Local Memories of R.A.F. Harrowbeer

The stories of civilians who had a connection with R.A.F. Harrowbeer, the Yelverton area or Plymouth during the 1940's

 

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An  R.A.F. Harrowbeer  ' tea-boy '

May  1941

 

          In 1940 / 41 a young lad lived in Gunnislake, Cornwall, he was aged 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. He 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. ( £1.25 in todays decimal coinage ). A bus collected civillian 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. This appeald to the young man, so he applied for a job and was taken on. 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 their job was completed - they ate, slept and worked from sun-up to sunset. The tea-boys arrived each morning and left each evening.

          He rembered 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 for the 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. ( the Dispersal Bays / Blast Pens with their earth banks and Air Raid Shelters were constructed at a later date during 1942 ). He 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 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 Area in the direction of Pound. Once again the contractors lived in Nissen type huts in this area during it's construction. ( There were three 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.

          He recalls that the Aerodrome was being used while the construction was in progress, but cannot remember clearly as to what Squadrons, aircraft types or Nationality of the Airmen. He does remember 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 evenyually discontinued as the aerial photographs of 1942 show the runways quite clearly ).

          One of the pilots ( Polish ) 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 civillian 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 Pen No.109 ).The pilot who owned the dog was deeply upset over the incident.

          Our young lad cannot remember seeing the buildings of the Technical Site in their finished state as he was moved with the contractor team to what sonds 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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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 Miton 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 be about 1945 when No.691 Squadron was one of the resident Squadrons at R.A.F. Harrowbeer, ( the above airmen were from that 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 war 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.

 

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