An R.A.F. Harrowbeer ' tea-boy ' May 1941
In 1940 / 1941 a young lad living in Gunnislake, Cornwall was aged just fourteen years old and worked in the local bakers shop where he would carry out odd jobs, fetching and carrying, cleaning up, etc for his employer. On his fifteenth birthday he asked his boss for a wage increase, which was hastily declined. The lad was told that he could soon get another boy to do his job so be on your way. He was most unhappy about this and that evening he was telling his mates the tale. They said to him that they were working on the ' New Aerodrome ' being built at Yelverton, Devon. They were doing odd jobs and running errands for the on site contractors who were building the runways and the wages were five shillings a week. ( £ 0.25 in to-days decimal coinage ). A bus collected civilian workers ( and the lads ) early in the morning and returned them late in the evening after the days work. They told him to get on the bus with them the following morning and report to the Site Office Foreman. ( The Site Office was in Knightstone House - the Original Watch Office ). This appealed to the young man, so he caught the bus with his mates, reported to the Site Foreman and was offered a job. He was to start straight away and was assigned to a group of contractors where he was to be their ' tea-boy '. He was given other duties besides making tea and coffee which were to go shopping for them for cigarettes, tobacco, sweets, etc. from the local Yelverton village shops. At lunch time he had to collect hot fresh cooked meals prepared in some of the local houses along the A386 and return the empty dishes afterwards.
The contractors had passes to get on and off the Aerodrome whilst it was being built, they could not leave without permission - once they were on the Aerodrome they were to stay until the job was completed - they ate, slept and worked from sun-up to sunset. The tea-boys arrived each morning and left each evening.
He remembered in particular the runway which was constructed parallel to the A386 ( the first runway to be built and later known as Runway 3 ). He spent most of his time in this area. In addition to the main runways there were perimeter tracks to be built and hard standings ( known as ' Panhandles ' ) for dispersed aircraft, there were small Nissen type huts and Wooden huts erected for the contractors to use which were later taken over by the Air-crews to live in so that they were close to their aircraft. ( This later changed after the Dispersed Sites were built to billet the Air-crews in in the area surrounding Crapstone Village. The Air-crew were worth more money than an aeroplane, so you didn't want the Airman in any danger living on the Airfield ). The Dispersal Bays / Blast Pens with their earth banks and Air Raid Shelters were constructed at a later date during 1942. The gentleman is not sure when as he left the Aerodrome in the Spring of 1942 after working approximately for one year on it and could not remember them being there then.
Once the runways were completed ( Runway 2 followed by Runway 1 ) the contractors and our young lad moved on to what became the Technical Site in the direction of Pound. Once again the contractors lived in Nissen type huts in this area during it's construction. ( There were three Nissen Huts left in the area between Crapstone and Pound ). The huts at the Dispersed areas were now being occupied by Air-crew, Ground-crew and used as Flight Offices.
R.A.F. Harrowbeer opened officially on the 15th August 1941 at 1430 hours.
Our lad recalls that the Aerodrome was being used while the construction was still in progress, but cannot remember clearly as to what Squadrons, aircraft types or Nationality of the Airmen. He does recall that some of the Airmen ( he thinks possibly Polish, ' there was a Polish Squadron No.302 at R.A.F. Harrowbeer from 6th October 1941 until 26th April 1942 ' ) were very hard, fierce flyers and when landing their aircraft would come in fast and with violent sudden braking, this resulted in tearing up the coloured rubber coating that was laid on the runway surfaces to act as camouflage. ( This coating was often repaired, but eventually discontinued as the aerial photographs of 1942 show the runways quite clearly ). ( There are small areas of this camouflage coating still visible in one or two areas of what is left of the runways ).
One of the Polish pilots had a pet German Shepherd dog that roamed the Aerodrome while his owner was away flying. On one such occasion the dog was hit by one of the contractors lorries, seriously injuring the dog. One of the civilian workers said that something had to be done and borrowed a pistol to shoot the dog to put it out of it's misery. He was unable to pull the trigger so another person took the gun and carried out the deed. ( The dog was buried in the area of Dispersal Bay No.109. The pilot who owned the dog was deeply upset over the incident.
Our young lad cannot remember seeing any of the buildings on the Technical Site in their finished state as he was moved with some of the contractor team to what sounds like the Communal Site ( Site No.2 ). One of the buildings being a Decontamination Block, he remembers this because while working with his team he was being trained in basic electrical work and fitted much of the electrics to this unit.
He was then transferred from R.A.F. Harrowbeer to another Aerodrome under construction in the South West of England.
It appears from his recollections that parts of ' Knightstone House ' were used as a Site Office and billets for Airfield Defence Units during the early construction period.
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Bombed out and Re-housed from Plymouth
In 2004 a customer to ' Knightstone Tearooms ' ( also R.A.F. Harrowbeer Archives ) told me how he lived with his family in Plymouth during the war years. He was seven years old in 1943 and the family house was situated in an area that was being very heavily bombed, he remembers the incendiary bombs falling, the fires and the mayhem. Things got so bad that the family were forced out of their house and were re-housed in a lodge house very close to R.A.F. Harrowbeer for safety reasons - their area had to be evacuated.
The gentleman recollects quite clearly waving at the pilots in their planes as they took off and landed. He remembers vividly watching the aircraft returning from missions with minor and major damage ( holes in the aircraft wings and fuselages ), some landing without their undercarriage down and bumping along the ground.
At this time during the war the perimeter track to the Aerodrome was heavily guarded but towards the end of the Aerodrome's use he remembers that he, his brother and friends would get onto the Aerodrome through holes in the fences and even managed to climb into some of the aircraft ( he thought Lancasters ! ! ). He personally found them boring, dark, cold, empty and not very exciting.
He and his brother who was two years older occasionally got into the Hangars where they built up make-do drum kits out of Barrage Balloon material, barrels, cans, etc. He thought they sounded quite realistic, his brother carried on to learn to play the drums properly and carried on for several years after the war.
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Memories of Mrs. Beryl P. Hartnup ( nee ) Stamp
Beryl was the daughter of Mr. Wilfred Harold Stamp ( known as ' Pip ' ) and was born in the ' Who'd Have Thought It ' Public House in Milton Coombe during 1937. Beryl was obviously very young during the war years but she has recollections of a German bomb landing in the orchard of the Public House.
One of the most memorable things that she remembers is of an airman known as
' Spider ' ( T. Webb ) who would read her bed-time stories of an evening when he was not on duty. There was another airman A. A. Cole ( Tony ) who used to buy her sweets.
Most of this would have been about 1945 when No.691 Squadron was one of the resident Squadrons at R.A.F. Harrowbeer, ( the above airmen were from No.691 Squadron ). There was a piano in one of the downstairs rooms that was regularly used for sing-songs.
Beryl's mother was the pub landlady and used to keep the airmen under control as this was one of their favourite drinking places.
Mr. Wilfred Stamp was too old to be called up for was service so he joined the Royal Observer Corps as an Observer in order to ' do his bit ' for the war effort. He also helped to manage the ' Who'd Have Thought It when not on duty.
Wilfred died on January 31st 1946 at the age of forty one.
No.691 Squadron served at R.A.F. Harrowbeer from January 1945 until the end of July 1945 when they moved to R.A.F. Exeter.
When the Squadron heard about the sad bereavement of Wilfred a letter of condolence was sent to Beryl after being signed by many of the airmen from the Squadron who had known the family.
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Mosquito Aircraft Crash
Talking to a gentleman in August 2006 who was on a visit to R.A.F. Harrowbeer, he told me that in 1945 he was fifteen years old and can still remember quite clearly that there was a Royal Observer Corps Post in the vicinity of the small business / warehousing complex on the Dousland Road just past the Walkhampton road junction. It was positioned in the middle of a field and had a telegraph pole by the side of it so that telephone calls could be made to their Control Centre.
During 1945 the young lad would attend ' Ravenscroft ' which at that time was being used for Royal Observer Corps aircraft recognition training for teenagers.
In late 1945 he was called up for National Service.
The gentleman remembers seeing the aftermath of a Mosquito aircraft crash he thought had happened in 1945 ( the accident is borne out by a written statement in the Station Operation Record Book ) on the Airfield approximately half-way along Runway No.2. He was uncertain but he thought the Mosquito aircraft hit one of the buildings ( possibly the Flight Office closest to Ravenscroft ) killing some of the occupants ( the pilot and the navigator of the aircraft were both killed , there is no record of anybody else losing their life ).
According to the gentleman's wife there was a German Prisoner of War Camp in the vicinity of Pound Corner. ( There was a German POW Camp set up at Pound Corner in the old W.A.A.F. Site in 1945 / 1946 after the liberation of the Channel Islands ).
They also informed me of a German Prisoner of War Camp at Plaster Down, Whitchurch, Tavistock close to the United States Army Hospital. His wife worked in some of the old Hospital buildings in the 1960's when the site was used to house Asian refugees. The remains of the POW Camp were still evident then !
This gentleman was at R.A.F. Harrowbeer's Airfield perimeter fence when President Truman landed in August 1945 in his Douglas Skymaster aircraft. President Truman's aircraft was escorted by twelve Spitfire aircraft. The gentleman's wife was also at the airfield ( although they were not married at the time and saw the landing but said " the figures were so far away it was impossible to recognise anyone ".
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Memories from George Langton and the ' Rock Inn '
Back in 2005 when the R.A.F. Harrowbeer Archive was in it's infancy the local Public Houses around Yelverton were contacted that were recorded in the Station Operation Record Books as ' watering Holes ' for the airman of R.A.F. Harrowbeer. The ' Rock Inn ' was one of those Public Houses. A reply came back from Mr. George Langton who wished to meet up with me ( the Archivist , Michael Hayes ) so that he could share some of his memories and photographs , etc. with me.
Mr. George Langton was fifteen years old at the beginning of World War II and he lived with his parents at ' The Rock Inn '. The Inn / Hotel had a lift and George would often go up to the top of the lift shaft and watch the aeroplanes take-off and land from the aerodrome. His view from this position was straight down the length of one of the runways. The Spitfire aircraft would come in low, slow and graceful, close to ' The Rock Inn '. From George's lift shaft position he almost looked into the cockpit of the passing aircraft.
Out the front of ' The Rock Inn ' were garages ( where Mirrors the hairdressers and Yelverton T.V., etc. are today 2004 ). When the Americans were using the Aerodrome some of their vehicles were garaged there. After the closure of the Aerodrome an American Jeep was left in one of the garages. unfortunately George could not remember what happened to it.
The Hotel bar was used by servicemen ( mainly the air-crew ) when they were off duty. Beer was the main beverage but, apparently, owing to the shortage of beer during the war, at 1800 hours each day the only drink available was cider. The airmen would drink long into the evening before returning to base. It was not unusual for George's parents ( the landlord and landlady ) to tell the airmen to carry on serving themselves, leave the money for drinks on the counter on leaving, turn the key in the door and put it through the letter-box. ( Such was the trust back then ).
On one occasion George remembers a bomb landing and exploding near Loverton, he recalls seeing the bright light in the sky while he was sheltering behind a wardrobe in one of the bedrooms. The explosion was close to the main Plymouth water-course but was not damaged.
George and his friends would go out into the fields in the Dousland area looking for Incendiary Bombs ( after a raid by enemy aircraft ) that had not gone off. If the ground was soft they would land without detonating. These ' live ' incendiary bombs were collected and taken back to The Rock Inn and in one of the garages they would dismantle them, one end would unscrew and very carefully they would take out a spring affair which would assist in the detonation of the bomb. A cylinder was taken out which was filled with a liquid ( flourite ? ) under a percussion cap. Somehow with the aid of a screwdriver they could move the percussion cap and pour out the liquid into a large bowl. This bowl was taken outside down to the bottom of the garden where the boys would toss a coin to see who was going to throw a lighted match into the liquid, it would immediately ignite and burn furiously. The percussion cap was either taken outside or back to the garage where it was put in a vice and struck with a hammer until it exploded. ( At 15 / 16 years old they could not see the danger - it was exciting. George did say that as far as they knew his father had no knowledge of what the boys were doing otherwise the consequences could have been severe ). How they didn't kill themselves is another mystery.
On the roof of the Inn was a large mounted Air Raid Siren, for which at the appropriate times his parents were responsible for setting off. This continued until the National Fire Service moved i's Headquarters to where Briar Tor is today and they took over the siren duty. They had a more powerful siren. Eventually George's father removed the siren from the Inn roof and with modifications turned it into a drilling machine.
George told me that the spire on the Rock Methodist Church was believed to have been removed at the outset of the war so that aircraft would not hit it on take-off and landing. George had a photograph dated 1946 with spire still attached. He said that the spire was taken down soon after due to woodworm and dry rot ! !
George also showed me some photographs ( 1950's ) of cars with the airfield buildings in the background, some of the buildings look as though they were being demolished, unfortunately the main topic of the photographs are the cars, not the buildings. The runways in the 1950's were used for car racing.
Another recollection George had is of the area by the Moorland Links Hotel where there was an Italian and German Prisoner of War Camp.
George Langton enlisted in the Army in 1944.
Sadly George is no longer with us but his memories live on in the R.A.F. Harrowbeer Archives - thank you George for your recollections.
May you rest in peace.
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Knightstone RAF Harrowbeer Archives
Knightstone, Crapstone Road, Yelverton, Devon, PL20 6BT GB
Archivist - Michael Hayes 01822 853679
All images copyright of :- PHL Archives, R.A.F. Harrowbeer Archives, Graham Buchan Innes or HIG
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