Carnaby Airfield Memorial

A report on our meeting held 2nd October 2017

Our new Prior Bro Garry Sunley welcomed members and guests to a new season of Augustinian lectures and looked forward with excitement to the wonderful talks in prospect, which the Prior reminded members are outlined on the society’s web site. He then introduced the speakers Gayna Wallis and Sue Dawson. Their presentation was entitled “Carnaby Airfield Memorial (CAM)”.

Sue explained that CAM was set up by a group of local residents to raise funds to erect a memorial to the brave men associated with the Carnaby Airfield, which is now the Carnaby Industrial Estate, and gave an account of progress so far.

Gayna told the story of Carnaby Airfield. Towards the end of the war our bombers were intensively used to weaken the German infrastructure, but at a heavy cost.  On one night alone on 30th March 1943, 95 out of 795 bombers failed to return. Many were lost for the lack of a suitable landing site.

Carnaby was one of the emergency landing sites developed as a result, although it wasn’t ideal having high ground to the north, Bridlington on the flight path, and being sometimes plagued with fog.  At 3000 yards long and 250 yards wide it was the longest and widest runway built. Gayna showed a wartime photograph giving a pilots eye view from about a mile out to sea.  The landing zone appeared huge even at that distance and must have been a welcome sight. About 1500 aircraft landed at Carnaby between April 1944, when it was opened, and VE day.

The fog problem was countered by employing FIDO, short for Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation. Developed in conjunction with the Anglo Iranian Oil Company it was expensive, but worth it to save much needed aircraft and experienced crews. About 120,000 gallons of fuel an hour were burned alongside the runway. It required 60 men to operate the valves and was used about 250 times. On one night at Carnaby 11 aircraft landed with the aid of FIDO. Gayna showed a wartime video of FIDO in use.

She told the stories and showed photographs of some of men and aircraft involved. One crew member had disappeared through a hole in the fuselage and assumed to be lost. However his parachute shackle had caught up and after several hours in the cold and wind he was found alive and smiling hanging below the aircraft after it had landed at Carnaby.

Gayna told how the airfield was used after the war, including for flight training and as a Thor nuclear ballistic missile base protected by Bloodhound short range missiles.

At the end of Gayna’s talk Sue Dawson reviewed CAM’s future plans and explained how to get involved. Sue also reported that Gayna had now written a second book about Carnaby Airfield.  Both books were available to purchase, and it is not surprising that after such a fascinating talk many members bought them.

Bro John Walker gave the vote of thanks and recalled that as a toddler at his grandparents’ house in Carnaby he saw FIDO in action.  He thanked Sue and particularly Gayna for a wonderful presentation based on her extensive researches.