A couple of miles or so north east of Honiton is a little village called Smeatharpe. There’s little of anything interesting about this typical quaint Devon village, unless you look over the odd hedge.
If you did, you’ll recognize the vast slabs of concrete that are beginning to melt in to the green of the fields, because this was RAF Upottery.
The life of this place was incredibly short, a year of operational use, that became the UK home and starting point for a story that became a household name.
Today, I had a stroll around the old airfield, I walked all of the runways, and one now has a cow shed on it. I walked further, climbed fences and saw the remains of the bomb dump. And even checked out the sad state of this ancient Air Traffic Control Tower.
To me, airbases hold something special. These are the places where men and women came to live, fight and die. These people sometimes travelled great distances, may be they might have been orphaned by their then fallen home nation, or might have just lived around the corner.
But the gates on these places were for many, the last gates they walked through, as so many thousands past through them never to return, to never know a world without war, or indeed – to feel freedom once again.
The pressures were high, so the social scene was often intense, but more to the point in this case, these slabs of concrete and one building was the last friendly home and embarkation point to E Company, 506th Regiment, attached to 101st Airborne Division. I’ll translate: Home and embarkation point to Easy Company – the Band of Brothers…
Well Hanks and Spielberg certainly didn’t film the show here, but as the sun fell on Upottery today, I thought about this place and it’s other roles in that one year, its anti-submarine warfare and air logistics.
For a moment, I stood in the center of where one runway intersects another. watching the sun go down, feeling the breeze of a dying summer and listening to the field of silence around me.
Sometimes, I don’t ever want to be anywhere else than where I am at a moment like that.
To me, these places mean something, to others – they’re just another field with a slab of decaying concrete.