No 16 Ferry Pilots Pool - Kirkbride, Cumbria
Kirkbride is in Cumbria, (a large English county in the far north-west which was, until 1974, two smaller counties called Cumberland and Westmorland), in a nice flat bit to the north of the beautiful Lake District, (but dangerously close to Scotland).
It’s absolutely lovely. In summer.
On a fine day.
In terms of flying to it, there be Mountains to the north, east and south, and Sea (the Solway Firth) to the west. For ATA pilots, pretty much the only safe way to get in or out of Kirkbride was to fly through a narrow corridor called the “Barnard Castle Gap”.
On a fine day.
Not that this entirely stopped them, contrary to standing orders, from going “over the top”, above the cloud, and hoping for the best (see see under “Accidents and Incidents - Fatalities”).
A Posting to Kirkbride was referred to as “being sent to the salt mines”.
[FYI, “this term alludes to the Russian practice of punishing prisoners by sending them to work in the salt mines of Siberia”]
Kirkbride Airfield and the ATA
The Main Site, and Areas ‘B’ and ‘C’
Kirkbride Airfield opened in May 1939. To begin with, it was the home of No 12 Maintenance Unit, RAF, who stored and maintained factory-fresh aeroplanes before sending them to operational squadrons.
It covers a very large area; apart from the Main Site (with 3 hangars), there are also Sites ‘A’ to ‘F’ (each originally with 2 hangars). Its longest runway (10/28) is 4,200ft/1280m long; one of its fifteen hangars (in Site ‘F’) has since burned down.
In 1941, the ATA (in the shape of a Commanding Officer, five pilots, an adjutant, a clerk, and a driver) moved into “a sort of lean-to shed along the outside walls of one of the large hangars”, and set up No 16 Ferry Pilots Pool, the last of the ATA Ferry Pools to be established.
The “primitive” lean-to shed still exists, and is still in use as offices:
As does, obviously, the hangar against which it leans:
This, from ‘Brief Glory’, was taken (almost) from the same viewpoint, during WWII.
So, the tree is obviously new, and the building on the left (which was built as the ATA’s second headquarters)…
… has grown into the ‘White Heather’ Hotel (only open Wednesdays and Sundays, and very popular for a Senior Citizens’ Lunch, apparently)
Other than that, Kirkbride gave me the distinct impression that the ATA and RAF had only just moved out, despite it being about 60 years ago (76 years ago in the case of the ATA).
Some of the 14 hangars are used as warehouses (cardboard, for example, in one), others for small business units.
Many of the RAF buildings still exist, looking rather like they must have done at the end of WWII.
A tour of the Main Site
Although the ATA buildings – the office, canteen, garage and workshops, 2 workmen’s huts and 2 air raid shelters – are all now covered by the White Heather Hotel, many of the original RAF buildings still exist. The airmen’s’ barracks, the Officers’ Quarters, and the tennis court have gone, though…
Starting at the Warden’s Office and Cycle Shed
The NAAFI, and the Works Service Building
Works Service Building, Station HQ
Ventilation for the paint shop which was in another hangar
More primitve lean-to sheds, on other hangars
The three hangars on the Main Site.
A ‘Latrine Block’
And they had air raid shelters, in case of dastardly bombing raids on Cumbria:
… not to mention pop-up (i.e., cunningly concealed beneath the concrete by the side of the runways) machine gun nests, to shred the tyres of dastardly aircraft as they landed.
Motor vehicle sheds, one now housing the Fire Station
And the original Control Tower, with a modern loft extension
And everywhere at Kirkbride, the slow dark menace of the distant hills.
Anyway, back to the ATA
That first C.O. was Sydney Watson Ogden, born 14 Apr 1906, in Newcastle-on-Tyne (so, luckily, he was used to terrible weather):
He had joined the ATA in August 1940, and served until it was wound up in November 1945, ending up as a Commander. (Strangely, though, he was not one of the 17 ATA people with the rank of Commander or above, to be awarded a medal after the war). [And Senior Commander Pauline Gower only got a measly MBE, have I mentioned this before?]
On the 27 Nov 1941, Stanley was replaced by Samuel Herbert Yardley (who did get a medal - an OBE - after the War).
Bert was born 6 Mar 1902 in Birmingham (so, luckily, he was used to terrible weather) and before the war, he ran a pub, The 'Robin Hood', in Litcfhfield.
He had joined the ATA in the very first batch of pilots, on the 11 September 1939, and transferred the ownership of the pub to his wife, Ethel, a few weeks later.
In early 1942, however, Maitland Boucher thought that "The organisation of 16FPP has not stood the test of expansion. Commander Yardley tries to do too much himself."
To help him, the ATA "robbed other pools of highly efficient Adjutants", and the situation gradually improved "undoubtedly largely due to the efforts of Commander Yardley" - to the extent that (the Head of ATA) Gerard d'Erlanger then criticized him for not doing enough ferry work himself.
[Bert died in 1949]
ATA Women Pilots
Although primarily a male pilots Pool, these women pilots were briefly based at Kirkbride:
Glass, Mabel (W.9) 26 Jan to 9 Feb 1943, 2 to 29 Mar 1943
Patterson, Gabrielle Ruth Millicent (W.14) Jan to Mar 1943
de Bunsen , Mary Berta (W.44) Jan to Mar 1943 (including an accident on 16 Feb at Donibristle; her Spitfire IIc swung and the port undercarriage collapsed).
Chapin, Emily (W.96) 28 Jan to 11 Feb 1943
Laster-Anderson, Opal Pearl (W.88) 20 Nov 1943 to 25 Mar 1944
Four local ATA pilots who died in WWII are buried in Carlisle Cemeteries:
Irene Arckless – see Arckless, Irene (W.47)
Joseph Francis Wheelock
Alexander Scott – see Scott, Alexander
Ronald Porter – see Porter, Ronald Arthur
and there is a memorial near Fingland for
Walter ‘Wal’ Handley – see Handley, Walter Leslie
And finally, the excellent Solway Aviation Museum is nearby, with a nice selection of post-war aircraft, and several exhibitions, including one highlighting local ATA pilots.
August-September 2021. With grateful thanks to John Huggon, Dougie Kerr, and everyone at Kirkbride Airfield.