Bringing to life the role of a Ryedale airfield

Gazette & Herald: Tony Clark and Caroline Brannigan with the new book Tony Clark and Caroline Brannigan with the new book

THE role played by an airfield in Ryedale in the Second World War has been brought to life.

Tony Clark, a former mayor of Kirkbymoorside, who researched the story with historian author Caroline Brannigan, said the book, Wombleton In-The-Mud, tells of RAF Wombleton airfield, a bomber crew training base, where in 2001, thanks to a campaign by Mr Clark, a memorial was unveiled to mark the role played at the airfield by Canadian and British airmen and women.

While officially an RAF station, it was run by the Canadians.

Mr Clark MBE said: “The dramatic impact of the airfield is now fading into distant memory – hence the reason for researching its history and writing the book.

“Most of those who served at Wombleton were in their teens or early 20’s. Some lost their lives during training, others were killed or maimed later while on active service. The many Canadians among them had already braved a dangerous Atlantic crossing just to get here, and all had volunteered.”

After the unveiling of the memorial Mr Clark found boxes and boxes of stories and photographs about the base, which have been used in the book. He said: “Everyone can share in the humour and tragedy, the high jinks and deep discomfort of a base so water-logged that it gained the nickname Wombleton-in-the-Mud.”

The book has been financed by Ryedale Folk Museum, in Hutton-le-Hole, and through private donations.

One veteran, Chuck Will, who is pictured on the front cover, said: “Hundreds of air force people will be forever grateful to Tony for his dream and determination to create the memorial. With many hours of hard work he and his equally- determined committee, brought it all to fruition.”

Miss Brannigan, a renown memoir writer who specialises in writing life stories, said: “My passion is capturing stories. From the letters which came to light about Wombleton, we were able to almost talk to those who served at the station. It has been marvellous to have been able to access so much wonderful material.”

Records show there were about 2,000 personnel stationed at Wombleton, but the book also features stories of local residents and their memories of those who were stationed there.

One recalls how a bomber dragged down overhead lines near the village, and how local people were encouraged to go to see films at the base.

Records show that 25 aircraft based at the station were lost, and how Sutton Bank posed a particular problem to pilots. “As many people died in training as in action from Wombleton,” said Mr Clark. They numbered 68 Canadians, 21 British, three Australians, one American and one South African.

“Young Canadians and British bomber crews worked alongside each other, struggling at first with clapped-out aircraft which had been rejected for active service and these claimed many lives.

“But they took the view that if they were going to die tomorrow, they might as well have a good time today, and in the book veterans and locals tell their stories, both funny and tragic.

“The legacy of Wombleton, for those who survived, was often a lasting link with this corner of Yorkshire. Some Canadians returned later with their families to show them the vale below the moorland where nature and farming were radpidly eradicating signs of the base.”

A tribute to those who served at RAF Wombleton, penned in 1946, said: “The men who flew from Yorkshire soil won 2,222 awards for gallantry up to the end of the war, and many more have since been made.”

The book, which includes a roll of honour created by Robin Wright, of Harome, can be bought from Ryedale Folk Museum.

Share any stories you might have about RAF Wombleton at www.gazetteherald.co.uk

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