Bawtry Hall played an important role in history

ALTHOUGH it is now the epitome of peace and quiet, 60 years ago Bawtry Hall was a hive of activity during the dark days of the Second World War.

Situated in the heart of the historic market town of Bawtry, the hall was built in 1778 and quickly became the focus for local 18th Century society.

But in 1939 it took on a vastly different role when it was acquired by the Government and used initially by Army units before being handed over to the RAF, which used it as a base for Bomber Command – the centre of operations for bombing missions over Germany.

"Just one month after the handover, Headquarters Number One Group arrived from Hucknall," said Wing Commander Stewart Cresswell, a former pilot and authority on the history of Bawtry Hall.

"It was a time of great upheaval for both the hall and the country as a whole."

Mr Cresswell said that before and at the outbreak of war, England had been in a poor state as far as its airplanes were concerned.

Initially, the group was equipped with twin engined Battles and then Wellingtons.

But the RAF had very little that could reach important German targets and what few planes it had all had very limited bomb carrying capacity.

"And the fact that we couldn't carry out any precision and blind bombing was a further major weakness," said Mr Cresswell.

But by 1942, new aircraft with much improved performance were gradually phased in – these included the four-engined Halifax and the renowned Lancaster.

Mr Cresswell stressed that although the group could now begin to reach targets deep in the heart of Germany, the cost in terms of human lives was colossal, especially in the years 1943 and 1944.

"Between 1939 and 1945 group war losses totalled 8,547 aircrew and 1,429 aircraft, mainly Lancasters," he said.

"Throughout the war years, the headquarters played a central role in planning and controlling all these operations. Its Ops Room was always a hub of activity and the targets were many and varied."

"These included shipping such as the battleships Gneisneau and Scharnhorst, the Ruhr industrial and other sites, D-Day support, destruction of V1 and V2 launches and strategic centres, including Berlin."

THE war finally came to an end, but that didn't mean the end for the RAF in Bawtry.

As the Cold War intensified it developed its controlling function with new jet aircraft such as the Canberra, the first of the four-engined V bombers – the Valiant – and then the Vulcan, which was to remain on the Group 1 One inventory until it was scrapped some 25 years later.

And, for a short period in the 1960s, the Thor missile was also part of the group's contribution to Britain's strategic nuclear deterrent.

"RAF Bawtry's last major role was as controlling headquarters for One group forces during the Falklands War when it was given the job of putting Stanley airfield out of action," said Mr Cresswell.

"This was as challenging a task as anything the RAF had faced since the Second World War."

"The Vulcans were just three months from being scrapped. The crews were operating some 8,000 miles away from the UK and 4,000 miles from the nearest friendly base – the Ascension Island."

Mr Cresswell said the success of the mission depended heavily on in-flight refuelling – a complex manoeuvre that involved transferring fuel from one plane to another.

He said: "When Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was told the mission would be impossible without making the refuelling work her reply was simple:'make it work."

Mr Cresswell said looking back the whole Falklands effort was a tribute to those involved.

"But it was a close-run thing," he said. "After all, we were just 300 miles from the Argentine mainland in planes that were about to be scrapped."

For a while, RAF Bawtry continued to function as the centre of the RAF meteorlogical service until in 1984 when HQ One Group was moved to Upavon in Wiltshire and the RAF vacated Bawtry Hall.

It was the end of an era.

For a few years it seemed as if the once magnificent mansion was doomed. It became neglected, abandoned and vandalised.

The future looked bleak until a few years ago when it was given a new lease of life, this time as a Christian Conference Centre.

A Grade Two listed buiding, the former mansion now sits in seven acres of landscaped gardens with a lake and woodland walks, having been lovingly and painstakingly restored.

A spokesman added: "Nowadays Bawtry Hall is a leading conference and training centre. It provides a range of superb, highly flexible, purpose-built facilties catering for groups of up to 200 people."

Set in seven acres of landscaped gardens with a lake and woodland walks, the hall now combines the charm of a spacious Georgian home with the best of modern facilities.