In 1916, the Royal Flying Corps developed Yatesbury Field to train pilots. There were two camps either side of the minor road from the A4 to the village itself. The West camp comprised the Officers and Men’s quarters with the usual facilities and had three large hangars. The East camp was adjacent to the (now) A4 and again had hangars and workshops. The airfield opened in November 1916 with No. 55 Reserve Squadron arriving from Filton, equipped with the Avro 504A and the Scout D.
Although the War ended in November 1918, training continued into 1919, then Squadrons were sent to Yatesbury to be disbanded. The Station finally closed in early 1920. The land was returned to the original owners and reverted to farmland and this remained the case until 1936.
Alarmed by the rise of Hitler and German militarism it was decided to train more pilots and an existing scheme was expanded. These were the Elementary and Reserve Flying Schools, where anyone could learn the basic flying skill. The Bristol Aeroplane Company (BAC) had been operating a School at Filton in Bristol since 1923 and was asked to set up another. So in 1935, they purchased part of the former Western Airfield and built the Flying School, which opened in early 1936. Training was carried out with Tiger Moth aircraft. This continued until the outbreak of war in September 1939, when pilot training was transferred away to other Stations to allow the field to be used for training airborne wireless operators.
In 1938 the RAF realised it would need a large number of radio operators so built No. 2 Electrical and Wireless School, (later renamed No. 2 Radio School), the camp with the wooden huts we all knew so well. The theory of wireless and Morse code were taught on the ground and Dominie and Proctor aircraft were used for the aerial training. Over 50,000 men successfully passed out from 1939 to 1945 when the war ended. In 1942 a heavily guarded compound was built at the Eastern end of the camp to teach the new top-secret radar. This was originally known as No. 9 RDF School but was quickly changed to No. 9 Radio School, presumably to confuse the Germans. Over 19,000 men and women were trained there.
At the end of the war training largely ceased, (it was used for square bashing for awhile), but with the start of the Cold War the camp got busy again, mainly training radar operators, mechanics and fitters. Large numbers of personnel passed through because of the high proportion of National Servicemen in the RAF. With the end of National Service in 1961 demand reduced, so in 1965 the camp finally closed. Over 70,000 personnel were successfully trained during this period.
The Flying School was briefly used to train pilots after the war but in 1947 was abandoned. From 1954 to 1958 it was converted to RAF Cherhill, 27 Group Headquarters.
In 1969, the wooden huts were demolished and the land returned to agriculture, with the exception of the gymnasium, the only brick building on the camp; the Flying School and buildings abandoned and left to rot.
In 2002 proposals were put forward to modify the Flying School for accommodation and, after a great deal of bureaucracy, work started in 2007. This included the repair of the WW1 hangars.
For more information see RAF Yatesbury The History By Phil Tomaselli
ISBN 0-9548236-0-5 available from the Membership Secretary
This is the camp associated with RAF Yatesbury that very few serving men or women knew about. It was a field to the north of Yatesbury village that was used mainly by the Flying School from 1938 to 1944.
Initially No. 10 ERFTS used it for forced landing practice from February 1938 till the Flying School moved to Weston at the start of the war.
When the Germans started bombing airfields in 1940, it was realised that stored aircraft parked around the perimeter were very vulnerable so a series of Satellite Landing Grounds (SLG) were found. RAF Townsend was chosen as one and from October 1940 it was used by RAF Hullavington to store various aircraft. In May 1940 fifteen aircraft from Hullavington were stored there.
In 2007 a plaque commemorating the site was placed at the entrance to the field.
On 1st August 1941, it was designated No.45 SLG and was used by RAF Lyneham. The site suffered from waterlogging, which reduced the storage capacity so in 1942 a second strip and hard surfaces were provided to bring the capacity up to 76 aircraft. Despite these improvement the site was closed in October 1942 with No. 31 SLG at Everleigh being used instead.
It was retained until November 1944 but not used for storage. No. 2 RS used the field as a satellite for the training aircraft. There was a proposal in 1944 that it could be used by the Royal Navy for aircraft storage but this came to nothing.
The land was returned to farming and the only sign of military occupation is the ruin of brick building used as one of the guard huts.
For the history of this station visit http://www.freewebs.com/comptonbassett/