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Flight through Time - Programme 2

The second stage of our Flight Through Time takes us through the Second World War

ML 1030

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Flight through Time - Programme 2

A three part radio series

(To access audio and video on your place and mine you need RealPlayer .)

Shorts Solent - Courtesy of Bombardier Aerospace (formerly Shorts)

Programme two

The second stage of our Flight Through Time takes us through the Second World War, but begins in the tranquil setting of Mount Stewart, just outside Newtownards, then the Ulster residence of the 7th Marquis of Londonderry.

Listen to the entire programme


Today Mount Stewart is a National Trust property and Win Linton is a guide there. The house is also still home to the Lady Mairi Bury, Lord Londonderry's youngest daughter.

Listen - Win Linton and Lady Mairi

And so, on the 3rd of September 1939, as she worked on her car at the Ards Airport, Lady Mairi heard Neville Chamberlain's broadcast confirming the inevitable.

Listen - Chamberlain

So for the second time in a generation Britain was to become embroiled in a world war. Aviation was to be paramount in the defence of the United Kingdom and ultimate victory, and Ulster, its airmen, airbases and factories vital to the war effort. In 1925 502 Squadron was formed at RAF Aldergrove, the first of five such Auxiliary Air Squadrons set up around the United Kingdom. It later had the distinction of being the first squadron to spot a u-boat, to the delight of Lord Londonderry who the squadron's Honorary Air Commodore. It was joined in 1938 by the RAF Volunteer Reserve which trained at Belfast Harbour Airport at Sydenham.

Noel Corry was among the first to join the VR. In 1940 he found himself posted to a night fighter squadron, flying Blenhiems in the Battle of Britain.

Listen - Noel Corry

As an alternative to the RAF, many Ulstermen who wanted to become pilots joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve Fleet Air Arm. One such man was George Boyd who was able to combine a love of the sea with a childhood desire to be a fighter pilot after seeing the Jean Harlow film "Hell's Angels" in a Bangor Cinema.

Listen - George Boyd

And as well as those in the forces, many other men and women were working in aircraft production. In 1936 work started on a new aircraft factory at Queen's Island in Belfast. It was for Short and Harland Ltd and while some of the staff came from Short Brothers' factory at Rochester, many local people joined the firm, including Jack McGeown.

Listen - Jack McGeown

Nose section of a Shorts Sunderland Flying Boat being transported through the streets of Belfast
Nose section of a Shorts Sunderland Flying Boat being transported through the streets of Belfast
Courtesy of Bombardier Aerospace ( formerly 'Shorts' )

Despite production being interrupted briefly after damage during the blitz, by mid-1944 Short and Harland had built over 1400 new aeroplanes, including Herefords, Bombays, Stirlings and of course Sunderlands. They had also repaired over 500 salvaged aircraft. After the blitz, production was spread out among several factories including two in Newtownards, two in Lisburn, a linen mill at Lambeg and the King's Hall at Balmoral.

Sunderlands and Stirlings at the Queen's Island factory. Almost 2400 Stirling bombers were built, both by Shorts and underlicence, by other companies
Sunderlands and Stirlings at the Queen's Island factory. Almost 2400 Stirling bombers were built, both by Shorts and underlicence, by other companies
Courtesy of Bombardier Aerospace ( formerly 'Shorts' )

But it wasn't just the men and women in the factories who played their part in aeroplane manufacture. Linen was still an important component and production in Northern Ireland was at its peak. Brenda Collins is Research Officer at the Irish Linen Centre in Lisburn.

Listen - Brenda Collins

The Stirling erection bay after a WWII factory bombing in 1941
The Stirling erection bay after a WWII factory bombing in 1941
Courtesy of Bombardier Aerospace ( formerly 'Shorts' )

And the general public also made their contribution to the war in the air through donations to appeals, including one launched by the Belfast Telegraph, as Spitfire pilot Cecil Austin recalls.

Listen - Cecil Austin

At the outbreak of war, civil flying had been banned. However in the interests of maintaining good communications links within the United Kingdom, civil flights from Belfast Harbour resumed, albeit with restrictions. Billy McCormick became a travel agent in Belfast during the war.

Listen - Billy McCormick

The control tower at Langford Lodge during its construction
The control tower at Langford Lodge during its construction.
Courtesy of Ulster Aviation Society

As the war progressed, the three pre-war aerodromes were joined by many more new airbases dotted around Northern Ireland. Cherrie McIlwaine talks to Ernie Cromie, Chairman of the Ulster Aviation Society, about the bases in Ulster and their importance to the war effort, at the Society's headquarters in some of the surviving wartime buildings at Langford Lodge airfield in Co. Antrim.

Listen - Ernie Cromie

And some of Ulster's pilots talk about their wartime experiences here:

Cecil Austin recalls that his squadron had an embarrassing arrival at Ballyhalbert.

Listen - Cecil Austin

After training in Great Britain and Canada, George of the Fleet Air Arm found himself stationed at Ballyhalbert.

Listen - George Boyd

The most successful anti-U-boat pilot was Terry Bullock. He recently spoke to Walter Love about his wartime experiences.

Listen - Walter Love/Terry Bullock

Wildcat Mk5 being recovered from Portmore Lough.
Wildcat Mk5 being recovered from Portmore Lough.
Courtesy of Ulster Aviation Society - Photo by Ernie Cromie

Peter Lock, the the pilot who ditched the Wildcat in 1944.
Peter Lock, the pilot who ditched the Wildcat in 1944.
Courtesy of Ulster Aviation Society - Photo by Raymond Burrows

In the Ulster Aviation Society's collection at Langford Lodge is a Wildcat Mark 5 aircraft, recovered from Portmore Lough. Peter Lock was the pilot who ditched the aircraft there, and he told Cherrie McIlwaine the story.

Listen - Cherrie McIlwaine/Peter Lock

To view a drawing of Peter ditching his aircraft and read more about linen's contribution to the war effort - click here .

But while Peter Lock was one of the lucky pilots, many others were not so fortunate and died when their aeroplanes crashed into the Ulster countryside. Meanwhile, the men of 502 Squadron were serving their country with distinction, not just here in Northern Ireland but throughout the United Kingdom, and in Iceland. Two of their most celebrated members were brothers, Brian and Terence Corry, and Brian's son Roger still remembers one of his father's lucky escapes.

Listen - Roger Corry/Brian and Terence Corry

The 6th of June 1944 was D-Day - Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy. Many Ulster pilots were in the air, including George Boyd of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve Fleet Air Arm, Noel Corry a Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve pilot and John Torrans a Royal Air Force Flight Engineer. They tell their experiences of the invasion.

Listen - George Boyd

Listen - Noel Corry

Listen - John Torrans

Monday the 8th of May 1945 was Victory in Europe Day. However patrols still flew over the north Atlantic from Castle Archdale. Edward Arright was one of the crew on the Sunderland flying boat which flew on the last official RAF mission of the war in Europe. That was on the 3rd of June, 1945.

Listen - Edward Arright

But the war against Japan still had to be won. In January 1945 George Boyd and his colleagues had set sail from Belfast with their aircraft on board the escort carrier, HMS Ruler. On 2nd September he witnessed the Japanese surrender.

Listen - George Boyd

And so, the war had been won. But if it hadn't been for the foresight of Lord Londonderry, for the strategic position of Ulster and its air bases, or for the many Ulstermen and women who served in the forces or toiled in the factories, the outcome might have been quite different.

In 1944 it was announced that there had been 1500 trans-Atlantic crossing by air since the war began and it was obvious that in peacetime aviation would play a more significant role in civil transport.

Listen to the entire programme

Flight Through Time - a series of three programmes, was produced by Ian Sinclair with assistance from Jack Woods. Programme 2 was broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster on 11th October 2003.
next: Programme 3: in N. Ireland since 1945

Click here to go to programme 1 Beginnings of flight in NI.

Click here to go to programme 3 Aviation for business and pleasure.

Useful Web link: Ulster Aviation Society

 

___________________________________________

Note from Northern Ireland Editor:
Did you know - Shorts also made motor cars for a time? Click Here to read an article about them.



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