who hasgenerously allowed us to use this on the Village website,
it remains his copyright and cannot be reused or copied without his permission
ALTON BARNES RLG (ReliefLanding Ground)
The site of the former RAF Station in the centre of the village is bordered on the north side by the C8 Devizes to Pewsey road and on the east side by the C38 Woodborough to Lockeridge road. The Kennet & Avon Canal is located 400 yards to the south.
AirfieldDevelopmentThe majority of land used for the aerodrome belonged to New College, Oxford and was leased to local farmer Guy Stratton of Manor Farm. It was first inspected in June 1935 by two RAF officers, one of whom was Flt Lt Barwell, to determine its suitability as a practice forced landing ground for use by the Central Flying School at Upavon. Guy Stratton was then asked to keep his fields clear of stock on 13th August so that an aircraft could make a test landing. The landing and take-off was successfully carried out and the Air Ministry informed the farmer that the RAF would start using the field for this purpose. A rent of £50 per year was paid on the understanding that one field would be clear of stock throughout the year, between the hours of 5.30am and 4.30pm every day except Saturdays and Sundays. RAF Upavon provided a large white painted wooden cross to be positioned in the field. The only other facility was a windsock. It was also agreed that on occasions when the Central Flying School (CFS) wished to use the fields on a Saturday, RAF Upavon would ring the farmer to warn him. The Air Ministry agreed to pay for damage caused to fences but would not pay for damages to stock straying into the field.
In early 1939, with war clouds looming, the Air Ministry looked at the country around the Pewsey Vale with a view to providing five relief landing grounds (RLGs) to serve the needs of three important aerodromes, Upavon, Netheravon and Boscombe Down. The RLGs were to be used to relieve congestion, which possibly could have lead to an added risk of flying accidents, on these parent aerodromes. Upavon and Netheravon were both Flying Training Schools with the former training all of the country’s flying instructors. Alton Barnes was an obvious choice as an RLG much against the wishes of the farmer who wrote to the local MP Sir Percy Hurd protesting that the proposal was likely to involve risk to those living in the neighbourhood. Guy Stratton even wrote to the Air Ministry suggesting two alternative sites in the Pewsey Vale but was advised that they were unsuitable. On 31st August 1939 the Air Ministry informed him that his fields were being requisitioned under the Defence Regulations 1939. An additional area of land between the existing landing ground and the canal to the southwas requisitioned from Robbins, Lane & Pinnigar, the local coal and timber merchant. This provided a site of 3000yds x 2550yds.
By the end 1941 the landing ground was temporarily closed when work commenced to upgrade it to RLG standard. Local man Roy Goddard recalls civilian construction workers having to carry out a considerable amount of levelling work at the west end of the site. Most of the buildings were erected along the edge of the east side of the landing ground close to the road and village. Timber barrack huts were built to accommodate 130 personnel. The Dining Room, Sgts’ Mess, Officers' Mess and Quarters were all in one single storey block, also of timber construction. The Watch Tower with Pump House and the Link Trainer building were brick built. The two Flight Offices and the store buildings were Nissen huts. Ten Blister hangars were provided consisting of three Extra Over and two Standard types on the eastern boundary, an Extra Over and three Standard backed onto the canal on the south side and a single Standard towards the NW corner. The Extra Over on the east side nearest the canal was used for aircraft maintenance and repair. Take-off and landings weremade on four grass strips, NE/SW 1,100yds, N/S 820yds, E/W 870yds and SE/NW 870yds. These were encircled with a 31' 6" wide perimeter track of Sommerfeld tracking. The same material was used for the dispersals of which there were 10 on the south side and 14 on the west. The tracking was laid during the 1943/44 winter to combat the water logging caused by a considerable amount of rain during that period.
Inter War YearsThe CFS commenced its use of the landing ground as of Monday 15th September 1935. Two forced landings on 25th October and 25th November caused damage to fencing around the field and the sum of 15 shillings for each incident was paid to Guy Stratton. The use made of the landing ground in the early days was by the trainee instructors of Upavon carrying out landings and take-offs in a less busy sky than at their home aerodrome. The aircraft were Avro 504Ns, superseded from March 1936 by Tutor biplanes. These continued in use until June 1941 when Masters and Oxfords became the principal aircraft for flying instructor training at Upavon. Before World War 2 just one RAF man, Roy Richards, carried out duties at the landing ground.
World War 2 YearsTo combat the probable invasion by German forces during 1940, three gun posts were positioned to the south of the landing ground near the canal and three alongside the road to the north. North of the airfield are the steep hills that mark the edge of the Marlborough Downs running east/west through the Pewsey Vale. The Alton Barnes White Horse is cut into the chalk, next to Milk Hill, which is almost opposite the landing ground. Whilst this made the location of the landing ground easy for the pilots from Upavon to find, it would do the same for the Germany pilots. The Camouflage Branch of the Ministry of Home Security therefore wrote to farmer Guy Stratton on 18th June 1940, directing him to obscure the white horse and to secure the speedy carrying out of the work which would be paid for from Government funds. It was not long after this that three bombs were dropped by an enemy aircraft during the night of 14th September but no damage was sustained. An Anti-aircraft gun was positioned on Milk Hill with accommodation buildings for the gunners close by. The Germans photographed Alton Barnes landing ground as can be seen below. The first flying accident at Alton Barnes occurred when Tutor І K3406 crashed whilst making its approach to the aerodrome on 25thSeptember 1940.
German photograph of Alton Barnes dated 3rd December 1940, showing the aerodrome outlined in the top left hand corner. This was one of the aero-photographs found in the map room at Lubeck Airfield in Germany five weeks after VE Day by RAF officer Herbert Bowell, of No.504 Sqn, who was a Devizes man.Photo: Ray Pope
By this time there was an ever-increasing need for trained flying instructors and these were passing through Upavon on courses with a reduced duration. As a consequence of the increase Alton Barnes was in constant use. On 4thFebruary 1941, a CFS Oxford ΙΙ P1081 crashed on approach to the aerodrome without injuries to the crew. The same occurred with Tutor Ι K3236 on 23rdMay, Master ΙΙΙ W8438 on 21stJune and Tutor Ι K4828 two days later. Two fatal accidents did occur during this time. The first on Wednesday 18th June involved a collision between Miles Master ΙΙΙ W8477 and Oxford Ι N6365. It appears the Master was landing into the sun and was unaware of the stationary Oxford. Trainee instructor Plt Off Kenneth J. Holmes DFC, in the Master, was killed. Nurse Mary Smith, who witnessed the crash and was first on the scene, rescued the instructor Fg Off Phillip C. Price. The rescued airman was taken to Yatesbury Hospital with facial burns and bruising. In the Oxford both the instructor Plt Off Arthur Gibbons and the trainee Sgt Kenneth Oswald Bate were killed. Plt Off K.J. Holmes DFC was buried at Chippenham Cemetery and Plt Off Gibbons at Upavon Cemetery.
Plt Off Holmes had been awarded the DFC for his actions on the night of 14th/15thApril 1941 when piloting a No.217 Sqn Coastal Command Beaufort Ι Torpedo Bomber. He was involved in the attack against the two German cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in the harbour at Brest.
The wedding of Kenneth Holmes and his wife Mary at St Andrew Church, Chippenham in 1939. The Best Man was Phillip Price the only survivor of the accident. Both men were Sergeants at this time. The bride’s parents are on her left. The church entrance where the picture was taken faces the town war memorial on which the name of Plt Off Kenneth Holmes DFC now appears. Photo: John Bulmer
The second crash occurred on 4th September when a CFS Master ΙΙΙ W8472 stalled off a turn on approach to the field and dived into the ground. The two men killed were Sqn Ldr Wilfred Bennet Beale and Plt Off George Henry Brown.
In December1941, Alton Barnes was transferred to No.29 EFTS Clyffe Pypard and was in use from early in the month for day-time flying only. The site closed towards the end on the month when work began to upgrading the landing ground.
Alton Barnes officially re-opened as from 3rd June 1942 which coincided with Clyffe Pypard's Flights being increased to six, two of which 'A' & 'B' Flts operated from Alton Barnes. 'A' Flt occupied buildings on the south end of the station backing on to the canal and 'B' Flt in huts alongside the road. Each Flt had a Flt Cdr and six instructors with four pupils to an instructor.
'B' Flt instructors and pupils with a Tiger Moth at Alton Barnes in the summer of 1942. The young girl in the front row was the time-keeper. Her duties were to clock the aircraft
out and back in. Photo: Audrey Hampshire
Courses for Army pre-glider pilot training had started at Clyffe Pypard on 20th May and following its re-opening they operated from Alton Barnes, flying Tiger Moths. Residents of the village recall meeting airmen from many of the Commonwealth countries and men who had escaped to Britain from the European countries over-run by Germany. On 30th November the personnel of the Anti-aircraft Flt were withdrawn to Clyffe Pypard and the anti-aircraft defences at Alton Barnes were manned by flying personnel. Station security at night was maintained by personnel under training and by the RAF Regiment. Army pilot training ceased at the end of the year and RAF trainees returned to use the airfield.
The Glider Pilot Exercise Unit based at Thruxton, disbanded into an Operational and Refresher Training Unit on 9thDecember 1943 and used Alton Barnes for one of its light glider flights until the end of February 1944.
Marshal’s of Cambridge employed civilian ground staff to work on the aereodrome and they carried out a wide range of duties. Some of the staff travelled to Alton Barnes from Clyffe Pypard to work, whilst others were employed locally. Richard Pearce, John Flippance and Bill Pinchin were prop swingers and refuellers. Their wages were paid at 1/1d per hour. Richard Pearce recalls driving a three-wheeled petrol bowser along the twisting lanes to the parent station at Clyffe Pypard on the day Alton Barnes closed to flying on 9th July 1945.
A 500 gallon capacity petrol bowser and civilian operators at Alton Barnes. Photo: George Marshall
Ivy Muddle was the Mess Room cook between 1942-44, having transferred from RAF Compton Bassett. She lived close by in Woodborough and was pleased to be able to work closer to her home from where she could cycle to work each day. Audrey Goddard started work at the aerodrome as a waitress/cleaner in 1941. Nora Keepance and Gwen Top were employed on similar duties. Their wages were 18 shillings a week. Another locally employed young girl carried out the station administration. George Marshall was a Storeman and he recalls a day in 1944 when a USAAF P-38 Lightening landed at Alton Barnes. The American pilot wanted to visit his colleague who was in the American military hospital in Devizes. Alton Barnes was the nearest airfield. The pilot asked George Marshall if he could use his telephone but was told that use of the phone was forbidden. It is thought that he wanted to arrange transport to reach the hospital 6 miles away. He went off to seek permission from higher authority at the airfield.
The P-38 was not the only un-expected aircraft to visit Alton Barnes. Local man LAC George Buckland, serving at Upavon, remembers the day when an OTU Wellington which was lost, probably whilst on a cross-country training flight, landed and took off again, after re-fuelling. On Tuesday 28thSeptember 1943, Wellington ІC W5724 from No.11 OTU Westcott was on a cross-country flight when the port engine caught fire. The pilot skillfully crash-landed the aircraft at 1350hrs in a field on Harepath Farm, 3 miles west of Alton Barnes. Flt Sgt R. F. Hall RNZAF (pilot) suffered multiple injuries, Sgt Glover (1st Nav), had severe burns to his hands and Sgt Scott (2nd Nav.), minor bruising. They were conveyed to the RAF Hospital at Yatesbury by the RAF Alton Barnes ambulance. The three other crew suffered serious injuries with Sgt John M. Underwood RNZAF (BA) dying shortly after the crash and Sgt William H. Evans RCAF (AG) the following day. They were buried in Haycombe Cemetery, Bath. Sgt W. J. Southern RAFVR (WOP/AG) also succumbed to his injuries on 29thSeptember.
Clyffe Pypard started training Naval Cadet Pilots from 13th October 1944 and like the Army pilots before them they carried out much of their training flying Tiger Moths at Alton Barnes. The Naval cadets were bussed in from Clyffe Pypard on a daily basis.
Tiger Moth No.39, the mount of Instructor Flt Lt 'Jonney' Fielding, outside the Extra Over blister hangar between the dispersals on the south side of the field. The 19 gallon tank giving 3 hours flying duration can be seen on the plane above the front cockpit. Photo: Richard Pearce
Local man Jessie Bailey tells of the occasion when one of the instructors who, after leaving the nearby Barge Inn, flew his Tiger Moth through one of the Extra Over blister hangars. The span and height of this type of hangar was 69' and 20' 4" respectively and that of a Tiger Moth 29' 4" and 8' 9½". It seems that he had space to play with but, depending on his consumption at the Inn, it would still appear to be skilful flying on his part. He was however carpeted by the CO.
Flt Lt Alister Renvoise was another one of the instructors at Alton Barnes during 1944 and has fond memories of his service there. At the time he was living close by in Pewsey with his wife and travelled the short distance to Alton Barnes each day. On days when the weather appeared unsuitable for flying, he would ring Clyffe Pypard to ask if he was needed and, if hearing he wasn't, was able to stay at home until he was contacted when the weather cleared and flying could resume. As with other instructors, he flew his pupils to the Manningford Landing Ground where mushrooms grew in season. Hare chasing in the Tiger Moth at Alton Barnes was another good pastime.
A fatal accident occurred on 25th October 1944 when an Albemarle ΙΙ V1755 of No.22 HGCU at Keevil crashed in a field just a short distance east of the airfield. It was carrying out a training flight with a Horsa glider in tow when the crash occurred killing the crew of two in the tug. The glider landed safely on the airfield where it remained for several weeks before being towed out by a Whitley.
After the war in Europe ended Alton Barnes was no longer required for RAF use and on 7th July 1945 all aircraft were returned to Clyffe Pypard. Ancillary transport, stores and equipment was also returned over the next few days and from the 9th July the station was officially closed and placed on C&M.
Post War Years
Aerial view of the former RAF Alton Barnes photographed from a Benson based Mosquito XXXΙV of No.540 Sqn on 12th July 1946. The domestic buildings can be seen in the centre standing beside the road, and most of the blister hangers around the landing area are evident.
An immediate post war view looking north from Honey Street Bridge, crossing the Kennet & Avon Canal. On the left side of the lane, white flag stones are seen at the main entrance to the airfield. To the rear of this are barrack huts and one of the Extra Over Blister hangars. The white horse on the hill has been released from its wartime covering.Photo: Chris Gibson
The site had a brief respite when the Army carried out some building modifications and used it for weapons research.
ClosureDuring 1947, the then former airfield was de-requisitioned and was returned to agricultural use. The farmers wasted little time in removing the majority of the airfield infrastructure although one of the Extra Over Blister hangars was used for hay/straw storage and remained beside the road into the 1960s. After its removal the concrete base was used as a farm manure storage area. Although the land returned to farming in 1947, it remained in the ownership of the Air Ministry until 1959 when New College Oxford bought 70 acres. It was not until 1968 that the College was able to buy two small remaining pieces of land from the MoD. One of these on the west side of the village fronted the road and was the location of the airfield domestic buildings.
Now in the third year of the 21st Century, very little remains to remind us of RAF Alton Barnes. At the former main gate, the original concrete road is discernible as it winds its way past the Link Trainer building on the left. The building is the food store for the sheep grazing in the field. Immediately inside the gate on the right is an underground air-raid shelter in remarkably good condition and close to it the base of the Officers' latrine. On the northern boundary alongside the road to Devizes, two of the gun posts can clearly be seen.
The former Link Trainer building and the concrete road leading from the main gate.
(1)173/SU108613 - quarter of a mile east of Honeystreet
In Conigre Meadow alongside the tow path of the Kennet & Avon Canal. Taking the tow path from the road bridge over the canal on the C38 at Honey Street, access to the field is via a stile immediately before the next canal bridge. A direction sign provided by British Waterways stands by the stile pointing the way to the memorial.
On the north side of Conigre Meadow, with the canal immediately to the rear, stands a memorial cairn of Sarcen Stone into which is set a plaque of Nabresina Stone, inscribed with the following words beneath the RAF Crest: -
This memorial is dedicated to
Flt. Sgt. Thomas C. Newton R.A.F.V.R. - Pilot
Sgt. John A.C. Wilson R.A.F.V.R. - W.Op. /Air Gunner
who lost their lives when their Albemarle Bomber V1755
of No.22 H.G.C.U. RAF Keevil crashed near here on the
25th October 1944.
An Albemarle in relief view is inscribed here
At the going down of the sun
and in the morning we will
The Memorial to Flt Sgt Newton & Sgt Wilson.
Flt Sgt Tom Newton RAFVRSgt John Wilson RAFVR
December 1943 possibly at RAF Keevil 1944
The memorial was provided by David Carson (Grandson of Guy Stratton) on whose family farm it stands, and the author. Conigre Meadow has only ever been used for grazing and because no cultivation has taken place, the impact area remains visible. The memorial on the edge of the field stands in a direct line with the indentation at a distance of 20 yards.
When the crash occurred in 1945, Albemarle V1755 had taken off from nearby RAF Keevil on a training flight towing a Horsa Glider. The Accident Report indicates the glider overtaking the tug aircraft and raising its tail to a 70 degree angle, at which point the tow rope broke (witnesses indicate it was released) and the now out of control tug dived into the ground. The aircraft burst into flames on impact and the two-man crew, recovered from the canal, were both killed. The glider was able to make a landing at Alton Barnes airfield. The Report also indicates that the two pilots were unable to communicate with each other, as there was ‘no R/T kit available on new unit’.
A dedication and unveiling ceremony was staged at the memorial on 25th October 1997 and was attended by relations and friends of the two crewmen, the MP for Devizes, the Rt.Honorable Michael Ancram QC, Wg Cdr Paul Morris OC No.70 Sqn and other officers from RAF Lyneham, representatives from RAFA and the Royal British Legion together with local residents. The brother of Sgt Wilson and a close friend of Flt Sgt Newton carried out the unveiling. The service was conducted by The Rev. Wg Cdr Robert Bailey, the Padre of RAF Lyneham and the service concluding with the playing of the Last Post followed by a low-level fly past from Lyneham's No.70 Sqn Hercules C130K, Mk.1 XV218 piloted by Sqn Ldr Ian Hartley.
(2)173/SU104617 - on the former airfield off of the C38
The former Link Trainer building stands in a field 30 yards from a gate on the roadside. This was the original main gate and Guardroom location. Immediately inside the gate, on the right hand side, is a grass sided air raid shelter. Access to the field is now from the next gate to the north where a sign indicates 'To the Airfield Memorial'.
Set over the steps leading into the air raid shelter is a plaque of Crown Stone inscribed with the following words beneath the RAF Crest: -
This memorial on the only remaining air raid shelter
marks the site of RAF Alton Barnes, which was used
as an airfield for flying training between 1935-45.
C.F.S. Upavon operated here until 1941 when the site
transferred to No.29 E.F.T.S. Clyffe Pypard.
The memorial is dedicated to those who lost their lives
whilst training here:
P/O K.J. Holmes, DFC. RAF
18th June 1941
P/O A. Gibbons RAFVR18th June 1941
Sgt. K.O. Bate RAFVR18th June 1941
Sq. Ldr. W.B. Beale RAF
4th September 1941
P/O G.H. Brown RAFVR
4th September 1941
"Sunward I've climber, and joined the tumbling mirth ...
... Put out my hand and touched the face of God"
The Memorial plaque above the doorway leading into the air-raidshelter at the former RAF Alton Barnes.
The provision of the memorial plaque was undertaken by the Wiltshire Historical Military Society. A dedication and unveiling ceremony was held on Saturday 18th September 1999, attended by a relative of Plt Off Kenneth Holmes, who flew in from Saudi Arabia for the ceremony. Former personnel serving at the airfield during the war and local residents were also represented. The memorial plaque was unveiled by Gp Capt Mark Stevens RAF, Head of Combat Aircraft at Boscombe Down and the service was conducted by The Rev. Wg Cdr Tony Fletcher RAF, Padre of RAF Lyneham.
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