Silloth Airfield Celebration 24th April 2015
On Friday 24th April 2015, Silloth Tourism Action Group (STAG) held a celebration evening to mark the end of their year long ‘Silloth Airfield’ project, which was funded by Heritage Lottery.
During the evening, which was introduced by the group’s Chairman John Cook and the Town’s Mayor, Tony Markley, STAG showcased what they have achieved over the past year. Outcomes include:
- A website tracing the history of the airfield and highlighting memories of the men and women who were based there during WW2 – at https://sillothairfield.wordpress.com/ (designed and administered by Anna Malina, Project Co-ordinator)
- A documentary film about the airfield and its memories (script Anna Malina, voiceover Tim Barker, recorded by Geoff Betsworth and edited by professional film-maker John Hamlett of Lunar.co.uk)
- A diorama of the airfield, complete with buildings, hangars, runways and planes replicating the aerodrome as it was during WW2 (Designed and built by Brian Irwin)
- A Simulator for landing a WW2 Beaufighter on Runway 21 Silloth Airfield (by Open Source Programmer Stuart Buchanan)
- A Simulator loaned by the team from the Solway Aviation Museum
- An Exhibition of information and WW2 artefacts (Pop-up displays designed by Mike Hughes and printed by John Cook Signs; artefacts relating to the airfield loaned by a number of local people, the Solway Aviation Museum and Dumfries and Galloway Aviation Museum)
- A vintage stall set up by Kirsten Johnson
- A WW2 table display made by the pupils at Silloth Primary School
- A stall with artefacts set up by the Solway Aviation Museum
The evening was a roaring success with youngsters from the Solway Community Technology College involved in a performance drama. Coached by Jonny Sunter with script by Veronica Perrins, the youngsters put on a brilliant performance, illustrating their in-depth knowledge and understanding of their local airfield’s proud role during WW2.
A documentary-style film about the airfield was shown after the drama. The story covered many aspects of the airfield’s history. Much thanks is due to Rex Morris, a former aero engineer at the airfield, for first hand stories about his time there. Gratitude also to Pamela Coates for photos and memoirs of her parents, George and Elsie Doughty (nee Pattinson). George was an aero engineer on the airfield at 22MU and a lifelong friend of Rex’s, while Elsie was an armourer, responsible for loading the guns and ammunition on the fighter planes at Silloth Aerodrome. Local man, Lawrence Marshall recalled his earliest memories of the airfield, and a few of George and Rex’s stories were also told. These accounts in particular touched members of the audience, many of whom were in tears by the end, especially after Tim Barker’s reading of the lyrics he’d written for a song about ‘Hudson Bay’ many years ago. The song, with Tim’s lyrics, has also been recorded for the project. Tim’s words are sung by Cumbrian folk singer, Craig Duggon, accompanied by local guitar teacher Geoff Bettsworth, who plays several instruments in the piece. The song will be available in due course on the Airfield website. Geoff Betsworth also did a great job of recording the voice-over for the film in his home studio.
During WW2, air crews at RAF Silloth’s Operational Training Unit were trained using the ‘Silloth Trainer,’ a type of familiarisation ‘simulator’ for learning drills and the handling of malfunctions. Developed by Wing Commander Isles at RAF Silloth, and built from the fuselage of a Halifax Bomber, the trainer taught basic flying behaviour.
In addition, all the engine, electric and hydraulic systems were emulated. It was said that many of the parts inside the trainer were made from piano parts. There must have been many pianos with bits missing in Silloth, since fourteen Silloth Trainers were built for use by other Operational Training Units in the UK. Emulating the Silloth Trainer, ‘open source’ programmer Stuart Buchanan wrote a programme for special computer simulator or SIM, allowing people at the event to land a WW2 plane on Runway 21, Silloth Airfield. Young and old ‘trainee pilots’ at the celebration enjoyed sitting in a real Spitfire cockpit, loaned by Niall Paterson, to land the plane (or not).
A leaflet about the airfield, designed by mikehughescreative.com and a souvenir programme by Yvonne Parkes was given to each member of the audience. Jennifer Rowlands, Judith Schafer, James and the other helpful staff at Solway Community Technology College deserve special mention. The school did an impressive job of hosting and providing the buffet, not to mention their skills in crowd control. Thanks also to Sheona Nichols from the RAFA Club in Silloth, who did an equally impressive job providing a welcome selection of refreshments.
Jazz Band, The Cumberland Hot Shots (npenninemusic.co.uk), led the audience down memory lane with their reminiscent rendition of WW2 music and songs. Band member Chris Perrins saved the day when he wired up the band’s sound system for the film show after the school system hit a problem.
Members of STAG’s Airfield sub-committee include John Cook, Chris Graham, Owen Martin, Fausto Previtali, Angus Emmerson and Richard Emmerson. STAG were ably assisted by Gordon Akitt (knowledge, photos and advice), Jim Smith (aerial photography) and Kevin Irwin (photos and advice). Anna Malina, Silloth Green’s Community Engagement Officer, worked with the STAG Team, and co-ordinated the project on their behalf. Thanks to Silloth Town Council, who lent their support too. A great team effort for a fantastic project that has re-energised pride in the local airfield and the men and women – civilians and aircrew – who were based there.
While the funding period for the current project has now ended, STAG will be working in partnership with Silloth Town Council to continue their endeavours to preserve the heritage of the airfield and the memories of the men and women who were based there.
“We offer our sincere thanks to the many airmen and civilian personnel who came from all over the UK and other allied countries to serve at Silloth Aerodrome during WW2. We are very proud and forever grateful for the service you gave, and we will support ongoing efforts to preserve your memories and stories of the airfield into the future.”
Silloth Tourism Action Group 2015
Thanks to Brian Clarke, Gordon Akitt and John Hamlett for photos.