The creation in the forties of a Second World
War airbase in the middle of Ardboe a quiet, rural area,
changed life there forever. Before the war houses were
thatched and whitewashed. There was no electricity.
The majority of the population were farmers, still depending
on horses and carts.
A FAR AWAY WAR
In 1939 the outbreak of war seemed very far away to
the people of Ardboe. Apart from rationing and an increase
in food production for the war effort, life continued
on as usual.
Rumours began to spread that an airfield was to be built,
although people had no idea what this meant. By 1940
officials had begun to chalk out boundaries and news
began to break that 35 families would have to move.
The airfield was to be built directly in the centre
of Ardboe, in the townland of Kinrush. At the time Kinrush
was the most populated area of Ardboe and the largest
townland. It contained shops, two blacksmiths, a shoe
maker and a railway carriage!
The building of the airfield began on 9 December 1941,
properties were forcibly purchased and livestock and
equipment auctioned off. Some people bought other farms
locally but many left the area never to return.
Mary Forbes tells how she remembers Kinrush:
“A lovely homely place. They had all good farms
and at that time there wasn’t much money, but
they were all surviving all right. All small, all
farmers, good homes. A lot of houses on it you know,
so many houses on it, lovely houses.”
Although Robert Wilkinson remembers it differently:
“Not a very prosperous looking place, meadows
and fields, wee small roads, horses and carts. It
would be hard to picture. And a blacksmith man’s
shop in the middle of it. Thing’s wasn’t
good I can tell you. Wee small roads and lanes, you
couldn’t have got a donkey up them.”
Robert Wilkinson tells how people were informed about
“I think the authorities or the ministry contacted
the local clergy, and it came off the altar. Everything
came off the altar in those days, for there was no
radio or no other way. There was a terrible hullabaloo
and a protest. The local people all met and had a
big how do you do.
‘ No, no, no we don’t want this’
– the parish priest didn’t want it. They
fussed about an awful lot but eventually the people
DID want it.
And the reason why – as usual - was money! Money
came into the picture. Along came your ministry and
offered them 50 pound an acre for their land. You
wouldn’t have got five pound an acre for your
land. Times were that bad, it was that poor.”
house, still complete with urinal.
building, use unknown
DESTRUCTION & CONSTRUCTION
All hedges and trees were ripped out, the land flattened
and three runways built (2,600 yards, 2,200 yards and
1,300 yards long) with a three mile perimeter taxi way,
leading to 30 hardstands (plane parking areas). Two
hangars covering a half acre each, were built, as well
as four communal buildings, headquarters, hospital,
cinema, church, sewage facilities, shooting range, fuel
and bomb dumps and nissan huts for living quarters;
over 500 buildings in all. In less than two years John
Howard and Co, the English contractors employed, had
demolished Kinrush and rebuilt it as Cluntoe Airfield,
bigger, better and bomb proof.
perimeter taxi way today
The airfield forced people to go miles out of their way
to get from one side of the parish to the other. The
parish was sliced in two, and each half was virtually
isolated from the other. There was no direct route from
upper Ardboe to lower (Moortown). Even today these divisions
still exist, with the ruined airbase splitting the parish.
It was not all doom and gloom. The building of the
airfield brought employment to the area and a good wage
for those employed. It is estimated that £1.5
million was brought in to the Ardboe area as a result
of it being built.
There is a local tale of one enterprising cart owner
who, getting paid per load delivered, would check it
in at one point, exit through a gap in the hedge, wait
a period of time and check it in at a second point further
along. There is a further rumour that the man kept this
up so long that he was only caught when grass started
growing from his load!
over Cluntoe Airbase to the Americans
THE YANKEES ARRIVE
Initially the airfield was occupied by the RAF but
was quickly given over to the USAAF (United States Army
Air Forces). The airfield was used as a training base.
Experienced pilots leaving the European theatre would
meet with new recruits to pass on the benefits of their
experience. The airfield was also a rest stop for bombing
By 1943 over 3,500 American troops were stationed on the base, effectively
tripling the population of Ardboe. Coming from a country
not affected by war and rationing, money
was in abundance, again providing a boost to the
local shops and other businesses.
As Robert says of relations between Americans and locals:
“Oh, they got on very well. Yankee dollars
again came into the picture. There used to be a farmer
called Devlin. Well he used to have hens and ducks
and things and he would boil a bucket full of eggs
and arrive at the picket post or get permission to
go down. And he would have sold the bucket of eggs
in ones and twos and threes to the soldiers. And the
same with the drink of course, bottles of whiskey
and that, they bought that up. Good whiskey, poitín
too. They didn’t socialise an awful lot. Well
they did but there was no social life, there was only
the local pubs. It was a wee small place, they wouldn’t
have sat in that talking to old local farmers with
their old fashioned jargon. They had their canteen
and their own social place, which was built to their
standards and their way of going.”
Many people such as Robert worked as civilians at the
Robert tells of his daily duties:
“The duties were keeping these huts tidy. There
was a pot bellied stove in the middle with a chimney
up through. I had to clean the ashes out of that,
leave coal for them, generally tidy up the beds if
they wanted them made. Sweep up and all. That was
all I had to do. I don’t know what way you would
describe it. It wasn’t really work at all. Two
hours in the day. There was a lot of Nissan huts,
wee round huts – I was given the job of attending
to about four of these wee round huts. In these round
huts was what they called combat officers –
they were trained pilots and navigators and all. They
would come over, take on the bombing over Germany
for 10 days and then come for 10 days rest, which
sounds a silly thing to do but anyway. I was given
the job of cleaning out these four huts, but whenever
I went the airmen chased me out – ‘get
out to hell out of here!’ They wouldn’t
let me work! For they wanted to sleep.”
The grave of Pilot Officer
DC Preston in Ardboe, Co.
THE END OF THE AIRFIELD
By 1946 the war was over and the Americans had left.
The RAF had returned but there was no need for a training
ground. It was kept ticking over and was reopened in
1952 as a training base for pilots going to Korea. During
that time a young RAF pilot was killed in a flying accident:
Pilot Officer DC Preston, aged 19, was killed on the
6 May 1953 and buried in a local church yard. The RAF
use of the airfield was short-lived and by 1955 it closed
for good, leaving Ardboe quiet once more.
Robert Wilkinson remembers this:
“The war was over and the yanks went home, that
was them finished. The admiralty and the RAF took
it over and set it up as a training base. Then suddenly
somebody invented the plane that rises up, the harrier,
the jump jet and there’s no more call for an
Suddenly everyone vanished and there
wasn’t a creature about it and the locals fell
to it and knocked the buildings all down. There was
a whole load of electric cable and they started to
dig and take lintels out of buildings and take roofs
off. There was no one to stop them. Of course the
police didn’t want to come to this area anyway.
Then they appointed an auctioneer from Cookstown,
to sell the whole thing. One particular building up
here, the walls are still standing, well the roof
went to a bus depot in Thomas St, Dungannon. They
left the walls. They’re grown over now so it’s
not as bad looking, but it was a terrible sight. ”
The construction of the airfield had a massive impact
on the area and its inhabitants. An entire townland
was buried under its runways, but it dragged Ardboe
into the 20th century. It brought electricity, water
supplies, communication and wealth to an area which
had barely changed in at least one hundred years. Ardboe
was finally on a map even if it was Hitler’s.
Do you have memories of Cluntoe Airfield
or did you serve there during the forties or fifties?
Do you or did you know PVT JG Peluser or PFC Cooley?
Can you help identify any of the buildings? You can
share any information you have about the airfield by
filling in the form at the bottom of the page. - Editor
The Control Tower
as it is today.
of the Control Tower is in a surprisingly good condition.
Possibly the Detention
Centre, with bars still on the windows.
1943 written when the concrete was wet.
J G PELUSER (PELUSE?)
PFC MW COOLEY
APRIL 17 1944
(Can anyone identify these soldiers?)
Ac Harrison from Derby - July 2008
I was stationed at cluntoe 1954 to 1955
Peter Phillips - June '08
I served at RAF Cluntoe in 1957. We were the last airmen there as it was being closed down. There were only a total of 18 staff there and we were in run down billets. The local population were not friendly toward us and I remember walking into a pub with a couple of mates and a deadly hush ensued. Whilst I was there the pumping station which supplied us with water was blown up and we had to be supplied with a water bowser from the parent station, RAF Aldergrove.
After the place closed I heard that a local policeman had been injured or killed removing a flag from the flagpole but cannot verify this story
Ann-Maree Dorman - Dec '07
My father Michael Dorman and his twin Brother Peter found the body of the young
girl down at Blake' farm. The story goes that men were using a thrashing machine
in the middle of the field , Peter and Michael went to the middle of the field
and found the young child murdered near a haystack. Both Michael and Peter
(aged 18) both were called to testify in the Cookstown courthouse. The U.S
soldier was executed in Somerset, England one year later.
The next day the soldier called at Dormans' pub for
a drink, my father Michael asked the soldier what were
the marks on your hand. The soldier replied he had
a fight with a soldier down at the Kilycolpy Post Office.
Little did he know at the time that he was the murderer
of the child.
Chris Lynn - Jan '07
The small building illustrated as 'possibly a detention
centre' is marked on the official airfield plan (copy
available by post from the RAF Museum, Hendon) as 'Bomb
site [sight] storage and repair'. It is beside the
large Operations Block. Bomb sights were top secret.
Some of the instructional buildings surviving at the
site (one now an attractive dwelling) were for training
in the use of bomb sights.
Ciara Gribb - Jan '07
In realtion to Hugh Wilkinson. Patricia Wylie court
case was coveyed in full detail in a newspaper of the
time. Pamla Wilkinson (né Wylie) has a copy
of this document.
George Manson - Aug '06
I was stationed at RAF Cluntoe in the 50,s and was there
at the closure. The aircraft used then were Harvards
(B flight) and Percival Prentice (A flight).
I remember the good times meeting very nice and friendly
people, I also remember the not so good and some very
unfriendly people, on the whole the good wins hands
I would love to go back and have one of your 'Ulster
fries' in Cookstown.
The photograph of the detention centre could well be
one of the parachute storage rooms.
Alan Judge - June '06
The comment by Quinn is harsh and indicative of someone
blinkered by too much xenophobic brain input by local
sectarian sources. Not everyone in Tyrone is so narrow-minded.
There were obviously benefits and hardships. Bringing
the term ‘Occupying Brits’ into it only
divides and polarises opinion where it needn’t
be, the writer has clearly been as objective as possible.
James Stewart - March '06
William Harrison was found guilty and was hanged at
the American Military prison at Shepton Mallet. A terrible
crime for which Harrison justly deserved to hang. Cluntoe
was a Combat Crew replacement Centre , aircrew were
trained here to flying operations over Europe. Like
all aircrew it taught them the basics , the real learning
took place facing the very able and effective fighter
pilots of the Luftwaffe. A nice place to take a walk
and ponder what once took place here so many years ago.
Quinn - March '06
This article is very biased, the occupation by the Yankees
just like the occupation by the Brits was not good for
Ardboe or the surronding area.
It was bad, very bad.
Hugh Wilkinson - Mar 06
The girl who was murdered by the American serviceman
was Patricia Wylie. The serviceman's name was private
William Harrison and was from somewhere in Ohio. His
court martial was held in Cookstown N.I.
Does anyone have anymore information on this incident
i.e., the outcome of the court martial etc.?
Hugh Mc Kenna - November '05
I remember the murder (see Maura Byrne
reply below ) as I was only young at the time and worked
on delivering minerals and guinness for Tyrone Mineral
Waters. We were at Dormans Pub when the Jeep with the
childs body on back stopped. The childs name was Wylie.
Victor Best - October '05
Hi, a couple of questions:
Are there any preservation orders on this site?
What type of aircraft used this airbase?
It would be a shame if the developers got their greedy
hands on what remains, especially the control tower.
Any details gratefully received, thanks, Victor Best
Maura Byrne - September '05
My father recalls a story from this time of a local
six years old girl being murdered by one of the soldiers.
He remembers it being covered up and the soldier responisble
being whisked back to America. Anyone with any more
information on this.
Reggie Barr - July '05
I was born in Manchester, Conn. USA and due to my father
dying there in Feb 1934 my mother returned to N I bringing
my brother and I with her I had a pal in Manchester,
a little older than I was, who was called up for service
with the USAAF and was stationed in Clontoe I think
it was in 1943. During his time there he contacted me
and we met up a few times before he moved on. Unfortunatly
we lost contact with each other and I have not heard
from him since. His name was Eddie Cavagnaro.
John Hagan - December '04
My grandfather died from injuries received in an industrial
accident when building the airfield. Samuel Hagan was
mixing concrete when the mixer toppled over shattering
his leg. He later died from gangrene in Omagh Hospital.
The airfield did bring a lot of prosperity and excitement
to the area. Few of the residents of Coagh and Ardboe
had ever met with foreigners. The construction and maintenance
work created valuable income as farming or working in
Duff's mill were the main sources of employment. The
black market trade between the Americans and locals
also helped build relationships. Silk stockings were
a valuable commodity during the war years - the yanks
could get them and the locals couldn't - this opened
up a whole new economic enterprise.
A few local girls made new friends which turned to
wedding bells as they set out for a new life on the
far side of the Atlantic.
Sadly too racism raised it's head when a young coloured
soldier had his throat cut on Coagh's Main Street by
a white American serviceman. A fight with the locals
ensued and Coagh was made out of bounds for many white
servicemen. On another occasion a few drunken American
became loud and aggressive at a dance in the Memorial
Hall on the Urbal Road, Coagh, again the locals brought
the Americans down to size.
Charles Friel - November '04
Does anyone remember the contractor, Howard, using a
narrow gauge railway in the building of the base? I
am told that the railway was two foot gauge and that
Howard had either two or four steam locomotives in use.
Any details, memories, or photographs (however poor)
would be very welcome - all costs fully met, of course.