RAF CROFT

Main entrance to Croft 1956 - Picture NAMAE Beacon

 

Croft in 2001

RAF Croft became tenanted by the USAF in 1955 to provide a processing point for personnel and dependants when Burtonwood was assigned the additional function of a MATS terminal for passenger flights between the US and UK.  The terminal was located at Prestwick in Scotland.

Unaccompanied personnel were billeted in single rooms and messing facilities were described as being above standard.  Exchange facilities were limited  as of June 1956 but a large theatre was located on the station and regularly showed 16mm films.

Centrally heated accommodation

 

Messing facilities

 

Modern kitchen

I have very little information about Croft at this time but if you know more I would like to hear from you.  A visit to the remains of RAF Croft in 2001 afforded the opportunity to take a number of photographs.  Click on the thumbnails to see a larger version.

 

Theatre

Theatre

Mess Halls

Ancient graffiti?

Headquarters

Needs a new bulb!

The cupboard is bare

In need of re-wiring!

Serving hatches

One hell of a party!!

On the roof

?

 


 

Bill Doyle, Association member, served at Croft in the 1950s and here is his account of the activities on site:

What I knew as RAF Croft started as additional living accommodation for H.M.S. Gosling located at Risley. H.M.S. Gosling was commissioned on 8 October 1942 and was paid off in 1946. That station was dedicated to the Fleet Air Arm and was a training base. H.M.S. Aeriel was also paid off and on 1 February 1956 was opened up as RAF Croft to process people in and out of the U.K. Although it was called RAF Croft it should not be confused with another RAF Croft which was up north and used by the RCAF during the war.

The base mission was to include billeting, feeding transients and coordinating movements with U.S. units in England and Scotland. According to the 1958 Burtonwood yearbook the yearly average was around the 60,000 mark. At that time Burtonwood was the major airhead for the U.K. I believe that the base was capable of accommodating around 400 people but many were processed straight through and others only stayed one night. Services were limited but there was a small snack bar for sandwiches and beer, a movie theater, nursery and of course the mess hall which was open 24 hours a day to handle late arrivals and departures. We even had a civilian taxi which operated out of the base. Jack Higham was there most days and did quite a bit of business between the base and Warrington as well as Manchester. The best part of it was that Jack would grant credit to permanent party when the end of the month was looming.

We were certainly a mixed bag when it came to permanent party and transients. Almost anybody who had some military connection and flew MATS (Military Air Transport Service) came through. USAF, U.S.N. USCG, Exchange People, civilians working on missile programs and of course dependent wives and children. Later on when I worked in the ATCO in Mildenhall I found that we shipped twice as many people out as we shipped in. It must be all that cold and fog which caused part of the increase in dependents but I donít think that many single military types made it out of England without a wife if they served a full tour. Base personnel were a mixed bag as well. Local people came on the base to work in the offices, to do the cleaning and other various duties. Although Det 1, 7500th Air Base Group was the parent unit when it came to processing the passenger there were also men from the 1625th Support Squadron. It was pretty much of a self contained base with our own air police, cooks, bakers, air passenger specialists, finance, postal, civilian firemen, supply et al. We even had a full time civilian worker from American Express to run the money exchange. She lived on base to provide 24 hour service for transients when they came through. People would come in with greenback dollars to exchange for pounds and Mickey mouse money (Script).

Given the weather being a greater factor in those days and no direct flights from the states without refueling stops for the propeller aircraft of the time, the base did not always run smoothly in the processing of passengers. Fog and weather determined the ebb and flow of passengers. If Burtonwood was fogged in several things could happen. Croft could be full of people waiting for the weather to change so they could get back to the Z.I. As good as the facilities were they still were not equivalent to a large base or your permanent station. If the weather was persistently bad transients would be held at their home base until time to move. An empty base would give the shift workers a good break until traffic came through again. Some one could correct me if I am wrong but I think most of the passengers were airlifted by C-118s, along with a few C-97s and C-121s. I also think that a good bit of the cargo was carried by Old Shaky the C-124. Since I was not stationed at B/Wood the aircraft were not really noted. Civilian contractors flying for MATS would probably fly DC-6s and 7s.  Never really trusted them as  the contracts were awarded on a lowest bid per seat mile.  Some of them looked distinctly war weary by the time they landed up with a 3 aircraft airline  with a name (ficticious) like Podunk Air Service. 

There was also a movie theater and Charlie Quirk ran it in the evenings. When there were a lot of transients on the base the movie would fill up and Charlie would get paid. On those rare nights when the base was empty he would organize a few of the permanent party to pay a dollar to up the numbers where he could show the film and   get paid. On those days when there were plenty of patrons we had free movies.

Since Croft was a 24hour seven day week operation there were more shift workers than days workers which worked to my advantage. As a Staff Sergeant the only extra duty I had was Mess Check and that came up pretty often. It was more complicated than the usual check as most of the people had to pay for their rations instead of having a mess pass. Quite a bit of money changed hands and it all had to be accounted for. If you had a shortage you had to make it up out of your pocket. If you were over you wondered how you manage to short change someone. As a day worker I would switch with someone who had to work weekends so I could have a free weekend.

Another advantage of Croft was that it was not too far away from Padgate Teachers College which was packed with a hundred or two hundred trainee teachers and one lone male. It was happy hunting ground and I got caught early meeting my future wife of 39 years only 21 days after arriving in May. She graduated in June or July and I had already told her that I was going to marry her. Our reputation was not too great at the college and she insisted I show her proof that I was single. My last discharge was in Hawaii and my DD 214 said that I had no dependents so that settled her down. Proving you were single is difficult. Anyway courting her was more important than staying on base. Being in Administration meant that I was not actively involved in passenger movements so some of my observations may be off or superficial.

The new British wives came in all shapes and sizes but they had to be pretty brave to latch up with an airman, have kids with them, and at the end of the tour head for another country. I did hear of some that bailed out at the last minute before heading up the ramp to the aircraft but did not witness that myself. There were a few reactions to the food in the mess hall though. Corn (Indian type) was not common to the U.K. then and some of the women thought that it was pretty rude to feed them stuff which was normally fed to the pigs. I'm not too sure what they thought of the food generally but the troops thought it was a pretty good mess hall.  Msgt Sims was the mess sergeant and he later (I think) was sent down to run the officer's mess at Lancaster Gate. 

Commercial buses ran between Burtonwood, Croft and Bank Quay station.  For some bases   hired buses transported people within the U.K. There was a bus turnaround with a flag pole in the center and during one foggy night an Air Policeman found a slightly drunk airman following the curb trying to find his barracks. He spent about 20 minutes going round in circles.On really foggy nights coming out of the snack bar the building lights faded out after about 20 feet and nothing could be seen beyond that. My technique was to walk out the door and turn left about 30 degrees and I knew then that I would bang into the building that I lived in.

The barracks were frame structures with brick entrances which looked like they were designed as partial bomb shelters to deflect blast. I might be wrong but the brickworkís may have enclosed the bathroom and showers. There was even a bathtub in there. On a damp and cold night a good soak would ease the weary bones. I vaguely recall that my room even had a sink and mirror and to top it off we had radiators and steam heat from a central power plant. I understand that the quarters for the transients were similar but I never wandered over that side of the base. Saw enough of the people coming through in the messhall, in the snack bar, and other places. These particular structures were called Butler Buildings and bore no resemblance to a Quonset or Nissen hut. 

Some of the airman on base had bicycles and made it around that way but as soon as possible I bought a clapped out 52 Hillman which was enough to get me down to Madeley Near Crewe where my girl friend lived with her parents and started teaching in Newcastle. My future mother in law cautioned her to expect me to drop off as 40 miles was a long way. Six years later when I finished up a tour in Korea and traveled more than halfway around the earth to rejoin my wife I asked the mother-in-law if she still thought 40 miles was a long way for me to travel. The Hillman was o.k. for local travel but when I got transferred to Mildenhall it couldnít make the distance. The engine blew up outside Alconbury.

Since the unit received more than its fair share of welfare funds we were able to have things paid for by the unit rather than coming out of our pockets. According to the morning report we were a four or five hundred man unit. It may have been more as we probably picked them up when they arrived but did not drop them until they were picked up by the next unit. On 4 July 1958 we had a squadron party at Bell Vue Park in Manchester. I donít know what it is now but it was a fun park in those days with roller coasters, side shows, bumper cars and the lot. There must have been more than a hundred people there with the unit. Had our own tent with food provided by the mess hall, beer and soft drinks and almost unlimited ride tickets. The star attraction for some of the men who had a few beers was the bumper cars. Head on collisions were the order of the day and I think that one of the men came out of it with a chipped vertebrae. About two weeks after the event I went down there to settle up with the park. The man who was still repairing his cars was not keen on having us show up again.

We also had the opportunity to go down to Manchester to see some of the plays and shows down there paid from the squadron funds. By American standards they were pretty racy and I remember the double and triple meanings to the jokes. I especially remember one with Dickie Dawson who at the time was married to Diana Dors or Jane Mansfield. Lots of jokes about large chests in that one. The unit also sponsored a bowling team held at Burtonwood. With that sort of money available we could also hire a band and hold dances which attracted a good many local girls. In the self funded area there was a lot of betting on the horses and dogs.

It wasnít all sweetness and light though as there were some skullduggery going on all the time. My first introduction was when the Base Sergeant Major ran down a list of people on the base. Who to associate with-who to avoid, who to trust and not trust. My first impression was that he was a bit paranoid but Iím glad I followed his advice.My training under MSgt Don Brown really helped me throughout my career.   The crap really hit the fan about two or three months before the base closed. There were all sorts of allegations and Croft became an item of interest to the tabloids. Not too sure of who was doing what but will not mention names as some of the participants may still be around. There was a lot of visitors from the Auditors, from the Adjutant Generals Office as well as a from the O.S.I. One day I asked on of the agents what he was looking for? His reply was "This place is a bucket of worms and Iím waiting for some of the worms to stick their heads up." There was a lot of smoke but from what Iíve learned over the years was that not many people got seriously hurt over the allegations. What I did know at the end was that everyone connected with the base was eager to get the hell out of there. I do remember Lt Wilson, who stood pretty tall in my books, ordering me to type up a Special Order relieving the Commander and placing him in command. I had never done one of those orders before but figured it out from the manual. All I could think of was "shades of the Caine Mutiny".

Anyway when flying operations closed at Burtonwood and passengers were processed through Mildenhall the system changed quite a bit. As most of the bases were in the south it was possible to have them check in four hours before the flight for most of them. Personnel from Croft were scattered far and wide although around 10 or 12 of us were sent to Mildenhall where we were designated as the USAF Air Traffic Coordinating Office. This unit controlled the flow of passengers and cargo through Mildenhall as well as manning the check in an weighing of baggage.

Phasing down the base took some time as all the property had to be turned in to supply at Burtonwood and the barracks etc. had to be left in pristine condition. We must have burned at least ten tons of trash. At the end there were only three of us left. The mess was long gone so we got $5 per day or something near that so we ate pretty well even if it was mainly fish and chips. We moved into the guardroom at the front gate until it was time to turn over the base to the RAF. All of our work cleaning up the base was for nothing. When I visited the base in 91/92 The mess hall was full of chickens and all the barracks were gone. The only trace of the barracks were the floor tiles on the ground. Other buildings held farm machinery and the base probably will be bulldozed out of existence when the developers need the land for housing.

 


Another "inmate" at Croft was Lenny Bourton now aged 83 (2005).  Lenny was an Air Articifer in the Fleet Air Arm and trained at Croft in 1943.  Here are some pictures of Lenny supplied by his son Andrew Bourton.

Click on the thumb nails for a larger version

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