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).
“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.
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.”
Dunsfold 1944 (private archive) and 2013
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.
Accommodation for 1,241 people
2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Engineers:
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.