Ordnance Depot. In 1992 there were 1600 civilian staff and 900 military staff employed at the Depot. In the same year units of the Royal Ordnance Corps, the Royal Pioneer Corps, the Royal Corps of Transport and the Army Catering Corps serving at the base were amalgamated with the Royal Logistics Corps. Units from the Royal Logistics Corps have been posted to serve in conflicts involving duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The town of Bicester was expanded in the early 1950s with the construction of a large post war estate at King’s End to house civilian workers primarily employed at the Depot.
The Defence Logistics Organisation was until recently based at the former Domestic Site of R.A.F. Bicester. Founded in 2000, the D.L.O. handled clothing and textile needs for British Forces worldwide. In 2009 the unit was relocated to Bath prior to the sale of the Caversfield site in 2010.
In 1950 the United States Air Force acquired R.A.F. Upper Heyford as a strategic bomber base. The runway was extended and a secure weapons storage facility was constructed. Military base facilities were rapidly expanded as were housing and social amenities. The base was formally handed over to the U.S.A.F. 3rd Air Force on 15 May 1951. B-47 strategic nuclear bombers were amongst the first American aircraft to be assigned to the base.
From 1960 B-52 bomber aircraft operated from the base. A detachment of top secret U-2 spy planes were assigned to the base in August 1962 to carry out high altitude air sampling of Soviet nuclear weapons tests. The base was placed on a high state of alert during the Cuban Missile crisis in October 1962 with planes made ready to respond to any nuclear threat from the Communist Block.
The base provided a home for a number of U.S.A.F. units over the years including Voodoo, Phantom and F-111 squadrons. R.A.F Upper Heyford was used for active operations when F-111 aircraft flew from the base to attack targets in Tripoli, Libya on 15 April 1986.
The base provided aircraft for service in the first Gulf War in 1990 and was a staging post for transport aircraft supplying equipment for the conflict. The base was handed back to the R.A.F. on 30 September 1994 since when it has been developed as an industrial and residential complex. The base has heritage status and the Cold War buildings remain as a chilling reminder of that troubled time in our recent history. Plans to create Cold War Museum at the site are under consideration within the latest plans announced for the site. The selection of photographs that follow illustrate the character of what remains the best example of a Cold War Air Base in this country.
An interesting facet relating to the history of the base was the role played by the Peace Camp and demonstrators during the Cold War. Established in 1982 the Peace Camp continued for over two years to highlight the nuclear weapons issues associated with the base. It was inspired the Greenham Common Peace Camp. Some four thousand people protested at the base in 1983 leading to the arrest of 752 demonstrators by the police.
A remnant of the Cold War still evident at R.A.F Upper Heyford is the art of the period used to adorn walls in the base and the aircraft of the time.
The Americans maintain a presence at R.A.F. Croughton, near Baynard’s Green. The former airfield was dating from 1938 was handed over to the Americans in 1950. Since that time it has developed as a worldwide communications centre for American forces (below). Many of the personnel that are based at R.A.F. Croughton live in Bicester and at Caversfield.
R.A.F. Weston-on-the-Green played an important role in training parachutists from the armed forces in the Cold War era. Parachute training was undertaken from both static balloon and aircraft used for the task. Hercules aircraft continue to carry out this function at present. Civilian parachute jumps and gliding activities also take place at the airfield.
Poundon Hill Wireless Station operated as a Foreign & Commonwealth Office/ M.I.6 signals intelligence Station developed from facilities used by the Special Operations Executive during World War II.
It base was used for government diplomatic and secret service communication. The site has now been developed as the Tower Hill Business Park.
A number of reminders of the Cold War era remain in the area around Bicester and are linked with the sites previously described. The Islip Reserve Fuel Depot was built for the R.A.F. prior to World War II for airfield fuel supply and later taken over by ESSO. It was closed by the company in 1969 since when it was partly used to supply jet fuel to the Upper Heyford base by pipeline.
A Royal Observer Corps Post, for monitoring surface activity in the event of a nuclear war, is located on the minor road between Bucknell and Middleton Stoney (below).
The post was constructed in 1959 and remained operational until 1991. The photographs of the post below date from 1998 and show the surface entry hatch and the monitoring room.
Some views of the site from 2009 show additional aspects of the observation post.
The Oxfordshire County Emergency Centre was built in 1960 to provide an operations centre for the county in the event of nuclear attack. The bunker is situated in the grounds of Woodeaton School adjacent to the Manor house. The bunker is currently used as a meeting and conference facility.
The Ministry of Defence Firing Range on Otmoor has been long established for military training and is used by Territorial Army members and by local gun clubs. The 12-lane rifle range was open in 1953.