Military History Tours On Tour - Bomber Command (RAAF in the UK) 5 July 2012
Another long day on the road as we headed further south, past Derby and Nottingham to our night’s accommodation at Wolverhampton. But before we hit the main road south we had a stop at RAF Snaith. RAF Snaith is in fact in Pollington. The original airfield was called RAF Polkington but as there was an airfield called RAF Polkington in Yorkshire, there was confusion for the pilots, particularly when receiving instructions via the radio. Hence the name change. RAF base at Pollington was named after the nearest town of Snaith. So we now have RAF Snaith based at Pollington Airfield.
RAF Snaith is no longer an airfield but at the entrance to what used to be the airfield, located where the Headquarters was is a Memorial Garden to the Squadrons that operated from Snaith, 51 and 150. This Memorial Garden is one of the best, if not the best Memorial Garden that I have seen. It is manicured, yes manicured, by Michael Hesp with the support of his wife Isabel. Between them and the Secretary of the Association they keep this Memorial Garden looking excellent indeed and surely it is a place of tranquillity that the boys who were lost would be happy to see their names on the plaques to know that they have not been forgotten.
From the photos that I took today that you now see, you can visualise the beauty of this piece of an old operational airfield. We arrived in the rain to be met by Michael. He climbed aboard our coach and in detail took us through the history of the garden and of the squadron that flew from here. There are Australians, New Zealanders, Rhodesians, English and Canadians represented here as they were the casualties from this Squadron. Over 600 were lost from Snaith. Mostly flying Halifaxes they went out night after night and even flew a mission after there was an explosion in their bomb dump that took 15 of their ground crew. The bombs for that night’s mission were collected from airfields in the vicinity.
One member of 51 Sqn - Pilot Officer PPJ Pohe RNZAF - a Maori Pilot was one of the 50 airmen murdered after the 'Great Escape' from Stalag Luft 111, Sagan. He was executed with five others by firing squad on 31 May 1944. Another partly Australian crew: Flying Officer Jack Paradise RAAF; Pilot Officer BF Greenwood RAAF; Flight Sergeant RF Gunn RAF and Flight Sergeant AE Armstrong RAF were murdered on 22 March 1945 after being captured when their plane went down (Flying Officer KW Berick RAAF, escaped and later gave evidence at the war trials). There are separate Memorials within the Garden to cater for any of these special tragic happenings. The Secretary and Isabel also conduct talks at local schools and bring coach tours to the site for informative presentations.
We bade farewell to those wonderful volunteers, after we purchased books and gave donations, then proceeded on our way to Shifnal and the RAF Cosford RAF Museum. What a wonderful museum with many special displays that tells many stories and provides information in detail for all visitors. However, before I let our group loose in the museum, I had been able to arrange a special visit to Michael Beetham Conservation Centre where we were met by the Manager, Tim Wallace.
Tim addressed us and informed us of the work that they were doing, most notably the reconstruction of a Wellington Bomber and a Hampton Bomber. Also he mentioned their current other project that is the raising of a German Dornier 17Z aeroplane that has been under the sea since 1940. Located off the coast in the mud, it will be raised using a crane and supported by a special cradle that is to be constructed around the Dornier by divers prior to the raising. This Dornier is the only one in the world.
RAF Cosford has been awarded in the past, Employer of the Year due to it’s apprenticeship scheme and once again this year is in the finals. We wish them well as the scheme has young people learning the trades necessary and desperately needed for this specialised conservation regime. After the apprenticeship, they hope that those who complete their time can take up a position at RAF Cosford. The work being done at Cosford to preserve this heritage is very professionally handled in both planning and work.
All then moved into the hangers holding the collection to view this wonderful display. We left as they closed the doors and made our way to Wolverhampton for a well deserved drink and dinner. Tomorrow we head further south to Salisbury via Aston Down and Bath.
Colonel Graham Fleeton.