By Nick Pope
People commonly associate ghosts with old houses, castles, pubs and churches, but there are numerous ghost sightings at military bases. Understandably, because the public don't generally have access to such sites, these sightings don't generate much publicity. When I investigated UFO sightings for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) I was drawn into other mysteries and got to hear about numerous ghost sightings.
Ghosts have been seen at numerous current or former military bases, with three of the most haunted sites being Devonport Naval Base, Priddy's Hard Armaments Depot in Gosport and Coalhouse Fort in East Tilbury, which was used as a wartime Royal Navy base. There are very detailed stories surrounding many of the ghost sightings, often linking them with executions, or violent deaths in munitions explosions and aircraft crashes. Many classic signs associated with hauntings were present in these cases, including unexplained cold spots and guard dogs growling - with their hackles rising - at the locations concerned. Perhaps the oddest report I received was an animal ghost story. During the Second World War, Wing Commander Guy Gibson (who led the famous Damn Busters raid) had a dog that was knocked down by a car and killed, shortly before the raid. The ghost of this dog has been seen several times at RAF Scampton.
From time to time the MoD and the military have co-operated with organisations such as the Ghost Club of Great Britain, allowing access to sites such as Coalhouse Fort and the Master Ropemaker's House in Plymouth, with investigators using equipment such as infrared camcorders, motion detectors and electro-magnetic field meters to try and find evidence of hauntings. On occasion the military themselves have been involved. In 2002, following his involvement in the Ceremony of the Keys, a sergeant in the RAF Regiment spent the night in the Salt Tower in the Tower of London, armed with a video camera, a torch and a book about ghosts. This is reputedly the most haunted area in the Tower of London, where several ghosts have been seen. The sergeant had a sleepless night but saw no ghosts himself. He was sponsored by many of his colleagues and his ghostwatch raised several hundred pounds for charity.
Numerous ghost sightings came to light as a result of a letter published in Focus (MoD's in-house magazine) in October 2003. An MoD Police officer described a ghost he'd witnessed while on a night patrol at St. Luke's church at Haslar Hospital. He'd seen an elderly woman walking towards the church, but when he returned less than a minute later, she had disappeared. There was nowhere she could have gone. An hour later, the hospital mortician told him about the body he'd dealt with earlier that day. The description exactly matched that of the woman the police officer had seen. The editor of Focus asked for other stories and over the following months further letters were published detailing sightings of ghosts at locations including RAF Ely, RAF Wittering, and two bases in Germany: RAF Laarbruch and RAF Bruggen. The latter story involved the ghost of a headless airman seen by an armourer who was so traumatised that he had to be sent home to the UK. "The story was hushed up", the letter concluded.
It's not just military bases. Ghosts have also been seen in MoD buildings in London. The sixth floor of Metropole Building (a former hotel requisitioned by the Ministry of Munitions in 1916) is reputedly haunted by the ghost of a chambermaid who was murdered in the hotel and whose body was hidden in a cupboard. Even MoD Main Building is supposedly haunted. Built on the site of the old Whitehall Palace, which dates from the 12th century, the basement still contains an old Tudor wine cellar dating from 1529. The wine cellar is now used for social functions, but I've spoken to some of the security guards who patrol the building at night, and they tell me they've seen ghosts in that area of the building. One guard told me that he'd seen what he presumed to be an intruder walk across the corridor from one room to another. He issued a challenge but on reaching the spot where the figure had been seen, found there were no doors - the figure had apparently walked through the walls.