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UK airfields 1917-18


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#1 Moonraker

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Posted 15 December 2010 - 04:40 PM

The other day I was looking at photos of RFC Stonehenge and its neighbour, RFC Lake Down, both built in 1917-18, and was impressed with the very large hangers and associated buildings that must have taken some erecting.

Who comprised the labour force for such airfields up and down the country?

By that time of the war, labour of all sorts was in short supply: some key workers were being released from the army to return to their civilian occupations (I believe), and agriculture employed soldiers at busy periods, as well as land girls and schoolboys. Some Portuguese and Chinese labourers were noted in Wiltshire, but usually in the context of road-mending or basic chores.

This seems to leave workers who were too old for conscription and Royal Engineers. Erecting hangars large enough for Handley-Page bombers must have been a chore in itself.

(But then 600 yards down the road from RFC Stonehenge ancient man hadn't done badly erecting the eponymous monument with very little in the way of tools.)


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#2 Moonraker

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 03:09 PM

Just to note that the Army Service Corps would have had a role in transporting materials. I've just remembered that the 650th Mechanical Transport Company did this for the building of roads at RFC Yatesbury.

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#3 centurion

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 04:25 PM

See the following Hansard entry

Mr. W. THORNE asked the Under-Secretary of State for War if lie is aware that an official representing the Builders' Labourers' Union was invited by Messrs. Lovell, builders, who are erecting buildings at Denham, to pay a visit to the works owing to a dispute there; if he is aware that while the delegates were discussing the matter with the general foreman two officials representing the United Builders' Labourers' Union and the National Union of General Workers, respectively, were arrested by the military authorities and escorted off the works between two soldiers; if he is aware that the firm in question are Government contractors and are doing Government work; and if he intends taking any action with the military authorities for exceeding their duty by arresting the two officials in question after being invited by the firm to meet the management?

This suggests that private contractors were used for some works and they must have had access to a suitable labour pool

#4 centurion

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 04:51 PM

(But then 600 yards down the road from RFC Stonehenge ancient man hadn't done badly erecting the eponymous monument with very little in the way of tools.)


A recent rough translation of scratchings on a fragment of stone excavated by Sir Mortimer Wibbly near Salisbury, thought to be part of a letter.

Well I ask you! what are those idiots at Glastonbury thinking off? We've just got the night landing system working a treat, oil lamps on top of the stone circles were the answer, you can show the wind speed and direction easy that way and the pilots can bring the birds down on the plain as if it were daylight and they could see the grass blowing. Then they do a review and cancel the roc breeding programme for ten years - what do we do with them bleeding great stones all that time? A henge with no birds - what use is that? Might as well let then weird druids use the site for doing something kinky with missletoe. Some idiot says we can do a deal with the Welsh so they can fly their dragons from it, I wouldn't trust them to sit the right way round on a dolmen. Bloody rocs's probably go extinct in the meantime.

#5 Moonraker

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 05:08 PM

Many large and small employers were involved in building hutments early in the war: the controversial Sir John Jackson, W E Chivers of Devizes and so on, and at this time there would have been a reasonable labour force, despite some skilled workers having enlisted.

Would the "Denham" referred to above be "Denham Camp" No 1 Cadet School RFC", about which Glengarry enquired - with no responses - last year?

Another case involving the trade unions was when on November 7, 1917 D Haggerty, General Secretary of the United Builders’ Labourers’ Union, wrote to the Chief Industrial Commissioner about wage rates at airfields, pointing out that in 1915 his members engaged on construction work (presumably on army camps)had been paid 7˝d, but this had been reduced to 6˝d when they were put on maintenance work.

I'm inclined to agree that civilian contractors were involved throughout the war but they must have had problems coping with labour demands for the new airfields in 1917-18.

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#6 centurion

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 08:34 PM

Many large and small employers were involved in building hutments early in the war: the controversial Sir John Jackson, W E Chivers of Devizes and so on, and at this time there would have been a reasonable labour force, despite some skilled workers having enlisted.

Would the "Denham" referred to above be "Denham Camp" No 1 Cadet School RFC", about which Glengarry enquired - with no responses - last year?

Another case involving the trade unions was when on November 7, 1917 D Haggerty, General Secretary of the United Builders’ Labourers’ Union, wrote to the Chief Industrial Commissioner about wage rates at airfields, pointing out that in 1915 his members engaged on construction work (presumably on army camps)had been paid 7˝d, but this had been reduced to 6˝d when they were put on maintenance work.

I'm inclined to agree that civilian contractors were involved throughout the war but they must have had problems coping with labour demands for the new airfields in 1917-18.

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The question I refer to was in early 1918

There were plenty of things that would bar a man from military service that would not stand in the way of his being a construction worker; less than good eyesight (even the labour corps had to be able to aim a rifle with some chance of success), poor hearing ( a safety hazard these days), flat feet etc - a man in good general health but exempt from service could probably earn good money.

#7 Moonraker

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 09:34 PM

He could earn far more money than a serviceman, which from the start of the war was a sore point with soldiers - who also witnessed some workers' poor attitudes and experienced their bad workmanship.

"Less than good eyesight ... poor hearing ... flat feet" - that's a good description of me, and at 65 I'm still doing useful things around the house and on countryside tasks (though after malleting in 6ft posts yesterday I'm a bit stiff).


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#8 centurion

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 10:53 PM

"Less than good eyesight ... poor hearing ... flat feet" - that's a good description of me, and at 65 I'm still doing useful things around the house and on countryside tasks (though after malleting in 6ft posts yesterday I'm a bit stiff).


At 66 I don't use a mallet but a post driver (like a metal tube, one end closed and two handles) but not just at the exact moment - slipped a disc a couple of weeks ago helping my wife in the hospital in the absence of nurses. But the point is taken - don't write off the aged as necessarily infirm.

#9 mickdavis

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Posted 17 December 2010 - 12:45 AM

The other day I was looking at photos of RFC Stonehenge and its neighbour, RFC Lake Down, both built in 1917-18, and was impressed with the very large hangers and associated buildings that must have taken some erecting.

Who comprised the labour force for such airfields up and down the country?

By that time of the war, labour of all sorts was in short supply: some key workers were being released from the army to return to their civilian occupations (I believe), and agriculture employed soldiers at busy periods, as well as land girls and schoolboys. Some Portuguese and Chinese labourers were noted in Wiltshire, but usually in the context of road-mending or basic chores.

This seems to leave workers who were too old for conscription and Royal Engineers. Erecting hangars large enough for Handley-Page bombers must have been a chore in itself.

(But then 600 yards down the road from RFC Stonehenge ancient man hadn't done badly erecting the eponymous monument with very little in the way of tools.)


Moonraker


The brickwork involved in the erection of a 1918 GS shed would have necessitated a skilled workforce. I seem to recall that McAlpine's were involved in the construction of Hooton Park and North Shotwick - were Irish workers used?

#10 Moonraker

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Posted 18 December 2010 - 11:19 AM

.. But the point is taken - don't write off the aged as necessarily infirm.


Rather late in the day I've discovered that many Australian war diaries for units based in Wiltshire are available on-line. (Those for the Provost Corps make good reading, and there's far more than anyone needs to know about VD, its prevention and treatment :blink: .) Diaries from medical units refer to "old men" aged from 45 suffering from "senility" who should never have been posted away from Australia; some had understated how old they were. "Senility" appears to have been used to indicate physical ailments such as rheumatism, rather than mental shortcomings sometimes associated with the word. And "old age" would have been relative to the youth of many soldiers.

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#11 RobL

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Posted 19 December 2010 - 03:47 PM

Regarding hangers big enough for the Handley Page's, they were designed to fit in a standard Bessoneaux hangar, which limited their size, and is also why their wings folded back

#12 centurion

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Posted 19 December 2010 - 04:08 PM

Regarding hangers big enough for the Handley Page's, they were designed to fit in a standard Bessoneaux hangar, which limited their size, and is also why their wings folded back

Indeed it was not until mid WW2 that the powers that be finally twigged that the rule ought to be build the hanger to fit the bomber and not the bomber to fit a standard hanger. The Stirling was severely limited in performance due to the need to keep the wing span under 100ft to fit the WO standard hanger. But lets not be too sniffy a major reason for the greater vulnerability of the Tornado bomber over Iraq was that it gave off an exceptionally strong radar reflection from its very large tail fin. This was being picked up by Iraqi targeting equipment despite the various electronic counter measures being used by the Tornados.The large tail fin had been a necessary aerodynamic feature to maintain directional stability given the relative shortness of the fuselage that in turn had been a German requirement to allow the aircraft to use existing Luftwaffe hardened hangers. (Germany was a member of the European consortium producing the Tornado). What happened in 1917 was still happening at the end of the century.

#13 Moonraker

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Posted 19 December 2010 - 05:54 PM

Regarding hangers big enough for the Handley Page's, they were designed to fit in a standard Bessoneaux hangar, which limited their size, and is also why their wings folded back


Dunno much about Bessonneaux hangars, and a Google Images search produces different types.

This was a hangar at Stonehenge, which looks plenty big enough for a Handley Page??

Attached File  Stonehenge.jpg   64.04KB   2 downloads

I had a lot of trouble scanning this from Rod Priddle's Wings over Wiltshire, which is quite bulky, and then getting the image down to size for including. In fact the above is only half the coupled GS Aeroplane shed in Rod's photo, and there were six such coupled sheds dominating the skyline to the west of the monument.

You can see what I was implying in my opening post, that erecting such buildings, not just in Wiltshire but doubtless elsewhere, must have needed a considerable amount of labour and heavy machinery.

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#14 centurion

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Posted 19 December 2010 - 06:09 PM

More machinery than labour I would think. It appears to be build from precast standard components and big cranes would be the order of the day [and wouldn't the shades of the ancient engineers from the site next door be envious?]

#15 mickdavis

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 11:11 AM

More machinery than labour I would think. It appears to be build from precast standard components and big cranes would be the order of the day [and wouldn't the shades of the ancient engineers from the site next door be envious?]



The 1917 and 1918 pattern GS sheds were constructed using brickwork, not pre-cast components.

#16 centurion

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 11:50 AM

The 1917 and 1918 pattern GS sheds were constructed using brickwork, not pre-cast components.

Those T shaped columns holding up the roof are never brickwork.

#17 horatio2

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 12:05 PM

Coming back to the original question, the Royal Naval Air Service Constructional Corps certainly had a hand in RNAS airfield infrastructure. They had their HQ at Winchester house, St James Square, London.

#18 Broznitsky

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 01:26 PM

A task undertaken by Canadian forestry units from the autumn of 1916 onward was the construction of airfields for the Royal Flying Corps. Nine Canadian companies, especially organized for this employment, prepared more than a hundred sites in France and England. I think two were based in England.

#19 Moonraker

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 02:33 PM

Coming back to the original question, the Royal Naval Air Service Constructional Corps certainly had a hand in RNAS airfield infrastructure. They had their HQ at Winchester house, St James Square, London.


Some hangars at RFC Stonehenge were for the RNAS, stretching east along what is now the A344. They were canvas Bessoneaux, plus four designed by Handley Page to house their heavy bombers. I infer from Rod Priddle's book that the image I posted yesterday is of a hangar on the RFC site proper, along what is now the A303 - though it too could be of Handley Page design.

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#20 wyndham

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 10:41 PM

Post 18 above refers. Please see the reecently published Oakwood Press book "Northern Northumberland's Minor Railways - Vol 1 in which reference is made to Canadian Forestry Corps establishing rail served sawmills at Harbottle, Thrunton and Chillingham. (Pages 24 - 45).

#21 mickdavis

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Posted 21 December 2010 - 01:49 AM

Those T shaped columns holding up the roof are never brickwork.


I think you'll find they were. Brick GS sheds were built with a single thickness of brick for the side walls, with 13 c.24" butresses on the outsides. The expression corbelling rings a bell with me, where the inside of each butress was built out at the top to provide a base for the roof truss. I used to spend a lot of time examining surviving old sheds (Marske, Sherburn-in-Elmet, North Shorwick, Old Sarum, Henlow, Harling Road, Eastleigh etc) and that's what was there. Earlier timber GS sheds (e.g. Hendon, Montrose, Tadcaster) did, however, use wooden supports.
Referring to a previous post, the idea of pre-cast components doesn't make sense. The weight is the obvious thing. Although some stations had temporary narrow gauge lines that connected to adjacent branch lines (e.g. Marske and, indeed, Stonehenge) the locomotives wouldn't have been capable of hauling such weights, the small trucks they pulled couldn't have accommodated them and the lines laid on (I think) dolomite couldn't have supported them. If there were any pre-cast structures, they would have been created on site, using wooden shuttering.

#22 Moonraker

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Posted 21 December 2010 - 05:10 AM

Indeed there was a standard-gauge railway line - the Lark Hill Military Railway - serving RFC Stonehenge and RFC Lake Down and there was a siding off the Amesbury & Military Camp Railway to RFC Boscombe Down, but, as Mick states, these couldn't have handled anything very large. The building of military hutments early in the war gave a short lease of new life to Westbury Ironworks, which had closed a few years before. The slag was removed and and transported to Sutton Veny and other local camps, where it was used for the roads and camp railways.

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#23 Stanley_C_Jenkins

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Posted 21 December 2010 - 09:24 AM

Witney Aerodrome was built by Portuguese labourers and Gernan Prisoners-of-War, who were accommodated in the nearby Union Workhouse on Tower Hill.

#24 mickdavis

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Posted 22 December 2010 - 10:20 AM

Those T shaped columns holding up the roof are never brickwork.


Although this pic shows a side wall at Duxford, it shows the base support for the 'Belfast' roof truss, built out from the brickwork - this would have provided the T shape on the central wall of a coupled shed. The arc shaped wooden roof truss, with its triangular end pieces rested on the brick base and bolted to the wall.

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#25 David Key

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 08:48 PM

Just checked the "Short History of Worthy Down" which says "At first a canvas camp, the Canadian Pioneer Corps aided by German POWs soon erected more permanent wooden and brick buildings and hangars."

Worthy Down was used for Observer flight training from early October 1917 when the Wireless & Observer School was transferred from Brooklands to Hursley Park (4 miles south of Winchester) & Worth Down (4 miles north) in an arrangement described as "stupid" and the aerodrome as "rotten" by one RFC Observer attending the course.

In 1918 the expansion of Hursley by the US engineers of the AEF Construction Corps appear to have been supported by "local" labour (which they were not impressed with) but which may also have included German POWs.

But I'm still digging around on this topic too (see my thread on Army Camp Construction Companies) so I'll be very interested in what others turn up.

Cheers

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