The construction of Greencastle Aerodrome
Taken from the book "History Of The Developments in Mourne from 1870 to 2000
By John Newell
Much has been written over
the years about war-time activities in Northern Ireland. This is the story of
the construction of the airfield at Greencastle. It was built, by the Ministry
of Defence, for the Royal Air Force and United States Army Airforce.
The Date of Commencement of Aerodrome Construction 12th January, 1942
Messrs Landon-Every And Ferkin Ltd From England
Their offices were located at the top of the Slatemill Road, Dunavil.
OFFICIALS AND STAFF
Senior Engineer - Mr John Spence. (Sheffield, England)
Assistant Engineer - Mr Jack Ahem. (Dublin)
Chainman - Mr Frankie 0’ Rourke. (Greencastle)
Stage 1. Messrs A.M. Carmichael. (Scotland)
Their main offices, stores, site huts, and yard were all located on 0’ Brien’s premises at Dunavil.
CONTRACTOR’S OFFICIALS AND STAFF (known)
Site Agent - Mr Cecil Strong.
Quantity Surveyor - Mr Woodhead.
Chief Cashier - Mr David Hay. (Scotland)
Wages, Clerk/Typist - Mrs Mary Cunningham. (Nee Rooney, Kilkeel)
Office Staff - Miss Bridie Hudson.
- Miss Katie Sloane.
- Miss Mabel Nicholson.
- Miss Nellie 0’ Rourke. (Killowen)
Head Time Keeper - Mr Robert Strougher.
Time Keepers/Checkers - Mr Kevin Cunningham. (Carrigenagh)
- Mr Peter Reavey. (Newcastle)
- Mr Brain Denvir. (Downpatrick)
- Mr Pat Mc Keffrey. (Belfast)
Plant Manager - Mr R. Richardson.
Foreman Joiner - Mr Harris Morley.
Assistant Foreman Joiner, Mr Frank Carragher
General Foreman - Mr Graham.
Site Foremen - Mr Edward Rodgers. (Annalong)
- Mr Bob Hanna. (Moor Road)
- Mr Thomas Hanna. (Moor Road)
- Mr Sam Mc Connell. (Carrigenagh)
- Mr John Phillips. (Carrigenagh)
- Mr Arty Mc Cullough. (Ballymartin)
When we pass through Kilkeel and head for Greencastle we see land rolling towards the sea. This has always been fertile land with well-kept farmhouses and tidy farm yards. Today the area close to Kilkeel has both private and public housing estates and further along the way-stands sentinel-isolated, historical reminders of fifty-eight years ago. However when the Ministry of Defence commandeered the area in 1942 there was nothing but small farm holdings. Most of the farming was of the mixed variety and it was a peaceful and prosperous community.
England was at war and Cranfield and Greencastle air field was to become another cog in the War Machine. Overnight the lives of the residents of this quiet corner of the County Down was to change forever. Despite the various disadvantages of the site, its proximity to
• the Irish Sea and the surrounding mountains as well as other security considerations, construction proceeded regardless of the destruction it would cause to the townlands from Derryoge to Greencastle.
There was considerable hostility to the idea locally and this was understandable - some of the best agricultural land in the area was vested and compensation, which was considered totally inadequate, was offered, but not accepted. Families were asked to vacate their homes overnight but there were a few notable exceptions of people who refused to move out and the base was literally built around them. It was a very bleak year for the people who lived in these five townlands - Derryoge, Dunavil, Ballynahatten, Cranfield, and Grange.
The Air Ministry’s Compulsory Acquisition orders gave the occupiers three days to get out. Their was no obligation on the Air Ministry to find them alternate accommodation so they literally had to find shelter almost overnight - indeed there are stories still told of the bulldozers beginning to knock down the houses as furniture was still being carried out through the front door. The short notice only applied to houses that were sited where the runways were going to be built. Other home owners had more time to remove roofs and anything else
that was salvageable. Most of the farmers had their lands cultivated and ploughed all ready for the planting of early potatoes. Sheds were full of boxes of sprouted Arran Pilots ready to
be planted but if they lay in the path of the bulldozer they were demolished with no thought for the work that had already taken place or for the livelihood of the farmer and his family. The early potato crop was very important in this area of small (5-15 acres) family farms as the owners used the land intensively from ditch to ditch using every inch of the ground and taking in blown wrack from the seashore as fertilizet Sometimes two crops would be taken from the same field each year.
In those days there was not the same type of income support as there is to-day and if the farm was not capable of providing enough income then the skiff fishing (inshore herring fishing during September and October) or lobster fishing provided additional income. In good seasons the herring fishing, off the coast, had a great value to the inhabitants, a considerable number of whom were fishermen.
FIRST SITE VISIT
When Mr A.M. Carmichael came on his first site visit to Greencastle, regarding site meetings and other business, he stayed with the Nicholson family at “Laurel Cottage” Derryoge. This happened on several occasions.
WORKER’S CANTEEN AND BAR
The workers canteen and bar was run from Robert James Crutchley’s Dwelling house at Ballynahatten. They canteen manager and bar man was Mr Jerry Walsh, Newcastle.
MOVING ON TO SITE
When the Air Ministry officials and Carmichael’s engineers moved on to the site with their theodolites, site drawings and chain men, ranging rods were placed in positions where the Technical, Instructional, Operational, Hangers and Runways were going to be sited. The engineers pegged out and set-up and checked levels to enable the Plant and heavy machinery to start the massive task of site excavations and foundations. The first priority was to strip and clear the areas for runways and hangars so that the workmen could start to piece the plan together.
Diggers - Draglines - D.8. Dozers - Scrapers - Dumpers and Loading Shovels
(list of known names)
Henry Young, Longstone and Willie John Mc Donald (The Moor) drove the two D8 dozers and scrapers stripping the sites. Other machine operator’s names were Harry McAlinden , Lisnacree, James McMeekin, Annalong, and Danny Dooley, Leestone Road. Drag line drivers, John Annett, Willie and Harry Mc Donald, Ballymartin and Willie Doran from the Longstone, 10 RB drivers, using B/A and face shovel equipment, the dumper drivers were John Lee, Annalong and John Collins (The Moor). The Loading Shovel driver was Thomas Robinson, Kilkeel.
SITE CLEARING OPERATIONS
The scrapers had started the task of clearing out the runway foundations and piling their excavations off-site for the draglines to start loading up the lorries. This was taken to the dumping ground some distance away. The big D.8 Dozers worked 120 hours per week each, on site clearance pushing down groves of trees, hedges, fences, dwelling houses, and farm buildings into large piles on site, again for the draglines and the lorries to load up and dispose off-site. As soon as part of the runway was cleared and ready to build the engineers arrived on site and started erecting ranging rods and setting up profiles in order to prepare the site for work.
The joiners then started placing the shuttering in position as per peg levels on each side of the runways etc to allow the concreting squads to start work on building the runways.
Runway clearance operations on the aerodrome. A Caterpillar 240 hp engine 08 Dozer towing a 12 cubic yard capacity box
scraper wire rope operated from the drivers seat was used. This picture shows a similar machine to that which
was used in 1942-43.
A GROUND LEVELLER AND MUD MAT
Before the concrete runways were laid, course shore gravel was hauled from the Moor shore by the four wheel drive Burma Road Lorries to the site, tipped, spread, and levelled over the excavated foundation areas. This acted as a ground leveller and mud mat. The runways were formed in staggered sections or bays of concrete laid in lengths of 24 or 48 feet by 15 feet wide: expansion joints were placed between each section. The depth of concrete laid varied depending on the ground foundations from 9 inches to 12 inches. In some areas it had to be reinforced. The main runways ran north-east, south-west parallel to the sea and were just over Two miles long. They were arranged in a “A” pattern and were 150 feet in width. The concrete runway areas covered 126 acres while the grass areas were 308 acres.
A FORMIDABLE TASK
Cranfield was far away from the main supply routes in Northern Ireland so the Air Ministry and Carmichael faced a stiff task as labour and supplies on a large scale had to be found quickly. The experience gained already in airfield construction had shown that many obstacles could easily spring into the path of the best laid plans. The lack of shipping and transport being two of the principal culprits. Again labour, although available was largely unskilled and the pool of skilled men had to be blended with the unskilled to ensure the best possible results. Wage levels allied with a shortage of suitable accommodation - indeed some workers slept in their lorries whilst others practically worked around the clock grabbing
whatever sleep they could where the opportunity arose - gave rise to other problems. There were 1,300 workers on Carmichael’s pay roll during the construction of the runways. Perhaps the biggest problem was the supply of cement and bricks as with so many other Defence and Air Ministry projects underway, these were at a premium.
However everyone pulled out all the stops and the obstacles were overcome; The Northern Ireland Road Transport Board acting in co-operation with the Ministry of Home Affairs played a notable part as its pool of lorries were chief hauliers of the essential supplies. They still maintained at the same time their every day service to the public throughout the crisis. Several new Benford concrete mixers arrived on site and were positioned together in twos beside the huge piles of sand and stone, stock of cement and water storage tanks. The reason the mixers were placed together was to allow for a dragline excavator with grab equipment fitted to fill up the two mixer skips with aggregate and with a two man gang tipping the bags of cement into the skips this method produced a big out-put. Construction was now underway and a fleet of dumpers and steel-bodied tipping lorries drew the concrete from the mixer drums to the concreting squads on site building the runways and to lay deep floor areas to erect four hangars. The foundations for all the buildings were dug out with spades and shovels and as soon as the concrete foundations were laid and set the bricklaying gangs were able to start work.
CARMICHAEL’S LORRY DRIVERS (known)
James Bingham, James 0 Hare, and Thomas Franklin drove the tar sprayer on site sealing and camouflaging the runways and concrete areas etc with hot Bituman tar. When all of the runways and taxi roads were sprayed he moved on to other aerodromes that Carmichael was constructing.
FEEDING THE MIXER DEPOTS
Dozens of tipping lorries were employed daily to ferry large quantities of concreting sand and stones to the mixer depots on site from sand-pits on the Sandy Brae Road near Attical (owned by George Speers and the Sloan family) and from Dean Gordon’s sand-pit at Newcastle Road Kilkeel, from Patrick Doran’s, Grange, Willie Nicholsons, Derryoge, and Sandy Mc Kees, Scrogg Road sand-pits. Several thousand tons of stone and gravel were also taken from the Moor Shore by dragline N.C.K. excavators and loaded onto Burma Road lorries. The N.C.K. drivers were Paddy and Gerry Garinon. These lorries were able to work on loose gravel and handle the steep climb up the shorebank as they had four-wheel drive. The Burma Road steel-bodied lorries were mostly Fords and Dodges with high stand-up roofs and took their name from being developed for overseas work. All 58 (56 petrol and 2 diesel) of them came over from England in 1942 to help out with transport.
These lorries were controlled by the NIRTB from their Kilkeel Depot. James Henry Cousins from Ballykeel, one of the Board’s senior drivers was appointed supervisor over the lorries and the drivers. Samuel Bingham another Ballykeel man was in charge of the fuel and oil distribution for the fleet. Each driver had to undergo a driving test by the Board’s driving instructor and a medical test by their GP before they got a job. Some of the Board’s own drivers that drove these lorries were Thomas Stafford, Charlie Collins, Jim Sloane and Danny Mc Conville, John Ewart, Kilkeel, Mickey Rooney, Newry and Paddy Carragher, Armagh. Other drivers were Thomas Edgar, Willie Cunningham and Harry Mc Kibben, Kilkeel. However, most of the recruited drivers were from surrounding areas of Rathfriland, Newry and South Armagh.
CEMENT AND STONE SUPPLIERS
Keown Brothers had a quarry at Aughrim near Kilkeel but it was only able to supply and deliver to the site a fraction of the stone that was required. Other stone quarries were used as far away as Banbridge, South Armagh, Newry and Moore and Mc Cartan’s quarry at Mayobridge. Paddy Fitzpatrick, Mountpanter, Dundrum, also supplied a considerable amount of stone aggregate to the aerodrome. The Magheramome Blue Circle Cement Works Lame were only able to supply and deliver a limited tonnage per week to Cranfield as they had other construction works to supply throughout the Province.
The Drogheda Cement Works were enlisted to maintain the supply to the site. The cement was delivered in unmarked paper and jute bags as The Irish Free State was neutral and could not be seen to be contributing to the war effort of either of the protagonists! Cement was also sourced in England and when it arrived at Belfast Docks NIRTB’s Beaver, Octopus and Hippo lorries complete with trailers transported it to Cranfield. There were 42,000 tons of cement used to construct the Aerodrome, stages 1 & 2.
WATER SUPPLY TO THE MIXER DEPOTS
Several water tankers were engaged daily drawing water from the lough at the top of the Bog Road in Derryoge to the Aerodrome to keep the storage water tanks full beside the concrete mixers. Two of the water tankers used on site were owned and driven by James and Patrick Rooney of Brackenagh, Ballymartin. Water was also drawn by horse and cart in 40 gallon barrels taken from a deep well near the site. The barrels were hand-filled with buckets. Each concrete mixer on site used 5,500 gallons of water daily when in full production. Indeed horses and carts owned by Eddie Wilson Derryoge, were also used to haul gravel from the Cranfield and Dunavil shores to the mixers.
PRIVATE HIRE OF LORRIES
As the job progressed more tipping lorries were drafted onto the site to cope with the vast amount of work being carried out. They came from Newry, South Armagh and Rathfriland and were mostly owner-driven. Several large haulage firms - Catherwoods, Turkingtons and J A Woods (Belfast) - were all hauling large quantities of materials daily onto the sites. Some of the men who drove for Woods were: Jim Annett (Ballyveagh), John 0’ Hare (Dinneywater), James ‘Rusty’ Mc Kibben, Big Hugh Burden and Cecil Chambers (All Annalong) and James H Rodgers (Diamond) Kilkeel. They all hauled pitching stones from Paul’s Quarry in Glasdrumman and from other Quarries in the Mourrie Mountains, to the site. Others who owned or drove lorries supplying concreting and building materials were Owen Rice (Castlewellan), Charlie Carr (Warrenpoint), Barney Mc Comish, John F Speers, Dean Gordon, the Wilson Brothers, Charles Campbell & Willie Nicholson (Kilkeel), Messrs Thompson & Nutt Quarry owners Garvagh. Co.Derry operated Stone Quarries in the Mourne Mountains, supplying and delivering large quantities of crushed stone of various sizes to the mixer depots on the site.
Carmichael’s team of construction workers
set the record for the greatest amount of concrete laid in one month in the
British isles during the construction of Greencastle Aerodrome. This paid
tribute not alone to their own hard work but also to the site organisation and
supply of materials. When they had finished their work here they moved the
entire gang to Ballyhalbert and Ballywalter where other aerodromes were under
construction. Tribute here also should be paid to the skilled construction
workers on the aerodrome, some of them toiled round the clock, for all
concerned, indeed the task was strenuous and sometimes nerve racking. They were
sorely tired in body and spirit before the work was done. But it was bravely
faced and finished in record time.
CONSTRUCTION OF BUILDINGS AND SITE
There were almost 450 buildings erected of various shapes and sizes and at a safe distance from the Ammunition and Bomb Stores and Runways (as per detailed schedule). A number of the foundations on the communal, living and other sites throughout the aerodrome which were excavated and concreted were never built upon. Others were partly erected. Also several construction site buildings were never used or lived in during the war years.
During the same time as the aerodrome was being constructed several army and airforce billets around the Mourne areas were being erected at Mourne Park, Ballyedmond, Manse Road, The Moor, Maghereagh, Ballymartin Hill (rador station), and many more small isolated hutted sites. All construction and drainage work entailed was carried out manually. Much of the above work was sub-contracted out to squads of labourers, concreting workers, bricklayers, carpenters, roofers, plasters, plumbers, tilers, electricians, painters, pipe-layers and jointers.
LIST OF KNOWN BRICKLAYERS AND PLUMBERS
The bricklayers were Alfred Graham and Herbie Graham, Kilkeel, Bobbie Graham and
Russell Gordon, Annalong. The plumbers were Ernest Elliott, Kilkeel and Charles Quinn,
Ballyveagh. They operated from Eddie 0’ Rourkes Blacksmiths Shop, their helper was Brain
Fitzsimons, Ballymartin. The shop was also used as a store which was requisitioned by the
Ministry of Defence. Other skilled workers came from parts of Down, Armagh and Dublin;
in some cases transport was provided to and from work. The lure of bigger wage packets at
the aerodrome was the reason why so many
came but there was a slow-down in private work as government regulations decreed
that work for the war effort had priority when it came to materials and skilled
workers. Work had now started in the laying of thousands of yards of concrete
spun Class A drainage pipes of various sizes and manholes etc. throughout the
sites to dispose of surplus water coming off runways and buildings. This was
then piped to watercourses or shoreline. Some of these concrete drainage pipes
can now be seen when sand-pits are excavated or view in disused sand-pits.
FOUL SEWERAGE SYSTEM
Salt glazed first class earthenware pipes and specials of 4 inch and 6 inch diameter and cement jointed were used on the foul sewerage system throughout the entire sites although some of the small isolated sites had only dry toilets. The sewerage had its outfalls piped to the sea but did not work very successfully as many blockages occurred. These happened at the outfalls as the area is close to the entrance to Carlingford Lough and suffers from strong currents and shifting sands.
SUB-CONTRACTORS TO MESSRS. A. M.
CARMICHAEL STAGE 1
1. Site Power
2. Roofing & Cladding
4. Painting Contract
5. Cable Laying and Jointing
6. Sealing the Runways
1. Temporary Site Power and Flood Lighting
Mr Peter Ahern supplied and operated a mobile power and lighting system used throughout the site during the Aerodrome construction for nightwork and in the winter months. Using lorry mounted generators 75 K.W. sets and a train of battery chargers, and heavy duty 24 Volt batteries.
2. Roofing and Cladding Contractor
Albestos Co. Ltd., Roofing Contractors Belfast, carried out most of the roofing and cladding work on the brick buildings throughout the sites.
3. Plastering Contractors
Messrs William Mc Donald & James Richerdson Ltd. Scotland, did most of the interior and exterior plastering work to the brick buildings etc. throughout the sites.
4. Painting Contractor
Messrs Simpsons Ltd. from England, carried out most of the exterior and interior painting work to the walls and roofs of the brick buildings and nissen huts throughout the sites. The interior colours were green bottom with a cream top. The exterior colour was grey to seal the walls, roofs, etc. and to camouflage, or deceive aerial enemy reconnaissance.
5. Cable Laying and Jointing
The underground, tele-communications and lighting systems were laid and jointed around the 5 miles perimeter of the aerodrome to illuminate they runways, taxi roads, etc. and throughout the sites by Messrs Henleys cables and Messrs Wishop cable Company Ltd. Some of the cables were ducted inside 4” diameter earthenware pipes especially under the runways, taxi roads, road crossings. On the other areas of the aerodrome the cables were laid in open trenches with heavy red earthenware interlocking marker tiles “E”
placed on top of the laid cables and the trenches back filled; all excavations were carried out manually.
6. Sealing the Runways - Taxi Roads - Hardstandings
Messrs George Gregg (Quarry Owners & Road Contractors, Lame) carried out the final work on spraying and sealing the runways, and hardstandings, with hot bitumen tar and woodchippings to camouflage and make the concrete surfaces non-slip for the planes to take off and land in all weather and to disguise from the enemy.
LIST OF DETAILED CONSTRUCTED DRAWINGS
A. numbers (1 to 22) (22.Units)
No 2. Communal site was located South/West side of Kittys Road.
B. numbers (30 to 42) (13.Units)
C. Sick quarters was located at Berry’s stream, Derryoge Park numbers (50 to 57) (8.Units)
No 1. Living site was located near Moor Lodge, Greencastle Road.
D numbers (60 to 125) (66.Units)
No 2. Living site was located on North/East side on Sand or Nicholsons Road.
No 1. Communal site was located on sand or Nicholsons Road.
E. numbers (130 to 187) (28.Units)
No 3. Living site was located North/East side of Bog or Derryoge Road.
F. numbers (190 to 253) (64.Units)
No 4. Living site was located North/East side of Bog or Derryoge Road.
G. numbers (260 to 323) (64.Units)
No 5. Living site was located at
bottom of Kittys Road near shore bank.
H. numbers (330 to 375) (45.Units)
B. Instructional site was located near the junction of Slatemill and Greencastle Road, Dunavil numbers (47 to 740) (44.Units)
Al. and A2. Technical site was located in the vicinity of the runways, blockyard, (Stevensons) and Slatemill Road; Dunavil numbers (1 to 46 and from 75 to 123) (63.Units) Operations Headquarters site at Mourne Wood. Ballynahatten. (12.Units)
COMMUNAL SITE NO.1 NICHOLSONS OR SAND ROAD
1. Officers Mess for 110 persons.
2. Officers Baths for 110 persons.
4. Squash Courts.
7. Airmens’ Diningroom for 1,200 persons.
8. Ration Store for 1,200 persons.
9. Institute for 1,250 persons.
10. Grocery and Local Produce Store for
11. Airmens’ Showers, Ablutions and Decontam for 1,250 persons.
12. Airmens’ Latrines for 1,200 persons.
13. Gymnasium and Chancel with Mapel floor.
14. Tailors, Barbers and Shoemakers Shops.
32. Institute for 1,250 persons.
34. Airmens Latrines for 1,200 persons.
35. Fuel Compound, size 99ff. x 54ft.
367. Ammunition Store.
366 . 368 Lecture Rooms S.T.D.
(each 60ff. long).
330 - 338 Officers’, Sergeants’ and Airmens’
359 Officers’, Sergeants’ and Airmens’
Latrines and Showers.
364 Officers’, Sergeants’ and Airmens’
Communal Site No. 1 at Nicholsons or Sand Road, Derryogue. No. 17 was the boiler house.
COMMUNAL SITE NO.2, KITTYS ROAD
31. Airmens’ Dining Room for 1,200 persons.
SICK QUARTERS SITE, NOW DERRYOGUE PARK
50. Main Sick Quarter Block.
51. Sick Quarters Annex.
52. Ambulance Garage and Mortuary.
53. Sergeants’ and Orderlies’ Quarters.
55. Picket Post.
56. Latrines and Ablutions.
LIVING SITE NO.1 (MOORE LODGE), DERRYOGUE
60 - 77 Officers’, Sergeants’ and Airmens’ Quarters.
113 -117 Officers’, Sergeants’ and Airmens’ Ablutions and Latrines.
123 Fuel Compound, size, 99ff. x 54ff.
Living site No. 5 (Nissen Huts) at bottom of Kittys Road which included Officers’ Sergeants’ and Airmens’ Quarters, Ablutions,
Latrines, Lecture Rooms, Picket Post and NO.0. Recreation Room.
TECHNICAL SITE AT O’BRIEN’S YARD, DUNAVIL
15. Gas Chambers.
16. Petrol Tanks Installation MT.
21. MT. Office, Sheds and Yard (6 bays).
28. Speech broadcasting building.
75. Petrol Tanks Installation, 72,000 gallons.
O’Brien’s yard, Dunavil, part of the
Technical Site and Motor Transport Depot. 84
Technical site at Slatemill Road,
Dunavil. (3) Control tower or watch office. No.
Instruction site at Slatemill Road,
Dunavil. (57) Bomb Stores. (69) Test Butt for Cannon.
WATER MAIN SUPPLY FROM SILENT VALLEY
TO THE AERODROME 1942
In conjunction with the aerodrome construction 1942, Messrs A.M. Carmichael laid approximately 5 miles of water mains to the aerodrome of 6”dia, class D. Everite pipes from the Kilkeel supply air well at Silent Valley down via Carrigenagh Road, Kilkeel, Greencastle Road and ending at Mourne Wood Ballynahatten. Solely for Air Ministry use, after their duration of stay became the property of Kilkeel Urban and Rural Councils and is presently being used for domestic, agriculture and trade and from 1973 owned by the D.O.E. Water Service. The pipes laid in the french was surrounded with a 6” layer of course sand with 3’ 0” of covet
All trench excavations was carried out manually when the water main pipe reached the vicinity off the aerodrome at Berry’s Stream. 4”dia branch distribution mains were taken off the 6” pipe at various points as per detailed drawings and laid down and through all communal and living sites, forming a ringed water main supply around the areas.
When the main reached the vicinity of the Bog Road, Derryoge, a 20,000 gallon steel header or storage water supply tank was erected on Messrs Nicholsons Hill, 20’ above ground level and was mounted on heavy duty steel pylons, its weight carrying capacity approximately 130 tons with a 4”dia, Everite Inlet pipe from the main up to the tank. With a 6”dia Everite outlet pressure pipe out of the tank down to and connecting to the existing main line, both pipes valve controlled from the 6” line. The 6”dia outlet pipe was to increase the supply and boost up the water pressure approaching the aerodrome, including the Technical, Instructional and Operational sites.
Instructional Site ‘Fatima’, Dunavil.
51 A WE Operational Building formerly owned by the author of this book.
1943 — STAGE 2
The Construction of Multiple Hardstandings dispersal’s etc. as storage areas to hold
large numbers of aircraft, throughout 1943-44. Built by the Ministry of Defence for Royal Air
Force and United States Army Airforce.
Stage 2, Sir Lindsay Parkinson Ltd., from England.
Messrs Landon-Every and Ferkin Ltd., from England.
Buses were used for Site offices, stores and workmen’s accommodation on site and used by the officials and staff of the Consulting Engineers as well as the Air Ministry Officials and staff and the contractors, staff and workers. Transport was provided for workmen to and from work from the Annalong and Ballymartin areas to the aerodrome. Date of commencement of Hardstandings Constructions 16-08-1943.
THE CONTRACTOR’S OFFICIALS AND STAFF
Site Agent - Mr Jock Nearn. (Scotland)
Senior Engineer - Mr Deacon.
Second Engineer - Mr Long.
Quantity Surveyor - Mr Turner.
Office Manager - Mr Robinson.
Staff - Mr Kevin Cunningham. (Carrigenagh)
- Mrs Ringland. (Kilkeel)
Plant Manager - Mr Harry Carslick. (England)
Assistant Plant Manager - Mr Carslick. (His son)
Foreman Fitter - Mr Billy Handcock. (Dublin)
Foreman Joiner - Mr Barney Murphy. (Warrenpoint)
General Foreman - Mr Charles Lake.
Site Foremen - Mr Thomas 0’ Hare. (Newry)
- Mr Thomas James Hanna. (The Moor)
- Mr Edward Rodgers. (Annalong) Site Checker - Mr Eamon Collins. (The Moor)
THE ROUTE LOCATION
The starting point from the existing runway at hanger No.116 and heading South - West via Cranfield Road crossing Reilly’s bogs and the Grange Road down to the rear of the Lighthouse café, where Chestnutt’s caravan park is now sited, and crossing over to Ameracam where 40% of aircraft were stored. However long-term storage was hindered by salt spray corrosion from the near by seashore.
SITE WORKS - SUB-CONTRACTORS
Messrs Seddons Ltd, were Sub Contractors for the entire “Earthworks” Site Agent being Mr West, Sub Agent, Mr Mills, Mr Sam Mc Connell was Sub Contractor “Drainage”.
The Lighthouse Cafe in the 1930s, also known as Ryans Tea Rooms and Shop. The site is now owned by Jim Chestnutt.
MOVING ON TO SITE
The Air Ministry Officials, Sir Lindsay Parkinsons Engineers and Messrs Seddons site agent Mr West, moved onto the site to piece their plan together and set the wheels in motion with their theodolites sites drawings and chain men erecting site rails, positional ranging rods and pegging out of the areas where the dispersals, taxi roads etc. were going to be constructed.
N.C.H. Dragline Driver - Mr James Mc Meekin. (Annalong)
Dozer & Scraper Driver - Mr Willie John Mc Donald. (The Moor)
1O.R.B. Driver - Mr William Mc Donald. (Ballymartin)
1O.R.B. Driver - Mr Harry Mc Donald. (Ballymartin)
1O.R.B. Driver - Mr Thomas Whiteman. (Annalong)
Roller Driver - Mr Eamon Collins. (The Moor)
Lorry Driver - Mr Thomas Shields. (Harbour Road)
Plant Fitters - Mr Robert Chambers. (Annalong)
- Mr James Rogers. (Cranfield)
SITE CLEARANCE OPERATIONS
Messrs Seddons Dozers, Scrapers, Lorries and Draglines were now on site and had started excavating out the hardstanding, Dispersals, foundation areas and removing the soil and clay off site. In readiness for the engineers to set up and check their levels for the joiners to start placing the shuttering into position.
SITING OF BENFORD CONCRETE MIXERS
3 No. Benford Mixers were positioned at different locations on site beside the huge piles of aggregate, cement and water supply ready to start to mix the vast amount of concrete required daily to lay the concrete staggard sections of taxi roads and hardstandings. The
concreting squads had started to lay the concrete and place expansion joints between each section. The depth of concrete laid varied depending on ground foundations from 9” to 12”. The haulage contractors were feeding the mixer depots, keeping up supplies of aggregate, cement and water. The dumpers and tipping lorries were hauling the concrete from the mixer drums to the concreting squads on site laying the dispersals foundations. This produced a big out-put daily.
When the construction work came to Reilly’s bogs etc., a wet tidal area, the situation changed. The dozers and scrapers were unable to work on the wet ground. Several dragline excavators were taken to the area, and put in place to remove the soft peat and running sand etc. onto Seddons lorries for disposal off site. A specified depth of soft material had to be removed from the foundation areas as agreed with the site engineers. Then an agreement was reached between the Air Ministry Officials and Sir Lindsay Parkinson, the contractor, to refill the deep excavated areas. Several hundred yards in length crossing over Reilly’s bogs etc. with huge size stone backfill, hauled from several local quarries to Grange, to make a follow up roadway for the draglines to work on removing the soft clay unto the lorries and to compress the proposed hardstandings foundation areas in readiness for the joiners and the concreting squads to start work. Extra men had to be employed at this stage.
REINFORCING THE TIDAL AREA
Crossing over Reilly’s bogs, Grange and Ameracam, the construction workers had started to position a double run of heavy gauge reinforcing iron mats between the inside of the shuttering, ahead of the concreting squads coming behind forming the deep laid concrete bays. This work continued throughout the contract. This section entailed a lot of heavy dirty work especially handling rusty reinforcing iron.
IT’S ALL SYSTEMS GO!
The big push was on to get the contract completed in time, with the winter and dark days approaching. Extra aerodrome construction workers of various skills were being deployed on site, with a total of 3 no. concrete mixers and 3 no. concreting squads working flat-out. At the same time extra haulage lorries were drafted unto the site to keep up the supply of materials to the mixer depots along with a daily supply of cement coming from the Magheramorne Blue Circle and Drodheda cement works. Horses and carts drew water in 40 gallon barrels to top up the storage tanks from local wells nearby as well as drawing sand and gravel from Cranfield shore to the mixer depots.
THE END IN SIGHT
With only a few hundred yards of hardstandings and dispersals completed, work had started to construct a raised stone pitched bank to each side of the concrete, approximately 7 yards wide, with a slope of 1 in 10, around the perimeter of the hardstandings, dispersals areas. The specified size of stone to be used was 12” x 12”, approximately, most of the stones used for pitching came from the granite quarries in the Mourne Mountains and farmers reclaiming their land, also removing ditches to make bigger fields.
The Burma Road lorries hauled most of these stones to the aerodrome. With four wheel drive they were able to travel anywhere. Also close to Bignian School 10, acres of moor land was reclaimed, the stones were manually loaded into the Burma road lorries and hauled to the Aerodrome and used for pitching the side slopes along the taxi roads, etc. When all the stone pitchers were hauled to the site the Burma road lorries were moved from Kilkeel to
Another view of Operational Headquarters at Mourne Wood, Ballinhatten.
Langford Lodge another base under construction. These lorries were parked each night down the Manse Road Kilkeel for safety reasons, for the two years they worked on the aerodrome.
A GUIDE FOR PILOTS
The sloped stone pitched bank laid on each side of the concrete was a guide for pilots using the taxi roads, during the hours of darkness in case the plane would run off the concrete unto the soft ground.
THE LOST VEHICLE
A ford tipping lorry owned by Seddons working on the site tipping stones into the soft area sank in the clay and was never recovered. They attached a wire rope from the lorry to a D8 Dozer during the pull, the rope snapped the foreman said let her go and carry on with work. Its driver had a lucky escape.
PUMPING WATER FROM THE
WHITE WATER RIVER
Thousands of gallons of water was pumped daily from the river near Eddie O’Rourkes Blacksmiths shop, to the mixer depots on site crossing over Reilly’s bogs.
AIR MINISTRY OFFICIALS, STAFF AND
Their offices were also sited near the top of the Slatemill Road, Dunavil.
Manager - Mr Fitzford. (Lancastor)
Senior Engineer - Mr Martin.
Second Engineer - Mr Wilton
Quantity Surveyor, Mr Philip Davidson (Bangor) he stayed in Mr Hamilton’s House at Cranfield with his wife during the construction period.
Electrical Engineer, Mr Bissit.
Office Staff - Mr James Mc Kibben. (Newcastle)
- Mr Billy Griffiths.
Clerk of Works - Mr Hugh Forsythe. (Ballinran)
AIR MINISTRY MAINTENANCE
Messrs J and R.W.Taggart (Belfast) Later started Private development at Newcastle. His Foreman was Mr W.E. Jones (Annalong). Clerk of Works, Mr Jimmy Valentine he travelled around the sites on a motor cycle inspecting the work being carried out.
AIR MINISTRY POWER WORKERS
Mr Charles Davidson who lived close to the airfield gave up a steady job in the Northern Ireland Transport Board to work at the base for an attraction of better pay. He was one of a small number of local civilian people employed by the British air Ministry working round the clock on eight-hour shifts, as one of a team of six as a engineer’s mate. Their work was not hard, he said, watching dials and throwing switches to supply emergency power when needed. “(This only happened once)” in the fourteen months period he worked in the power house.
Other men who worked with Charlie in the power house were Gordon Quinn, Fred Moore, Jack McKee, John Norris, all from Kilkeel, and Norman McConnell, from Annalong. The Boiler House Supervisors were Mr Robert Coulter, from Kilkeel and Mr John Hanna, from Warrenpoint.
An official work pass belonging to Mr.
J. Charles Davidson, Dunavil on 2nd May, 1944. Place of occupation: Stand-by Set
GROUNDS MAINTENANCE WORKMEN
Foreman Mr John Forsythe, Cranfield.
15 men full time employed only 12 known names (listed).
• Jim Sloane.
• Patrick Rooney.
• Willie Quinn.
• Dick Coffey.
• Willie Hanna.
• Thomas Boyd.
• James Mulvenny
• Hugh Seeds.
• Jimmy Flanagan.
• Hugh Moffett and James Edgarton, Kilkeel, both (Lorry Drivers)
• Hugh Mc Crink (Tractor Driver)
FENCING OFF THE GRAZING AREAS
In 1946 The British Air Ministry erected a temporary fence around the five mile perimeter of the aerodrome covering approximately 308 acres of grass land. 7O% of the fence was erected with tubular iron piping clamped in position and covered with chain link wire 5’ high. The remaining length of fence was erected from concrete and wooden posts covered with sheep mesh and barbed wire secured to the top of posts.
This fence enabled the Air Ministry to lease or rent the grazing to the local farmers on a yearly basis. The first letting was from 16-12-1946. The total grass area was divided into three lots.
Lot 1. The largest area was let to Mr Joseph Henderson.
Lot 2. The technical area 14 acres of which were taken by Mr Robert Boden for £50.00 per yeat
Lot 3. The second largest area was let to Mr Robert Reilly and the Chestnutt Bros.
This annual letting continued until the early sixty’s when the Airfield was sold in Lots back to its previous owners, who got first preference if they were still in the area and were still interested. Around 1950 the Air Ministry let out the grazing in one Lot to Mr Joesph Henderson, he in turn let the grazing rights to the local farmers on a headage rate, which was £6 per year or 10 shillings per month each. Their were hundreds of cattle grazing together on the aerodrome at any one time and to identify his stock each farmer branded his initials on their hoofs.
In 1944 compensation payments were made to the home and land owners two years after the Vesting order was placed and their property taken from them. Worse was still to come as compensation was based on the 1938 English valuation back dated 6 years which was much lower than the Irish rate. In 1942 one land owner lost 7 statue acres from the best part of his farm. Two years later after Valuation was agreed he received his compensation payment, which worked out at £165.00 per acre. There was no interest allowed for the two years waiting. Twenty-one years later in 1963-64 the British Air Ministry appointed W.J. Annett and James Annett & Sons auctioneers and valuers Kilkeel to conduct the sale of the land back to its original owners (those who were still living in and around the area). Grassland was sold for the sum of £90.00 per statue acre, whilst Concrete areas were sold for £15.00 per statue acre. Other agreements were reached between neighbouring farmers regarding sale of land. Many moved out of the area and never returned back to the Emerald green fields of Greencastle and the undulating triangle of Mourne.
In 1942 two Dunavil farmers James and William Morgan had their 20 acre farm and dwelling house taken from them under the acquisition order. After 2 years they received £3,000 which was £150.00 per statue acre.
HOW THE COASTGUARD HELPED
The coastguards at Kilkeel rendered valuable service to the station by using their searchlights to guide incoming aircraft, which had been damaged in air raids over Germany. The late Mr Frank Mc Cullagh, B.E.M. who was officer in charge of the Kilkeel Coastguard station during the war, wrote in one of his reports, “Each look-out Coastguard station was provided with powerful searchlights and four stroke engines, so we were able to send a ribbon of light along the coast from one look-out to another and, finally to airfield with illuminated runways. By this means we were able to guide many aircraft back to base. I consider this was one of the best services we provided during the war, at least in this area”. The foregoing work was much appreciated by the American Authorities.
Creencastle Aerodrome was opened on 30th July 1942, but it was over a year before the Americans occupied it. The aerodrome was restored to the R.A.F. on 3W May 1945 and on that occasion the Ministry of Information allowed a little slightly inaccurate publicity. By the end of 1944 Creencastle alone remained in American hands. A chapter was ended in Ulster’s wartime activities at Greencastle County Down, when the last of the R.A.E aerodromes occupied by the U.S.A.A.E was handed back. The 350 acre base at Greencastle, the runways of which have enough concrete in them to lay a nine foot wide roadway from Belfast to Londonderry, was a vital link in the United States’ constant flow of bomber crew replacements. The station was a throbbing hive of activity. From its broad acres overlooking the Irish Sea trained air crew men came from the States. At Greencastle the bombers were crewed up - skilled individuals became members of a team - and replacements for lost crews operating from British bases were flown out every day. The former airfield is now remarkable for the fact that most of the buildings and works including runaways have been removed.
High land values and sand gravel deposits are the main reason for this. Only about a 300 yard length of one of the three runaways is left intact and the broken concrete of others has been used to form new field divisions in the place of the Mourne granite dry stones walls. Part of the only remaining group of dispersals is used as a base for holiday caravans. The control Tower 12779/41 type still stands, the ground floor is used as a piggery. Many remains of buildings used by the airforce are still in evidence, particularly at the industrial estate site, formerly owned by the Author of this book. The scenic and peaceful area of Greencastle became, temporarily, a theatre of war, with over two square miles of good farming country being cleared for the construction of an Aerodrome during the years 1941-43.
THE MOURNES FROM ALOFT
The young pilots got to know our Co.Down from a perspective unfamiliar to local people, Landmarks from aloft such as the Mournes, Bays, Lakes, Rivers, Sandy Beaches, Towns, and scattered dwellings. Above all the Americans remarked about the “vivid green patchwork fields”. One flight engineer said when his pilots were flying the Marauders over the Irish sea, “we fly closer some times than we should, just to take a look at the Mourne Coast line South East of Carlingford Lough”. The machines of war that once climbed into the sky from Greencastle to help secure the freedom of the world, flown by the brave young men from America, did their job well in those days so long ago. Now on a spring day nothing more noisy than a Skylark climbs into the sky. Peace and quiet has returned to the Creencastle area.
PREHISTORIC BURIAL SITE “LOUGHANANKA”
Unfortunately the latter was obliterated by our American allies to make way for the construction of the Aerodrome. This single chambered grave was completely destroyed. It consisted of three massive side walls and two portal pillars, but lacked a cap stone.
It had stood in the centre of a small field, surrounded by a low oval cairn and was overgrown with brushes. Cremated bones and a small Neolithic sherd were picked up in the chamber. The grave stones were removed from the site and dumped down on Dunavil shore. Later the
The prehistoric burial site at Loughananka. Gravestones from
stones were incorporated into the river above are incorporated into the river bank on
bank on Mr Joseph Henderson’s farm. Mr. Joseph Henderson’s farm.
Greencastle not surprisingly hosted several distinguished visitors. Prior to ‘Operation Overlord’ or D-Day, the Supreme Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower (who was to become the President of the United States) flew into Greencastle airfield on 17 May 1944. He was met by General Irwin and viewed the 5th Infantry and Divisional Artillery, which were drawn up on the airfield. After lunch he moved on to Newcastle.
In 1943-44 Miss Edna Mc Cormick, (Ballymartin) now Mrs Willie John Bingham, (Annalong) was employed at Cranfield by the American Red Cross in the Canteen as a waitress. During that time she had the privilege to serve the top table. On the 17th May 1944 she served a meal to General Dwight D. Eisenhower. He was so impressed by the service he gave Edna a tip of 10 shillings. Edna also served meals to General Patton, Lieutenant White and many high ranking American officers. During her time of stay her wage was £4-5 per week (with tips extra)
on 30th March, 1944 General George Patton addressing the troops at Greencastle.
1974 ‘Fatima’, Dunavil — site meeting
with John Newell (author of this book) the then owner of the property and his
uncle Willie Newell in discussion about the site clearance operations about to start.
COMPULSORY ACQUISITION ORDER
WITH 72 HOUR NOTICE TO QUIT
List of names offarm and home owners who had their homes demolished to make way for the construction of the Aerodrome at Greencas tie.
Mrs David Coffey, Russell & Hugh Coffey, Andrew & Richard Coffey, Thomas Hanna and George Henderson. (Vacant House Owner Alex Mc Kee).
Jim Doyle, Hugh 0’ Brien, Harry Mc Veigh, Jimmy Mc Veigh, Miss Sarah Cunningham, Curran Family, Willie & James Morgan, Edward (Ted) Gaffney, Mr & Mrs Millar (Rail Carriage).
Felix Cole, Pat 0’ Hagan, Felix Morgan, John & Hugh Morgan, Joe Mc Kay, Dick Mackin,
Frank Newell, Jonny Hamilton (Gatehouse), Joe Gonsalves, Willie Quinn, Mrs Nicholson,
Robert J. Crutchley, John Mc Kibben, Paddy Flanagan, Willie Crutchley, Henry Morgan (2
Miss Mary Ann Sibbet (Slatemill), Jimmy Norris, Charles Edgar. (A total of 35 homes).
1974 ‘Fatima’, Dunavil — site meeting with John Newell (author of this book) the then owner of the property and his
uncle Willie Newell in discussion about the site clearance operations about to start.
Have you seen our might monster yet the aerodrome, I mean!
The most voracious parasite the world has ever seen.
His stomachs lined with concrete and his ribs are made of steel.
His size is so enormous he would scare the very devil.
He was but a backward baby just a little while ago, and the people used to wonder would he ever start to grow; But I’m not exaggerating, ‘tis the gospel truth I say, you couldn’t walk around him now in less than half a day.
He had an English accent with a dash of random slang, and sometimes you might notice just a hint of a Yankee twang. He never rests in daytime, and never sleeps at night, but the strangest thing about him is his awful appetite.
He will eat a field for breakfast and for dinner three or four, and no matter when you meet him he is prowling round for more. He’ll devour a whole plantation while you’d eat a sausage roll, and he crunches roads in sections and he swallows houses whole!
He is very fond of hedges, iron gates and fencing wire, of grazing fields and meadow-land he never seems to tire; He ate the forty acres, and declared that they were grand. Then he made a dainty mouthful of the road down to the strand.
The day he called our Jamie how he smacked his lips with glee, your soil looks appetising, sir, “I’ll take a bite” says he. Of course my friend, I didn’t intend to do you any harm, and then he gave a hearty laugh and swallowed Jamie’s farm!
Next day he met with Andy and he shouted out “hello!” Said Andy “go to blazes” but the monster didn’t go. He turned instead and raised his head and cast a look around, and then began to gorge himself on Andy’s tasty ground.
One morning in the summer time, while spying out the land,
He thought he’d like to try the taste of Willie’s lovely sand.
He swallowed tons and tons of it and called it splendid stuff.
Said Willie “devil choke ye, will you never have enough?”
While strolling up the plantin side he chanced to come across a man who owned a pair of fields convenient to the cross; “you seem to me” the monster said, “benevolent and kind, and if I ate s field of yours I’m sure you wouldn’t mind.”
“Its just like this” the man replied,” you will or else you won’t, and I know it doesn’t matter if I mind or if I don’t.
But all the same one field, I hope, will be enough for you.”“Of course it will” the monster said and promptly ate the two!
Some day when he is thirsty he may swallow Johnny’s pump, and even Sammy’s up the road, might perish in his gut. The sea itself in danger and the day we yet might see; when he drains it to the bottom while you’d drink a cup of tea.
You may watch him eat your acres, but you darn’t say a word, and to threaten him with violence would be really too absurd, for he mesmerise people till they cannot raise a hand, and he tells them fairy stories while he gobbles up their land.
Yet of all the stuff he swallows, houses, hedges, fields and trees.
It would seem that really nothing with his stomach disagrees;
If you said your soil was poisoned, he would smile and scoff-
though he ate a field of Sarah’s once, and had to throw it off.
It is very strange and curious since the day that he arrived, how some country folk prospered and the pubs and shops have thrived; Where they used to count their pennies, now they count their pounds; Faith no wonder some salute him when they meet him on their rounds.
He amuses while he mystifies the simple rustic Folks, with his appetite, his accent and his small ironic Jokes, and whether he’ll be leaving us or whether he will stay. If you ask him he will answer that he really cannot say.
His business he will not reveal, though once he went as far as to say, he’s building up his strength to finish up the war, and in the placid times of peace declared
He would be our friend and benefactor. So we’ll have to wait and see!
Penned by a poet unknown - this is a
light hearted view of things that happened around that time.
The people to whom it was happening took a more serious view.
This poem was based on the activities of the D8 Dozer as seen below.
Along with six other airfields in Northern Ireland, Greencastle airfield near Kilkeel, Co Down, was acquired on August 3, 1943, by the 8th Air Force Composite Command, a subordinate of the 8th US Army Air Force and opened as Army Air Force Station 237.Built by the British during 1942, the 350 acre base had four T2 hangars; the main runway ran NE-SW parallel to the sea and was about 1.5 miles in length and 150ft wide. Concrete was no less than 6’’ thick, at places 9’’.
Like the other Combat Crew Replacement Centres, Greencastle was a training base, giving skills to new crews in gunnery and bombing techniques, and making up replacement for crews lost in action. From Greencastle, Cluntoe, Toome and Mullaghmore, crews would leave Ireland and join combat squadrons in East Anglia and Norfolk. For many aircrew straight from the States, a Northern Ireland CCRC would be their first step on European soil.
By December 1943, the primary AAF units at Greencastle were 4th Replacement and Training Sqn. (Bomb); 4th Gunnery and TT Flight (SP); 5th Airdrome Sqn.; 8th Air Force Anti-Aircraft Machine Gunnery School; 65th Airdrome Sqn.; 84th Station Complement Sqn.; Det. A. 1262nd Military Police Company (AVN); Det. A. 1730th Ordnance Sqn. Company (AVN); Det D1056th Q.M. Company Service Group (AVN) and Det. 237, 18th Weather Sqn.
Aircraft stationed at and flying into Greencastle at the time included the B-17, B-24, B-26, P-47, A-20 and A-28. Aircraft carried out gunnery practice near Dundrum Bay, also bombing practice and air to air firing off Annalong and Ballymartin. It was Greencastle that generals Eisenhower and Patton flew into, in the months leading up to D-Day, to inspect troops of the US 5th Infantry Division stationed throughout Co Down with their HQ at Donard Lodge in Newcastle. After D-Day, Greencastle began a rundown, but joined the other CCRCs in becoming storage and replacement depots for hundreds of aircraft. It finally closed in 1945, and the rumble and rushing air noise of aircraft left Greencastle forever.
Although in the 1960s the runways were
all broken up and used by farmers in walls, Greencastle has one of the best
preserved instructional sites in Northern Ireland, through usage by private
ownership and light industry. The motor pool shed is in very good order,
although the tower is fast decaying and no hangars remain. Nevertheless,
Greencastle still holds an atmosphere of those past gone days.