Skyways

Avro Lancastrian similar to those employed by Skyways. Photo from kitchener.lord

In August 1946, the Dunsfold Aerodrome was leased to air charter company Skyways Ltd, who used it as their main operating base. By 1947, Skyways was reported to be the largest air charter company in Europe. It employed “1,300 staff at Dunsfold”, mostly involved in maintaining the aircraft. “A large proportion” were accommodated on the aerodrome which operated 24 hours a day. In addition, there were about 350 aircrew. Its principal contract work was to transport oil company staff to and from Basra. A trip to Basra and back then took about 35 flying hours over our days. Continue reading “Skyways”

Before the aerodrome

 

Simmonds Farmhouse 1843
Air Ministry Map March 28 1941

 

Simmonds Farmhouse 1871
Simmonds Farmhouse
1930s Lakers Green Farmhouse 1930’s
Robbins Farm 1930’s
Tickners Heath Farmhouse 1938

The men who built Dunsfold

The land to build Dunsfold Aerodrome was requisitioned in 1942 and work started almost immediately, mostly undertaken by the Royal Canadian Engineers. It was one of the very few airfields they built in England (4). Set a target by their commanding General, the Canadian sappers completed construction of the aerodrome in 18 weeks, against a quote of 18 months by civilian contractors on behalf of the British War Office. The Canadians did, however, have the advantage of large American earth-moving equipment (5).

The 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Engineers, 2nd Road Construction Company & the Canadian Forestry Corps used explosives and some of the heavy machinery supplied from the USA under the lease lend arrangements. Tree stumps were blasted and from May 27th concrete was being poured in two shifts 18 hours a day.  Concrete was trucked in from Shoreham Cement Works.
One of the obstacles encountered in the construction of the 45ft wide 3 mile perimeter road was Broadmeads Cottage. It straddled the route to be taken and a swift demolition was required to keep construction within the tight timeframe.  Sergeant Fred Kreugar realised special skills were required to deal with the building so ordered Sergeant Whidden to deal with the issue.
Fred Kreugar’s words on the solution:

We had lots of beech logs that had been removed so we undermined the structure one log at a time , the major problem proving to be a fireplace in the middle which appeared to tie the building together. While the cottage was resting on the logs, we then rigged a cable , pulley and eveners. The idea was to work with 3 large D8 Caterpillar tractors pulling side by side and in preparation for the move we graded, or flattened , the terrain for probably half a mile or more.

Tractor similar to those used by Canadian Engineers

First of all the three tractor operators practiced responding to signals so that they would move their machines in unison. At the first attempt however, the three tractors would not move it, so we then used five, again with cables and pulleys. Shortly after we started, the weight of the fireplace on on the logs created so much friction that fires started squirting out on all sides of the logs. So, we then took up some of the floor and put men in the house with Carbon Tetrachloride and told them to watch the fire so it did not catch the floorboards. Fortunately the freshly felled beech logs were very green and wouldn’t support a flame. A BBC news crew did film some of the move and interviewed myself and Sergeant Whidden. I remember that only Whidden came out on the news later. I was told my name was too Germanic for the BBC’s liking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As well as moving earth and buildings, the main Guildford-Horsham road had to be diverted. The job was complete in 20 weeks. (6)

More Aerodromes for RAF (1941) showing similar heavy equipment as used by the Canadian Engineers and contractors at Dunsfold

By the control tower, there is a plinth inscribed:

This aerodrome was built by the Royal Canadian Engineers assisted by Canadian Forestry Corps, Royal Canadian Army Service Corps and Ordnance Corps, 1942. It was handed over for the use of the RCAF in October 1942.”

Unveiling of the memorial with Watch Office behind (courtesy of Reg Day Museum). & the plinth in 2016 (private archive)
  • Aerial photograph 1942
Dunsfold 1944 (private archive) and 2013
1942 WWII Airfield Sites


Dunsfold was one of only two airfields in Britain to be granted to the Royal Canadian Air Force and, as such, was titled RCAF Dunsfold. This was in exchange for the many training airfields that the Royal Air Force was permitted to establish in Canada.

In December 1944, Dunsfold Aerodrome comprised:

Three runways, all 50 yards (46m) wide: one 2,000 yards (over a mile or 1,830m) and two, each 1,400 yards (1,280m), in the typical “A” shape

12 Blister hangars, 2 T-2 hangars: on the north of the site

Dispersals: 38 100 feet (30m) “frying pans”: on the south and east of the site.  “Dispersals” were parking areas for aircraft and distributed to minimise damage in the event of an attack. They could accommodate 50 aircraft.

Perimeter road

Accommodation for 1,241 people

2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Engineers:

Excerpt:

Towards May 1942  the sappers’ lines began to agitate with rumours of a new job, a large job, an airport, no less. As the rumours originated with the sappers, credence was promptly given to them by the officers and sergeants, and we prepared for the move. Dunsfold!!

When we arrived there, it consisted of acres of beautiful crop and pasture land, broken at intervals by groves of staunch blue and red oak trees. It was one of the grandest pastoral scenes in the whole of England. With the Forestry Corps, R.CA.S.C, 2nd Road.  Construction Cby details who were attached to us, the Battalion descended on the areas natural loveliness like a swarm of locusts. Regiments of trees disappeared in a dav at the behest of the Foresters, carry-alls moved mountains of earth, mechanical ditchers dug deep to provide drainage.  Fleets of trucks hauled “hogging” from Ewhurst and gravel from Hungry Hill. Fourteen ton capacity trailers towed bulk cement from Shoreham. For eighteen hours a day there was a pandemonium of sound and movement, and during the other six hours the camp’s rest was uneasy, as, during the night, vague groups of men wandered about ensuring that the machinery would be in order to resume its labour the following day. Gradually the runways were levelled off and finegraded to the point where concrete could be poured. A huge double barrelled cement mixer was put to work, and competition between shifts which had previously been very keen, now reached fever point. For some days the mixer was allowed to work as it’s manufacturers intended it should, squatting at the side of the strip to be poured, and depositing the wet cement in any place desired by means of a boom and a bucket, which were soon found to be the weakest part of the machine’s construction and subject to frequent break- downs. Within a week the boom and bucket had been abolished, the mixer placed squarely in the centre of the strip to be poured, and the concrete allowed to fall out of it into heaps from whence it was industriously shovelled into its required position by a group of sappers whose enthusiasm was beyond praise.

Of the central mixing plant, the saw mill, the drainage crews, the work of transport and Q.M. etc., there is not room here for more than passing notice, but, when in September, the first ‘plane landed, and in October, when the Airport was officially opened and handed over to the Air Force by General McNaughton, the Battalion was rightly proud. A difficult job had been com-pleted in record time. It had thereby justified itself, and felt confident of being able to give a creditable account of itself in any work the future might hold.

Dunsfold too holds memories of a lighter type, as when a certain red-headed A.T.S., decided she was going to make her residence in the camp. The R.S.M. decided not and the whole camp held its breath whilst she defied him and passed four nights quite pleasantly in certain tents the morning after the fourth night however, she was caught and hauled off to “pokey”, much to the indignation of several individuals.

It was here too that the famous and notorious chicken incident occured.  Close to the camp resided a widow with two daughters, whose livelihood, to a great extent, depended upon the well being, happiness and egg producing capacity of some half a dozen hens. One dread night all six of them disappeared. The local constabulary was hot on the trail next morning, and, noses close to earth, sniffed their way along a morbid trail of blood and feathers into the middle of our camp. Here the trail ended. The incriminating facts were reported to the Colonel, and he, in his wisdom, ruled that unless the birds were returned to their rightful owner that very night, the whole camp would be C.B’d for one month. The next morning the widow found herself to be the somewhat perplexed owner of 186 chickens.

Then there was the night of the fire in the ammunition tent, when a certain C.S.M. awakened to the sound of exploding bullets and decided that Hitler himself was leading a personal invasion of Dunsfold. He leaped from his tent clothed in underwear and a bandoleer, his rifle at the “on guard” and shouting,

“Invasion”, as only a C.S.M. could. Then there were the dances in the Auxiliary Services blister hut and what dances. Dances at which, after they were over, lovelorn sappers endeavoured to smuggle themselves aboard the trucks taking the girls back to Guildford.

Dunsfold runways 1950’s

4 Delve, 2005: p78.
5 McCue, 1991: p16.
6 McCue, 1991: p16, p28.

Primemeads Farm – Listed Grade II

Primemeads is an early 17th century oak timberframed farmhouse, with a possible smoke hood and early diamond mullioned window.  Brick house with decorative dentil course shows the house built in two phases. It was Listed by Historic England in April 2017.  Home to the test pilot Neville Duke – in 1955 Duke set the world air speed record of 727.63mph flying the Hunter WB188.

1685 Primemeads Farm

 

2017 Primemeads
1984 Primemeads
1940 Squardon office then at Primemeads
Primemeads Farm 1970’s

WB188, the first P.1067 and Neville Duke’s record breaking aircraft


Please note: The aerodrome is private land and an active airfield. Access is not permitted to some of the buildings and features and we strongly discourage access without permission.

History of Aerodrome

  • 1913

Dunsfold Airfield was cleared of woodland, farmland and buildings to form the Canadian Air Force airbase in 1942. Units of Canadian troops cleared land requisitioned from the people to form runways, perimeter roads and after little more than one month the first aircraft had landed. The old Brighton Road from Godalming was relocated so that it no longer ran through the site at Pains Hill. The old cast iron milestones were amended by one mile to reflect the additional mileage diversion. Most farm buildings and farm houses were removed with the exception of the Chiddingfold Kennels (now Honey Mead), Primemeads Farmhouse (originally Stillwells Farm) and Broadmeads Cottage (now referred to as Canada House). The latter was moved to the southern perimeter and now stands alongside Benbow Lane.
The three runways and perimeter track are very complete, built with a pioneering form of construction and still retain original features such as light fittings and cast iron drainage channels. In 1942 this airfield was an expression of a technical and social innovation of the period to meet demands of the war time. It has been adapted to suit the needs and development of the Vertical Take Off and Landing aircraft with the VTOL platforms for these ‘jump jets’.

Research and Sources: Surrey History Centre, Airfield Research Group, Brooklands Museum Archive, Imperial War Museum –March 2017