Last May, my lovely wife and I traveled back to England. It was a bit strange returning to where our married life really began…
We were married in May of 1985. Less than a year later we landed in London for a “long tour” in Europe (Three years). I remember the exact date we landed in London. On April 16th 1986, while we were flying over the Atlantic, the USAF was flying planes out of RAF Lakenheath to bomb Libya. About a year later our first born son was born at Lakenheath. Due to these actions in Libya, I traveled a lot while my wife stayed and raised our son. These were tough times, we were poor and lonely, but it strengthened our marriage. I am still amazed she put up with all we went through and didn’t leave me.
Fast forward thirty years, as we land in London to visit as tourists. The USAF was busy elsewhere. Our children are grown and living on their own. My lovely wife and I just wanted to see the sights and maybe check out some of the places we once called home. One stop was to see our first house. To be honest we did have an apartment in California for a few months after we were married, but this was our first home. So off to Essex to visit the little town of Sible Hedingham.
We lived in a row house for a little less than a year before we could get into base housing. Nothing changed. The house was the same as we left it. But then again, it was built in the 1890s, so expect that it probably had a few dozen prior tenants, and many more expected in the future. Then we went for a drive to find the Air Force base where we lived. Correction, it’s was a Royal Air Force base. RAF Wethersfield.
Back in the 80s the base was reclaimed from its previous use in WWII as a bomber base, into an engineering and construction outfit. We shared the base with a RAF pilot school that flew gliders. No sound. No plane noises at all. The gliders were pulled up by a winch. Back then the base was mostly a staging area for several hundred heavy construction workers and engineers. I was one of those workers. We did projects all over Europe and North Africa. I did a google search to find more information. Here is one site I found. Five abandoned USAF military bases from the cold war. Each and every one of these I have worked on when they were active. Sad.
Anyway, it was early afternoon last May when my lovely wife and I drove up to the guard shack. We didn’t have any expectations. We didn’t even know if the base was still there. We stopped in a small two car parking area just outside the gate under a large sign, it said, “Welcome to Ministry of Defense Wethersfield”.
A friendly chap in a police-ish uniform came out of the guard shack. In a pleasant tone he asked if he could help us. We told him about how we used to live here 30 years ago and just wanted to see if the base was still here. He introduced himself as Mark, and asked if we wanted a look around. Excellent. It was way more than we had hoped for. Of course Mark wasn’t going to just let us in on our own. We got into his patrol car and headed out for the grand tour. It was a beautiful spring day and remarkably sunny and warm, by British standards anyway. I felt like I was transported back in time, and something dreadful happened to the place. I remembered some of the base, other places looked foreign to me. Mark took us by our old house.
It looked essentially the same, with subtle changes. The colors were the same, but faded with age. One thing that jumped out was all the dome CCD cameras. They were all over the place, two for each house. One over the entry door, another on the second (first) floor facing the parking. We walked around back, and took a look at our old back yard. In my mind I remember our back yard differently. This is where my son pushed his bubble blowing mower while I used the real one. Where we barbequed with friends. Now it looks somewhat the same, but shabbier and less well kept. Which is to be expected. It’s amazing how similar, but not the same as one remembers things.
Mark was quite curious about what we did on the base 30 years ago. As he drove us down the center of the runway I told him about how we used to hold air shows here. Planes from all over the world would fly in and the crowds could walk amongst the planes and talk to the pilots. It was a carnival like atmosphere at the time, now just an empty field where weeds are slowly taking over the runway one crack at a time. Then we drove by my old shop where I worked when not deployed. I peeked through the shop window almost expecting to see our old sheet metal working equipment. Now the space was filled with junk. Nothing was recognizable.
As Mark drove us back to the gate I found that I could just barely recognize some buildings that I had worked on. There was a structure where I once replaced the roof, another one that I built a book return slide box, somewhere out there was a few dozed BBQs I made for family cookouts. Mark thanked us for all the information, and we thanked him for the wonderful ride down memory lane.