In September this year (2001), I was fortunate enough to be invited on a visit around Silloth aerodrome, along with local historians Jeff Wilson, Colin Haycock and George Doughty. George was an aero-engine fitter who was transferred to Silloth from No 15 M. U. near Swindon, and was instrumental in pointing out what was what, as well a regaling us with anecdotes about life there. He compared it to a village, insofar as "his story" turned out to be quite different to others who were also stationed there; different units working on the same base - everyone to their own memories.
In passing, I happened to bump into an ex-RAF Silloth man, John Minns, an aircrew electrician during WWII. More tales followed, including an incident where he was asked to extinguish the flare-path..... Rather quickly! No sooner had he done this when Jerry came flying low down the main runway, and dropped a land-mine on West Silloth. Fortunately, no damage was done in the resulting explosion.
We assembled at the main guard-house, a pleasing building - and, like the other buildings featured - one in remarkably good condition. Note the alarm-bell still in situ, held together by rust, paint and a bird's nest! With stone columns and simple georgian architecture, this was a standard pattern chosen by the Air Ministry for aerodromes of the expansion period. All aerodromes of this era (late 1930's) had to meet architectural conditions laid down by the Royal Fine Arts Commission, and the Society for the Preservation of Rural England. Such aerodromes differ greatly to those constructed during hostilities, when a much more austere and utilitarian type of architecture was employed. Concrete took over from brick towards the onset of war, due to a shortage of bricklayers. Silloth aerodrome became operational in June 1939.
Our visit took in the main operational part of the aerodrome, many of the buildings now being used by small factories and businesses. Several buildings still had lot numbers chalked on them, and after brief discussion it was felt that if anyone still wished to purchase a site, the owner would sell them it! Redundant water-tower and pill-box, anyone?
Additional information by Jeff Wilson, Colin Haycock, and George Doughty. All photographs taken in typical Cumbrian weather (wet....!) by Russell W. barnes. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some of the buildings featured here were constructed during the aerodrome's post-war period, as they do not appear on the Air-Ministry map published in 1955. This will be indicated where known.
Due to the number of photographs featured and to hasten the page download time, I have arranged them in groups of low-resolution linked images. Click on an image to see a high- resolution version of the same picture, along with related detailed information where appropriate. Images range in size, but most are 30-65kB. There is the odd 99kB image as well! Brief details may be seen by hovering the pointer over the image.
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This Dining Room building is the first building past the guardhouse. The yellow paint on the wall bears the legend: "----------- Post". I couldn't make out what the first word is. Condition is generally good, but with the usual broken windows, etc.
There are two buildings on site which appear to be decontamination blocks. Note the absence of windows. This particular building is in poor repair compared to the rest of the buildings, with the roof nearly stripped bare. There are the remains of a gas filtration unit and what looks like a boiler system, both housed in adjacent rooms. A wall in a third room bears the legend: "Undressing Area".
The possibility of gas-attacks had been considered seriously since 1936, when the Air Ministry Chemical Warfare Defence Branch was set up. Advice was given by this department on the protection of Operations blocks, and the design of Decontamination Centres. Gas warfare defence investigation began at Porton Down in 1932.
This building is described by various ex-RAF Silloth personnel as the first-aid building, but it is obvious by its construction (Windowless, tall ventilation chimney to the rear) that it was built to be gas-proof as well. The remains of a filter unit and galvanised ducting were discovered in a small room. A small pumping-station was found to the right of this building, and is still in use.
The station water supply was held in this reservoir. A semi-circular gauge indicating the amount of water in the tank is to be seen on the road-side face of the tank, near the bottom (lower picture in table above). It was operated by a wire pulley and float. The tank is surrounded by a substantial blast-wall.
Three hangars are shown here, though there are many more hangars - of different types - at remote parts of the aerodrome (Typically "Lamella" blister-hangars for aircraft storage). Shown above are a "C2", a "C", and a "D" - type. The doors of the "C" - type hangar were steel plated on both sides, and were designed to be filled with gravel to absorb bomb shrapnel. The large windows were designed to dissipate bomb-blast if the roof was penetrated.
Motor-transport featured on all wartime aerodromes, in some form or other. These four photographs show the wartime fire-engine sheds, complete with apex roof; The Post-war fire-engine sheds; the MT, or Motor-Transport sheds; The petrol-tanker sheds. The petrol-tanker sheds may have been used by articulated vehicles.
One pill-box above is rectangular, but does not conform to the type F/W23 rectangular pill-box. It consists of one room with embrasures, and has the remains of camouflage soil on the roof. Condition is good, and it is dry inside, with no evidence of water ingress. It has been used as a store for paper animal-feed bags.
The other pill-box is the curious "Pickett-Hamilton fort", a hydraulically operated affair designed to sink in flush with the hard-standing, and able to bear the weight of passing aircraft. This particular example is jammed in the "up" position.
The buildings above merited further investigation and more detailed photography, but time constraints prevented this on the day of the visit. Further information is needed to verify their use, and I am having to resort to guesswork to build up a picture! The fuel storage area is in extremely good order, and is used for storing concrete building sections. The shelves in the stores area consisted of asbestos and wire reinforcement, implying the storage of hot things. But what? The building surrounded by a blast-wall looks like a sub-station, as it had tiled walls and trenches within.
What looks like a stores shelf counter was actually in the decontamination room, and the view looking up inside the thin, tall, building was similar to that of the water-tower. It has been suggested that this was a fire-hose drying and draining building, but my guess is that of a secondary water-tower.
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