Everything about my welcome at RAF Shawbury was warm, including the weather. Sqn Ldr Kim Leach was thoughtfulness itself in arranging this visit, from first arrival to leaving. Lunch was with reporter Toby Neal from the Shropshire Star, himself an aviation enthusiast, and Adjutant, Tim (sorry, I can’t remember your surname) in the surroundings of a panelled Officers Mess dating from the early years of the war. Kim tells me that the layout – a large block containing the Mess and reception areas with long corridors stretching out into the wings on either side – is a standard one, so that it is easy to find ones way around in a new camp. There is a sky-blue carpet, high ceiling and the room is airy. Lunch: I chose tasty mushroom soup and macaroni cheese, which I eventually managed to eat around all the talking. I wondered what was served here when my father came.
My father’s brother Frank was stationed here in 1942 with ground crew on the Maintenance Unit, and my father visited a couple of times. In October 1942 he even got a fellow pilot to drop him off so he could spend some time with Frank. Shawbury is very close to High Ercall, where Dad spent two weeks with the ATA (see previous post), so I would not be surprised if there was quite a bit of visiting to and fro during that stay. Frank is shown here on the right, with older brother Alan on the left, also ground crew. My father always had a strong admiration for those who worked to make the RAF work and get the planes airworthy, often under extremely difficult and stressful conditions, especially later when they followed the invasion force into Europe after D Day.
Shawbury’s today is home to the Defence Helicopter Flying School, the Central Flying School (Helicopter) and the Central Air Traffic Control School, and feels like a busy station with a good atmosphere. The Station Magazine, Airies, shows a place full of a wide range of activities to choose from, including barber shop singing, community support projects, ‘Football to Africa’ providing aid through football in Kenya – to mention a very few options available to those living and working here. There is also a lot to learn about Shawbury’s history.
In 1945, just after VE Day, Shawbury’s pioneering aviators, scientists and engineers launched a specially modified Lancaster, PD 328, known as Aries, on a special mission to find the Magnetic North Pole (as it had shifted since its previous discovery) among other important scientific tasks. Wing Commander McKinley subsequently wrote “Circling the Pole before the return journey we crossed all the meridians in some 80 seconds and moment later we crossed the International Date Line for the second time in less than two minutes while going in the same direction.’ Some trip for a Lancaster! (from an article in ‘Aries’ Edition 2, 2015, by Mr Michael Jones MBE (WO Rtd RAF).
Back in the present, out on the pale, sun-heated concrete, Chattie slid in beside a Squirrel helicopter for a photograph. Chattie’s chrome and the various points of the helicopter glinted with light, and the airfield shimmered with it. The sun was so bright here that my eyes watered while trying not to blink at the camera. Sqn Ldr Leach (shown right, before she waved me off) offered me a drink of water before I left, ‘because you’ve had to talk all morning!’ That really was very thoughtful, I can tell you. A personal thank you, then, to all at Shawbury who welcomed me; and a more serious thank you to all of you who work here to make the RAF what it is today.