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Thread: Tilstock

  1. #1
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    Default Tilstock

    With the indulgence of the forum, and in respect of the fact that this section is so far a little bare, I hope you won't mind me posting a couple of posts I made on the PlaneTalk forum a while back regarding the former RAF Tilstock which has also been known as Prees Heath and Whitchurch. I have copied them both across in their entirety. If they break any forum rules or are deemed by the moderating team to be inappropriate then please feel free to delete them.

    Prees Heath and RAF Tilstock.

    On Saturday I was driving up to Runcorn but because of an accident on the M6 I decided to take the alternative route of the A41 and go up through Whitchurch. It was a beautiful afternoon and Shropshire was at its best as I headed North West.

    Familiar names came and went, Hinstock, where I used to work and which played home to the former HMS Godwit. Up past Child's Ercall and Tern Hill, from where, as a Cadet in the ATC, I enjoyed a number of glider flights in the Sedbergh. Then on up the long straight stretch past the largely abandoned wartime airfield at Prees Heath.

    This was a place I remembered well from childhood. The junction of the A49 and A41 was the home of the 'Raven', a pub, cafe and amusement arcade which was the regular halt for coach trips from the Black Country to Rhyl and Prestatyn. Over recent years, the site has fell into further decline with the Watch Office now boarded up over on the West side of the A41. The East side still plays host to a skydiving school so the sound of aero engines still reverberates through the woods which are rapidly reclaiming the airfield. A Rally School also operates from the site. As I drove up through the airfield, the dappled light through the trees looked lovely and I thought exploring the site would be a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. I continued my journey North to Runcorn but resolved to return to Prees Heath the following afternoon if the weather remained as nice.

    Sunday came and the weather obliged so off I went. Unfortunately I only took the one lens with me but decided to continue anyway. But first of all, here’s a little bit about the history of the place. Prees Heath is exactly what it says, a large flat expanse of heathland. This area proved to be ideal for the establishment of both an Army Training Camp during the Great War and as Military Hospital with hutted accommodation for some 609 beds. Whitchurch, just 4 miles distant, was home to the Welsh Metropolitan War Hospital which had previously served as the Cardiff City Asylum. It seems the good citizens of Cardiff wished their mentally ill citizens to be neither seen nor heard. This establishment accommodated 61 Officers and 839 other ranks of which some 14 Officer beds and 416 other ranks beds were reserved for those with a mental incapacity resulting from their war service. Prees Heath must have been the basic training camp for thousand upon thousand of Great War soldiers but more of that later.

    The RAF, during the expansion and inter war period, found Shropshire to be eminently suitable for the building of a number of airfields, mainly for training purposes and both Shawbury and Tern Hill are still in use today. With the coming of the War in 1939, a further huge expansion occurred as the number of airfields required, particularly for training, increased dramatically to fulfill the need for aircrew. The site at Prees Heath was ideal and an airfield was constructed and opened in August of 1942. Three concrete runways were laid and four T2 Hangars erected. These remain today although they have since been reclad. Three are on the West side of the A41 with the other just off the road to the East. During the War, the airfield, renamed RAF Tilstock, was home to 81 OTU with Whitleys and Wellingtons, 38 (Airborne Forces) Group involved in the training of aircrew for Special Operations and the towing of Horsa Gliders, 1665 Heavy Conversion Unit with Stirlings and Halifexes and 42 OTU with Albermarles. 81 OTU eventually became No 1380 Transport Support Conversion Unit. The airfield closed in early 1946 and was placed on care and maintenance until the early 1950’s at which point it was sold. Onto t he photographs…..

    My first port of call was to the West side of the airfield from where I could get a decent view of the Watch Office.



    A drive up and down the A41 alongside the airfield revealed that access could be obtained onto the East side and to the number of derelict buildings which remain. There was in fact a well trodden path used by dog walkers and others so I parked up and went for a wander into the very dense woodland reclaiming the camp. I have no idea of the use of any of the buildings. Another visit when properly equipped will allow me to explore further.







    I've a feeling the next two shots were possibly the former main entrance.




    More buildings, this time taken from the side of the road. The last, which is barely visible, appears to be one of several underground buildings or shelters.





    I was wondering about casualties. OTU's inevitably had accidents, and invariably some were fatal. So I set off for St Chad's Church in the village of Prees itself. And any of you who know me will realise it was somewhat inevitable that I would find myself sidetracked.

    The Church is in a most beautiful setting with the War Memorial just outside the Churchyard.



    It was here that I began to see the familiar white Commonwealth Headstones, three of them.



    Flying officer H N Young, DFC & Bar, MiD. 12 Squadron, RAF. July 1921, aged 22.
    Son of Goulder James and Mary Elizabeth Young of Fairview, Prees. At the time of his death, 12 Squadron were flying Bristol F2b’s at Bickendorf.



    14799 Regimental Sergeant Major J R Scriven, 8th Bn., South Lancashire Regiment. 22nd March 1917, aged 45. Serving as Sergeant Major, 51st Training Reserve Battalion at the time of his death. Husband of Jane Scriven, 12, Alfonso Road, Kirkdale, Liverpool.

    And the one which gave this thread its title and which sums up for me personally the whole essence of Remembrance and why so many of us are inexorably drawn to recording and remembering our history.




    1380052 Sergeant Herbert Mason, W.Op/Air Gnr., 78 Squadron RAFVR. 1st May 1943, aged 20. Son of Solomon and Mary Anne Mason of Prees. On the night of 30th April/1st May 1943, Sgt. Mason was flying as part of the crew of Halifax II W7929, coded EY-S. Having taken off at 2352 to attack Essen, the aircraft had been damaged by flak and was forced to attempt an emergency landing at Docking on the Norfolk Coast. As a result of the subsequent crash, Sgt’s Rudd (DFM, RAAF), Wilson, Pike, Mason and Oldroyd were killed. Sgt’s Davies and Rashbrook were injured. Sgt. Rudd had been awarded and Immediate DFM for his actions on a previous operation to Stettin.

    The final two shots for this part are of the War Memorial in Prees.




    The next part uncovers through Headstones some of the uses of Prees Heath in the Great War and a return to the airfield at sunset.

    Thank you for your indulgence.

    Regards,

    kev35
    Last edited by Richard Flagg; 20-07-2009 at 17:37.

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    I was still curious as to the location of casualties from RAF Tilstock and so I moved on to the village of Tilstock and in particular Christ Church Churchyard and the Churchyard extension which lies around 100 yards from the Church on the opposite side of the road.

    The Church itself is very nice but of a somewhat different style to that of St. Chad's in Prees. It provides a place of Eternal rest for over 40 men who died during the Great War. The first few shots are just general views of the Church, the view to the west of the Church, the Lych gate at the entrance of the Churchyard Extension which was opened in 1917 because of the number of casualties and of the War Memorial located in the extension.








    I found that a number of the graves were of Airman, English, Australian, Canadian and South African. A few are pictured below with the information that a few minutes on the internet can reveal.



    2nd Lieutenant J F Kneale, Royal Flying Corps. 21st December 1917.

    Compare that with the next one.....



    2nd Lieutenant Reginald James Thomas Forsyth, Pilot, Australian Flying Corps. 16th February 1918. Died of Wounds. Son of John Lile Lewis Forsyth and Elizabeth Christina Forsyth. 2nd Lieutenant Forsyth originally served with the 1st Light Horse Regiment and came to the Middle East with the 7th Reinforcements, embarking upon HMAT Marere on the 16th August 1915. Was wounded while with this unit on 4th August 1916. After transfer to the AFC, 2nd Lieutenant Forsyth was injured in a flying accident on the 20th January 1918 and admitted to Prees Heath Military Hospital. Sustaining serious head injuries and a fractured ankle, he never fully regained consciousness and died on the 16th of February as a result of his injuries.

    Just look at the difference in what is available. It seems that both Australia and Canada are far more adept at putting people in touch with the information they require at no cost. While the NA at Kew is a remarkable resource, the facility for downloading information through the internet lags way behind both Australia and Canada.



    29412 Air Mechanic 1st Class C R Clack, 131 Squadron, Royal Air Force. 5th May 1918.



    2nd Lieutenant Gabriel Pieter Cilliers, No 13 Training Depot Station, Royal Air Force. 10th November 1918.




    Lieutenant William Burt Bickell, 13th Training Depot Station, Royal Air Force. 12th October 1918, aged 25. Son of Mrs. M J Hancock of Toronto, Canada. Lieutenant Bickell died of injuries received in a flying accident while serving as an instructor. His Brother, 157358 Private George Thomas Bickell was killed in action on the 30th of October 1917 while serving with Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light infantry. He is interred at Tyne Cot and is also commemorated here at Tilstock.



    1397 Gunner Walter Harrel Herford, 4 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps. 4th October 1917, aged 49. Died of sickness. Son of Charles James and Mary Jane Herford. Gunner Herford was a farmer from Katanning, Western Australia and enlisted on the 13th August 1915. He embarked at Fremantle on HMAT Benalla on 1st November 1915 for transportation to the UK.



    2nd Lieutenant Edward Phillip Hughes, Royal Flying Corps. 27th July 1917, aged 24. Son of Edward James and Louise Ada Hughes of Cape Province, South Africa.



    959 Cadet Edward Jabez Cooper Treadwell, 4 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps. 20th September 1917, aged 22. Son of Edward Cooper Treadwell and the late Mary Jane Treadwell. His father wrote that he had served in the Australian Citizens Forces as a Lieutenant and was rejected for active service on three occasions owing to foot problems. He was finally accepted into the AFC and embarked on RMS Omrah in Melbourne on 17th January 1917. He died as a result of injuries sustained in a flying accident near Tern Hill.

    A number of the other graves relate to those who died while serving with Training Reserve Battalions at Prees Heath. These were units set up specifically to provide reinforcements to their attatched Line Regiments. This process was constantly under review and subject to changes necessitated by the losses on the Western Front. Many of these soldiers were just 18 and in training at the time of their deaths. Others were soldiers recovering from wounds and acting as instructors or were NCO's too old for active service. I suspect several died from wounds received in action and a number of the deaths appear to be in clusters suggesting to me that Influenza may have been responsible.The grave below I found quite interesting.



    T/309876 Driver C Spencer, 237th Coy (Prees Heath), Royal Army Service Corps. 31st July, 1917, aged 29. Son of Charles Spencer of 2, Faroe Road, Hammersmith, London. The CWGC entry states that Dvr Spencer served as Anderson. I wonder what the reason was for serving under an alias? Age wasn’t the issue.



    Major Guy Winwood Gossage, 3rd West Lancs Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. 24th December 1917, aged 47. Husband of Helen Gossage of Wrexham. Helen, who died in 1944, lies with him.

    I have photographs of every grave and preliminary details for each soldier should anyone be interested.

    The remaining photo's are of a stained glass window at Tilstock, two of the T2 Hangars with the sun going down behind them, one of the Watch Office in the twilight and a random sunset taken from the side of the road about halfway home.






    And the casualties from the OTU at Tilstock? I found them, at Whitchurch Cemetery. I feel another visit coming on.

    Saturday 10th May.

    I hope these posts have met with approval. They combine several of my interests, these being airfield history, Memorialisation in all its forms, Bomber Command and the Great War.

    Regards,

    Kevin Mears
    Last edited by Richard Flagg; 20-07-2009 at 17:38.

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    Kevin,

    A great set of pictures.
    Not having been to a lot of graveyards I always found it strange that there always seemed to be a military grave whenever I did.

    Regards

    Peter

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    Indulge away Sir... beautiful photographs

    I went through there myself last year on my way to Cosford for their annual bash, and you just 'know' when you're in airfield country... I noticed a few hangars and other buildings while driving through... I'd previously been unaware of its existence.

    Theres one further down the road too, and another at Alpraham on the A51 which is now an industrial estate..

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    Kevin

    Some great pictures there, feel free to post many more! REF, CDP and myself are hoping to spend a few days in the Shropshire region at the end of may, anymore pictures or info would be gratefully received.

    Regards

    NJR

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    Hi Kevin

    A really great write up and some lovely photos as well, Please keep them coming.

    As Noel said in the reply above, We, along with Chris are looking to come across to Shropshire at the end of the month and if you have any pointers or places to visit then let us know.

    I look forward to seeing the next set of photos from your next trip out.

    Richard

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    Default RAF Tilstock, Shropshire.

    Called in at RAF Tilstock, Shropshire, the other week, to see what's left. Here are some of the pictures we took.

    Last edited by Richard Flagg; 20-07-2009 at 17:31.

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    Default Re: RAF Tilstock, Shropshire.

    Another building in the woods just South of airfield at side of A41. Seems like it was a domestic site / training site. Most of the building pics are in this wooded area.

    Last edited by Richard Flagg; 20-07-2009 at 17:31.

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    Default Re: RAF Tilstock, Shropshire.

    The old Contro;l Tower.

    Last edited by Richard Flagg; 20-07-2009 at 17:32.

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    Default Re: RAF Tilstock, Shropshire.

    Another building in the woods, same site as previous.

    Last edited by Richard Flagg; 20-07-2009 at 17:32.

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