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Galdenoch Radio Station

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Main transmitter hall and masts, 1960s
Main transmitter hall and masts
© Peter Linzey

Galdenoch Radio Station was a World War II long wave (LW) broadcast radio station believed to have been established by the Ministry of Information at a time when it was considered possible that Ireland might be taken by Germany. The site lies to the west of the B738 road near Loch Ryan, and Stranraer, on the prominent peninsula of The Rhins of Galloway, or simply The Rhins.

Before the end of the war, the site was also in use by the Americans, and was being used to provide the communications link for air traffic control (ATC) operations, and continued to provide this service after the the Americans left, and British staff took over the facilities for a time.

It was then leased to the BBC, which installed emergency broadcast equipment intended to provided coverage in the event that the troubles in Northern Ireland would disrupt its services, but the need for these facilities never arose, and the BBC left site by the late 1980s.

The site was abandoned by the 1990w, with the termination of the CAA/NATS lease, and largely cleared, leaving only a few building remains to show where it had been located.

History

We are grateful to Peter Linzey, who worked at the station for a significant period, and provided the following account of the facility, its history, and relation to other, related, facilities around the country.

Two CM8 transmitters, 1960s
Two CM8 transmitters
© Peter Linzey

Galdenoch was linked with Prestwick Aerodrome, Redbrae House (signals centre), Westburn House (signals centre), and the USAAF.

It was probably conceived by the Ministry of Information in 1939/40 as a LW broadcast station, when it was perceived that Ireland might be lost to the enemy.

It was built (with considerable difficulty) in the wilds of southwest Scotland, and despite diligent enquiry no details of the actual construction have been forthcoming, although we know that the Wigtownshire Electricity Company (now part of Scottish Power plc) supplied the mains power, and ST&C (Standard Telephones and Cable) supplied two LW transmitters (type CM8 of 10 kW output each) working into aerials supported by four 315 foot non-radiating stayed masts.

The station was technically completed in early 1943, but by then the threat of the loss of Ireland had receded, so it was no longer required for its original purpose.

It may have been designated as an RAF station for administrative purposes for a short time after its completion, but was never an operational RAF unit.

The MoD and Douglas Alexander MP (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) have neither confirmed nor disputed the above information.

There had been flying in and around Prestwick/Monkton since early in the century, and in 1936 Prestwick Aerodrome was created, together with Scottish Aviation Ltd as its operating arm.

A flying school was established by Scottish Aviation, training RAF pilots. This school, together with the control tower and other buildings, was on the north side of the aerodrome.

By 1939, the UK was at war with Germany, and Scottish Aviation was managing Prestwick Aerodrome as Government agents.

In 1941 the United States entered the European war.

Orangefield House Hotel, which had been built as a private mansion, had been developed into the Aerodrome Club for the general public. The first officers of the USAAF came to Prestwick and stayed at the hotel as observers as some proving flights from America were taking place. These were not usually direct flights, but were routed via various intermediate stop-overs.

The original control tower was accidentally destroyed by fire fairly early on in the life of the airfield, and a new control room was built on to the roof of Orangefield. All the air traffic services were operated by the RAF, who also took over nearby Redbrae House as a signals centre.

A nucleus of the now growing US forces also operated from Heathfield Aerodrome, adjacent to Prestwick.

In 1942, the Eurowing of the American Air Transport Command was formed, and regular flights from America began to arrive at Prestwick. USAAF staff numbers at there increased, including some works personnel, to assist with the development of the various sites needed to accommodate the increasing number of troops and services, but some US troops were detached to other parts of the UK.

Engine shed (Nissen hut), 1960s
Engine shed (Nissen hut)
© Peter Linzey

By 1943, Galdenoch was technically completed as a LW broadcast station, but not really required as such, since the perceived need was no longer there.

1403 Base Unit, the operating arm of the USAAF, took over Westburn House (adjacent to Redbrae House) as a signals centre. Air traffic was still controlled by the RAF, but later that year, the USAAF took over the transatlantic ATC services.

USAAF signals people now had a transmitter at Stranraer, probably at Galdenoch, where the engineers identified above had installed extra aerials and equipment. Evidence of the heavy American involvement in the later stages (1943 on) could be seen in the provision of all-American hardware in feeder runs, insulators, nuts/bolts and metal parts, together with use of climbing spikes on the various poles.

A small operating unit of American signals men worked at Galdenoch until the time of the Berlin airlift (June 1948 to May 1949] and because there was no domestic site at the station, they lived out at Portpatrick.

It had long been the intention of the British government, via the Ministry of Civil Aviation, to operate Galdenoch in an air traffic control role such as the Americans had been doing, and when the Americans left in early 1948, together with some of their equipment, employees of the MCA (Ministry of Civil Aviation) took over and started installing new gear to take over the established point-to-point services.

Eventually, the LW CM8 transmitter was used for radio teletype (RTTY) tests, and some other ancillary services were provided on site, so that the station appeared to be providing a useful service in its civilian role, although manning was never easy owing to its relative remoteness.

All the circuits were operated from Redbrae, and transmitters were located either at Symington, near Prestwick, or Galdenoch.

Post war, Prestwick had become a major international airport, with regular civil flights to worldwide destinations. Orangefield had become the airport terminal, with the usual check-in desks and passenger facilities of the time, and it had a certain period charm.

As the Irish also had a similar ATC (air traffic control) setup there was considerable duplication of effort, so in the mid to late 1960s most of the point-to-point services were transferred to the Irish Aviation Authority at Ballygirreen. The telescoping of Shannon and Prestwick to become Shanwick refers to the Irish Aviation Authority unit at Ballygirreen. This left Galdenoch with little other than the LW CM8s, which it had started with in 1943, continuing to provide a RTTY service.

Mast base, 1960s
Mast base
© Peter Linzey

By 1970 there was no further perceived requirement for the station and it closed on June 31, 1970, the staff were dispersed, and it was eventually demolished. The masts were the last to be cut up in 1979 by King Bros, Stranraer scrap metal merchants. The masts had been dropped earlier, but not cut up.

Although the station was dismantled and services disconnected, the government continued to maintained its lease on the site.

Now history started a repeat, as it often does, and the troubles in Northern Ireland caused the BBC to fear for their transmitter sites there, so they obtained a sub lease from CAA (Civil Aviation Authority), installed some mobile equipment in a trailer at Galdenoch, and no doubt regretted the loss of the earlier CM8 equipment.

New power supplies were arranged, on which I have no information, although there is still (as of 2009) an abandoned pole-mounted transformer adjacent to the still-remaining shell of the MT (motor transport) garage, presumably for the BBC equipment.

There was said to have been an Army signals unit on site, or at least with an interest at that time, to cover the same problem, but the MoD has not confirmed this situation.

In any event, the BBC's emergency equipment was not required for its intended purpose, and had been removed from site by the late 1980s.

At a later date, possibly in the 1990s but not disclosed, the CAA/NATS (National Air Traffic Services) lease for the site was terminated and the land reverted to the original landlord, who presumably re-let it for agriculture, which is its current use.

In the meantime, Prestwick Airport went through various changes of fortune, as aircraft development rendered it less attractive as a UK terminal, although it had outgrown Orangefield House, which was demolished, together with Redbrae House and Westburn House. A new airport terminal was built to serve the airport, a new control tower was built, and a new signal centre developed at Atlantic House, Prestwick, together with many other site developments.

The attached four pictures, taken in the 1960s, show the main transmitter hall with part of the domestic offices to the left, the Nissen hut engine shed, the two CM8 transmitters, and a rather poor shot of a mast lower section.

Altogether an interesting time, with little physical remains of Galdenoch or the other sites to activate memories.

Thanks are due to the many correspondents who contributed various bits of information, some relevant and others on divergent tracks, but with just enough plausibility to cause a search to take place, hence the long gestation period of this brief [and possibly incomplete] history.

If you have anything to add, dispute, or comment on, please feel free to do so. Being a bit deaf I prefer email, but snailmail is OK too.
- Peter Linzey. November 2009.

In 1950, the air traffic control centre located at Inverness moved to Redbrae House, Prestwick, and in 1978, NATS Scottish operation moved from Redbrae House to Atlantic House, also in Prestwick.

As with Orangefield House, both Redbrae and Westburn have been lost beneath developments at Prestwick Airport, however we have obtained their locations from historic mapping, and indicated their original locations on the map below.

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Aerial views


Map

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