|RAF/RCAF Digby : Recollections of Charles Durrett|
Updated: 2 Oct 08
Charles Durrett was posted to Digby early in 1941as a Liaison Officer between the flying squadrons and contractors.
Having left Cranwell on promotion to Flight Sergeant, my new post was to act as Liaison Officer between three Royal Canadian Air Force fighter squadrons based at Digby and the builders constructing two satellite airfields at Navenby and Wellingore a few miles from Digby in opposite directions. When completed, two of the Squadrons would occupy these satellites.
The three squadrons were the pride of the Canadian Air Force and were numbered 1, 2 and 3. Whilst in the UK they were re-numbered 401, 402 and 403 to avoid confusion with RAF squadrons. As the war developed, they distinguished themselves on daytime fighter sweeps over Northern France and the English Channel. They were equipped with Hurricane fighter aircraft.
The Squadrons were to occupy Wellingore Hall as their Administrative HQ as it was conveniently situated for both satellite airfields. Until the domestic accommodation was built, they would also reside therein as it was a huge building. My first task was to arrange for all furniture and moveable equioment to be removed from the hall into the custody of a local Estate Agent, and to catalogue all such items. This proved to be a most interesting experience.
The Hall had remained unoccupied since before World War I and at first sight was reminiscent of the scenes from the film of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. The wallpaper was peeling from the walls. Enormous cobwebs were festooned all over the place which had been shuttered for 25 years or so. Most of the heavy curtains had rotted at the windows. In the huge library, hundreds of books were mouldering on the shelves. The vast kitchen was a heart-breaking sight wth its rusting equipment, particularly the large coal-fired ranges literally red with rust. In the outbuildings was a 1908 Daimler Benz motor car and also a complete chemistry laboratory and photographic darkroom with some partly developed glass plate pictures. Inside the house, one large drawing room had been fitted out as an engineering workshop and the lathes were still there, covered in grime and rust.
I cannot now recall the name of the owner of the house but I gether from the local gossip that he was an inventive genius. The story goes that just prior to World War I he worked with a German assistance chemist. As a result of their experiments, they discovered the formula to produce aniline dyes which I gathered were the first really successful permanent dyes. The owner left for Lincoln the next morning and caught a train to London to patent the discovery. Upon arriving at the Patent Office, he learned that his so called partner had already filed the patent earlier that day, having travelled to London the previous evening for this purpose. It appears that this perfidy unhinged his mind and he never returned to Wellingore Hall. One other of his inventions was a sprinkler system as a method of fire fighting. The flat roof of the Hall had been converted into what was, in effect, a huge swimming pool which was lead lined. This caught any rainfall. The water could be gravity fed through valves in the ceiling of each room or corridor should the occasion arise.
Within a fortnight, the Hall had been cleared, cleaned and made habitable. Even the kitchens acheived some of their original pristine glory. The Canadians moved in and the construction of the two satellite airfields continued apace and, by early August were completed, and with them my task. I enjoyed my brief stay with the Canadians and being the only Englishman on the site was something of a novelty.
Accordingly I packed my kit for a move to RAF Aston Down in my native Gloucestershire and adventures new.
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