Looking northward up the main street, little appears changed in the Village (left), While on the former airfield (right), small sections of the three runways and very few of the airfield buildings remain. But evidence of its former use abounds. From foundations and roads to earthworks and underground outposts, one can imagine the activity in wartime, and conjure visions of what Dad, Grand-dad, or Uncle Bob might have experienced.
Grafton's population comprises approximately 146 souls (2011 census). The Village includes - in addition to the Airfield and Monument, St. James the Apostle Church, and the Village Hall (where from Spring to Autumn Matt Smith hosts monthly 384thBG/aviation-related film & talk nights). The community hosts occasional 'open garden' events, and each Sunday in August they host cream teas by the brook. The Village also welcomes back ex-servicemen and their families who come visit the place which in time past was such an important part of their lives.
Amongst the more permanent reminders of the 384th BG (H) presence at Grafton Underwood in WWII is a granite memorial situated on the airfield upon the main runway, a stained glass window in St. James the Apostle Church⇗ (weekdays during summertime the church is opened by the church warden; at other times it is open weekends only), a Saint Christopher statue and bell in the Parish Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Kettering. Please note that access to the Church in Grafton Underwood is no longer gained by requesting the key at the Royal Post Office, which has gone out of service: please direct your questions regarding church access to the contacts above.
So - you are planning to visit Grafton Underwood, to explore your father's (uncle's, grandfather's,...) WWII airfield. The first thing you should know is that assistance is available, if you want it or need it, at every step of the way to advise and guide you on your journey. The best part is that this advice, assistance and guidance is provided to visitors by volunteers without charge.
The primary contact for Grafton Underwood Airfield visits is Matt Smith, who lives in nearby Clopton. Matt coordinates United Kingdom activities for the 384th Bomb Group, Inc. (the post-war association formed by 384th Veterans in the late 1960s). He has secured permission from local landowners to enter private property for the purpose of showing visitors around the airfield. He also hosts frequent get-togethers to recall the 384th, the airfield, and WWII memories. We recommend that you contact early in your planning process. Other airfield contacts in the Grafton Underwood area are and .
Just explain who you are, and who your 384th service member is. You should also use the other features on the website to learn about his assignments, promotions, and combat missions - having that information will suggest to Matt and the others which areas of the airfield might hold particular interest for you.
Of course, you can do it by yourself. I did my myself several times - just drove out to the village and visited the monument, toured the airfield "domestic area" (personnel billeting area), got the key [NOTE: access to church has changed since I visited - see below.] to the Church and saw "the window". I used a couple of books ("Airfield Focus: Grafton Underwood" and "Airfields of the Eighth - Then and Now") as guides. I found that was fine for visits on which my time was very limited (an hour or two), but having someone advise you, and possibly guide you can help in several ways. For instance, while there is plenty to see and do without having someone guide you, certain parts of the airfield (former aircraft operation area, runways and perimeter track, bomb dumps, etc.) are private: you are advised to respect the private boundaries. Also there are times when certain areas are off-limits, for instance, due to hunting or farming operations. Matt and the others have been granted permission by the landowners to guide visitors through many of those private areas, and they are also informed about the periods when access is restricted.
Another option would be a commercial tour operator, such as British Tours⇗. [NOTE: Neither 384thBombGroup.com nor 384th Bomb Group, Inc. endorse any service provider, or receive any consideration therefrom.]
The answer is obvious: "When you can!" But you may wish to coordinate your visit with local events at the airfield or nearby. Two dates stand out: Memorial Day and Remembrance Day (like our Veteran's Day). Visiting during the times of these holidays affords the opportunity to observe first-hand the everlasting gratitude English citizens display for our troops. In addition, Matt Smith hosts frequent meetings and events in and around Grafton Underwood at which you will likely meet many people who are interested in meeting you!
Imagine the thrill of standing at the monument - located near the south end of the main runway - while the wind knifes through straight off the North Sea, with rain or snow beating down on you. Or a bone-chilling pea-soup fog. Now that would give you an appreciation of what our guys experienced. And, while the aircrews fought their way through the difficult meteorological conditions, the groundcrews worked on the aircraft in the open, with no protection from the elements.
But ... what about the weather? When planning, you can count on Summer being warmer than Winter. But at any season you should be prepared for precipitation. And, some flexibility in wardrobe is recommended - the old "layering" approach is a good thing, even in the Summer! Generally, Summer is warm, but not "hot" by US standards - temperatures above 90F/32C are uncommon - and evenings are cool. Winter is cold, and wind and rain or snow often make it bitter. I have toured in all seasons and can report that I enjoyed every experience, including the memorable February visit to Madingley and North Pickenham in a fierce, frigid rainstorm, ending thankfully at the Flying Fortress Pub in Bury St. Edmunds.
No longer will we travel to England as previous generations did, aboard oceanic passenger ships, arriving at Southampton. Modern travel by air will bring you to one of several airports around the country. The first step is to select an arrival airport that is convenient to your intended destinations, including Grafton Underwood. These two maps will help orient you to the location of Grafton Underwood in England. Note that Grafton Underwood is a short distance northeast of Kettering, in Northamptonshire, which is less than 100 road miles from London's Heathrow Airport.
The public transportation system in England is excellent. One can board a train in Heathrow (for instance) and be in Kettering in just over two hours. That journey requires two connections in London connected by a ride on "The Tube", but it is easily do-able for the hardy traveller. If you choose the train to get to Kettering, you will find that the Kettering depot is near the center of town - no real surprise there!
My preference is to rent a car at the arrival airport, but I am comfortable with driving in England. Having a car gives you the freedom to vary your route and take advantage of opportunities along the way - and there will be many! One note of caution - driving in London is best left to the professionals: don't do it, as there are many better in-city travel options, including The Tube, buses, taxis, tour buses, etc.
If you wish to stay in Kettering (and have arrived by rail), several hotels are an "easy" 1/4 mile walk from the station, and there are other accommodations a little farther on. Otherwise, the usual sources for hotel accommodations should be consulted.
Once in the Kettering area - depending on your mode of travel - you will want to get to the airfield. Here is a link to a map showing the route: Market Square, Kettering to the monument in Grafton Underwood⇗. With a car, or a friend/guide with one, reaching and touring the airfield is easy. Otherwise, you may need to contact a local taxi or tour firm that will accommodate you.
This map will orient you to the layout of the airfield. Additional detailed airfield maps can be viewed, downloaded and/or printed from the Gallery⇗.
Naturally, Matt (or Kevin, or Neill) will want to show you the monument and the stained glass window in St. James the Apostle Church. He will also show you the "domestic" area and the airfield area proper, providing it is safe to do so - farming activity and hunting have priority over visitors at times. Don't forget to stroll thru town and note the thatched roofs, the canal, the telephone box - lots to see!
And, while you are in the area, and if you have time, consider visiting Molesworth Airfield, AAF Station 103, home of the 303rd BG and 41st Combat Wing HQ, Kimbolton Airfield, AAF Station 117, home of the 379th BG, now an industrial estate, and Harrington Airfield, AAF Station 179, home of the Carpetbaggers (clandestine operations), with a nice museum.
And here are some aerial views looking to the Northeast (left) and to the Southwest (right), courtesy of Peter Hinson, 1998.
Matt Smith follows in the footsteps of Quentin Bland, who, as a child in Grafton Underwood during WWII formed a deep appreciation for the effort and sacrifices by the men of the 384th. That feeling carried Quentin over into lifelong voluntary service to the 384th, which Matt Smith now carries on.
The 384th Bomb Group, Inc. is grateful to Matt for his interest in and dedication to the 384th Bombardment Group. His unflagging support of the 384th is helping to ...