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RAF Turnberry

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RAF Turnberry was first a World War I aerodrome, and then a World War II airfield which occupied a small headland on the Ayrshire coast, now better known as Turnberry Golf Course. In both conflicts, the airfield served as a school of aerial gunnery. The airfield literally lies on the A719 Maidens to Turnberry road, which cuts through the former airfield and two of its tarmac runways, including one which is still used by private flyers, and for helicopters when golf tournaments are being played.

War Memorial

A war memorial, in the form of a double Celtic Cross was erected on the seaward (west) side of Turnberry airfield to commemorate the casualties from the School of Aerial Gunnery (later the School of Aerial Fighting and Gunnery) which was based there during World War I. Raised by the people of Kirkoswld Parish in 1923, the memorial lists the names of all those lost between 1917 and 1918.

In November 1990, four new sections were added to the base of the memorial, and carry the names of those who died at Turnberry during the Second World War.

TO THE MEMORY OF
THE OFFICERS
NON-COMMISSIONED OFFICERS
AND MEN
OF THE ROYAL FLYING CORPS
ROYAL AIR FORCE
AND THE AUSTRALIAN AND
UNITED STATES AIR SERVICES
WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES
FOR THEIR COUNTRY
WHILE SERVING IN THE SCHOOL
OF AERIAL GUNNERY & FIGHTING
AT TURNBERRY MCMXVII - MCMXVIII
THEIR NAME LIVETH
FOR EVERMORE

AS ALSO THOSE COMMEMORATED BELOW
WHO DIED IN THE
1939-45 WAR

Many named on the memorial are buried at Dunure Cemetery, with one American airman who died during World War I being buried in Doune Cemetery, Girvan.

World War I

Turnberry aerodrome served as one of a pair of air gunnery schools located in Ayrshire during World War I, operated by the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). Air Gunnery School No 2 was located at Turnberry[1], while School No 1 was located at HMS Wagtail, Heathfield.[2]

The aerodrome opened in 1917, and closed in 1918 with the end of World War I.

During the 1930s the site was reactivated, then being described as an anti-aircraft landing ground.

World War II

The airfield had been in use as a base by the Auxiliary Air Force until 1942, but the arrival of World War II saw the reconstruction of the airfield as a formal training facility by Wimpey in 1941, when tarmac runways were laid, and the airfield was reopened in 1942. It was then used to train RAF units in torpedo bombing at the nearby River Clyde torpedo ranges, and for air sea rescue missions. It seems some 1,200 men were stationed at Turnberry.

In use, the layout proved less than ideal. Approaches were difficult, and had to be made over the sea, or from the hills to the east, which meant that both routes were compromised by the prevailing winds, which tended to blow inland from the sea.

The hills to the east housed the bomb store and technical site.

The layout of the surrounding land also meant there was no possibility for expansion. When the war ended and the operational units finally moved out during November 1945, the airfield was closed. After the airfield, accommodation on the site remained in use for a time, to house Prisoners of War (PoW) until 1946, after which most of the accommodation was cleared from the site.

Postwar development

Abandoned after the war, the airfield site reverted to its former use as a golf course, and reclaimed a section of one of the subsidiaries (runways), but much of the runway network survived to some degree, and remains clearly visible in aerial images of the area. The main runway 04/22 ran northeast to southwest and was 6,250 feet long, with two subsidiaries: 00/18 ran north to south and was 4,500 feet long, while 09/27 ran east to west with a length of 3,900 feet. Although the vast majority of buildings were cleared from the site after it was closed, several remains can be found scattered around the site.

Former control tower, 2010, Fox
Former control tower

The former airfield was bought from the MoD in 1949, by Niall Dingwall Hodge (also Nial or Neil in various articles), who operated it as a farm, and converted the control tower into a luxury home. The remaining serviceable section of runway, running southwest to northeast, was reopened by the owner during the 1960s to serve as a private landing strip for use by friends with private aircraft, and as the driveway for the house. It continues to see regular use during the annual Open Golf Tournament held on the Turnberry course. A swimming pool was also added to the new home, next to the converted tower.

Niall Hodge, who died in July 1981, was a wealthy businessman, and the Hodge part of Blackwood Hodge, which he had formed in partnership with John Blackwood in 1938, for £500. The company is reported to have had the contract for white-lining the roads of Scotland, at £11 per mile. He went on to be involved with many other significant civil engineering, machinery, and development businesses throughout Scotland and England, and also overseas.[3]

He also maintained close links with Quarrier's Homes, now known simply as Quarriers, generously contributing both time and money, and provided access to several houses within his estate for use as holiday homes for children from Quarriers.[4] It has been said that each house came with a wooden hut containing a freezer stocked with ice cream, sweets, and lemonade, which was left unlocked whenever children from Quarriers were in residence, and that they were also given access to the pool.

Site visit

A site visit was carried out during March 2010, and confirmed that the A719 road cuts through both the subsidiary east-west runway to the north of the site, and the southern extent of the former main runway. The northern section runs roughly parallel to, and roughly 100 metres east of the road, and it is this section which may still be used by private aircraft. The runway sections are fenced off from the road. The second subsidiary is located to the west, and lies completely within the golf course.

Firing range, 2010, Fox
Firing range

A substantial brick wall remains towards the southeast part of the site, adjacent to the northwester side of Turnberry Big wood, and would have formed part of a firing or target range. Aerial images of the airfield taken by the RAF shows that earth banking would have filled the present void between the buttresses, forming a butt to contain spent bullets. A large wooden hut now faces the void, but this structure is not an original buildings belonging to the airfield.

Coastal pillbox, 2010, Fox
Coastal pillbox

A pillbox was found on a low hill on the coastal area towards Maidens Harbour, and is assumed to be a part of the airfield defences.

Several further huts, or groups of huts, were observed around the area, but could not be further explored.

References

1 The Interrogation of Lieutenant A. Couston, History of the Australian Flying Corps

2 Gunnery School reference

3 Blackwood Hodge Memories: A Company History

4 Quarriers Story. Anna Magnusson. Dundurn Press. 2006. ISBN-10: 1-55002-655-0

External links

Related Canmore/RCAHMS and ScotlandsPlaces (SP) entries:-

 


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