A history of Walney Airfield by Lawrence Hill (Page created 14/08/08)
government asked Barrow Council to consider a municipal airport.The council suggested Sowerby Wood to the north of Barrow,
but little happened.
the government suggested that Barrow Council should consider an airport.It was in 1937 the present Walney Airfield site was acquired.It was a compulsory purchase requiring the demolition of North End Farm
at a cost of £8050.
RAF (Royal Airforce) Airfield started construction the main contractor being
Laing.This was a period of rapid
airfield expansion around the country because of World War 2.The airfield was designated as an Air Gunnery School, the
coastal site being ideal.
October number 10 Air Gunnery School was opened with 10 Westland Lysander aircraft for towing target drogues and 2 Boulton and Paul Defiants
instructor and pupils to have airborne practice.By December there were 17 Defiants and
there was now sufficient barrack space for 100 officers, 140 sergeants
and 1,200 airmen.For reasons
unknown the school was moved to Castle Kennedy near Stranraer and the existing
school at Castle Kennedy was moved to Walney on 1 December.
Intensive training commenced,
some pupils being trained as wireless operator/air gunner with a total training
period of 18 months;but for air
gunner only 6 months.Courses
averaged 40 pupils made up of all ranks from LAC to Sergeant with 5 courses in
progress at any time. Training started on the ground in a turret trainer.Then, still on the ground, two parallel tracks were laid, one with a
powered turret moving backwards and forwards and the target on the other track
moving in the opposite direction,This
simulated air to air firing.All
shooting was out to sea!When
competent, pupils were taken in the Defiant
to shoot from the rear-powered turret at drogues and targets in the sea.The trainee dipped the tips of the bullets he was to fire in paint so his
accuracy could be assessed when the drogues or targets were inspected.Later, cine-gun cameras were used as well.
With such intensive training,
accidents started to happen.The
aircraft were already battle-weary and the mechanics, working to maintain the
aircraft, were not experienced and were working in poor conditions at first.
. Millom – RAF Millom was a flying
training field but was very near to Black Combe and other high ground.Because of aircraft flying into high ground in poor conditions, the first
Mountain Rescue Team was established at Millom.
. In January, at RAF Walney, flying
ceased with the airfield under 16inches of snow.After over a weeks delay, training started again.Time had to be caught up and training was intense.
. A bad day when a Gipsy
Moth overturned on landing and 2 Defiants
made forced landings away from the airfield.No-one was badly injured.With
the airfield being so near to Barrow Docks, part of Barrow defences were barrage
balloons up to 4500 feet - flying at the airfield
had to stop for safety reasons.Unfortunately
an Avro Anson from Wigtown, flew into
a balloon cable and crashed into Cavendish Dock.
. After the very cold winter, June was so
hot that the tar was melting on the runways.Flying stopped and 100 men were engaged in applying 160 tons of gravel to
were not proving efficient as only one student and an instructor could fly at
any one time. As a result, Avro Ansons
were brought in;they could carry
three students, instructor and pilot.This
speeded up training.
. By the end of the year, over 5,000 air
gunners had been trained.By now,
Walney was well established for training .Maintenance of aircraft was much
improved. Increased use of gunnery cameras
and 75 feet of film previously allowed was extended to 100 ft!During December, the number of live rounds fired by students was 3,500.
On the social side the station held a Christmas
party for children from Walney, There was a station Concert Party and a Dramatic
Socierty.Also, an ENSA Party came
and performed “The Merchant of Venice”
The Comanding Officer visited an Italian
prisoner of war camp at Milnthorpe to see if sympathetic prisoners would come to
Walney to cultivate vegetables. Apparently this was agreed and 26 prisoners came
but there is no documentary evidence of what they grew or where they were housed
but it must have helped the diet of the airmen and women.
. There was an incident at Walney when a
Pilot of a ditched Anson from Cranich
(Cheshire) was washed up on the southeast bay on Walney;his crew of three had died of exposure after 36 hours at sea.
. D Daycame and went but there was no let up in training and for a period all
leave was stoppedfor all personnel. Rest camps within the station were set up to allow
personnel to relax off duty.
. Allies were pushing across Europe but
there was a long way to go in the Pacific.The demand for gunners continued unabated.
snow disrupted flying but around this time many aircraft were transiting up and
down the country and often landed at Walney, Cark or Millom for fuel, overnight
stays or just being lost.
. Vickers Wellingtons
started to replace the Ansons. With 2
gun turrets and camera guns they allowed more efficient training, Also real
fighters, Hurricanes and Spitfires
provided moving targets.Presumably
using the camera guns !.
8 May 1945
. VE Day – no flying and great
celebrations.However, the demand
for gunners, though reduced, continued.
. VJ DayThere was a Victory Day Holiday
. The gunnery school was still active and
the Mountain Rescue Unit from Cark was moved to Walney.
. The gunnery school was moved to RAF
Valley on Anglesey.By the end of
1946 there were no aircraft at Walney.
. The ATC (Air Training Corp) Gliding
School was moved from Cark and continued with some pauses until 1955 when the
airfield was closed.
1 September 1955
. No sooner had the RAF moved out,
squatters occupied numerous buildings.Most
of the people had been made homeless by bombing of Barrow.They remained at Walney until Barrow Council re-housed them.Once they moved out, the buildings were demolished to stop others moving
Barrow Council was under
pressure to turn Walney into a civil airport as had happened at Blackpool. The
Council bought the airfield in 1946 and LoxhamsAir Taxi service of Lancaster was established. They used three seater Austers a very basic aircraft but hoped to use surplus Avro
Ansons. These never materialisedand
they went out of business. Some commercial flying took place but on a mainly
occasional basis to events such as the Isle of Man TT Races or the Cup Final at
Wembley using Dakotas and Ansons.
. Vickers took over the airfield and
allowed other aircraft to operate beside their own executive aircraft.The Lakes Gliding Club also operated from Walney;the chairman of which was Sir Leonard Redshaw – chairman of Vickers.
. Air Ecosse flew to Edinburgh, Carlisle
and Liverpool using Banderantes and
then went out of business.
. Air Furness using Brittan Norman Islanders flew mainly to Manchester but went into liquidation.
. Telair or Northern Airlines using Islanders with a service to Manchester and Blackpool.They went out
. BAE Systems upgraded the airfield
making it licensed with runways re-surfaced and an ILS (Instrument Landing
System) .With 2 Beachcraft SuperKingairs intensive flying takes
place.The Lakes Gliding Club is
based at Walney plus some privately owned power aircraft.