A MEMORIAL was unveiled at Kidston Park on Saturday July 1 to commemorate RAF Helensburgh Airfield and the work carried out during the Second World War by the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment.
The ceremony was the result of co-operation between Helensburgh Heritage Trust and the Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust and marked the completion of a project first suggested over ten years ago.
The unveiling was carried out by retired Merseyside newspaper editor Robin Bird (right), author of two books about MAEE, and Kenneth Bannerman, Director General of the Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust.
Helensburgh Heritage Trust treasurer Stewart Noble spoke on behalf of the Heritage Trust, and while he was speaking a seaplane from Prestwick, piloted by Hamish Mitchell, flew past. Piper Russell McKinnon, who served in the RAF, played appropriate tunes.
Among those who attended were MP Brendan O'Hara, MSP Jackie Baillie, Argyll and Bute Council leader Councillor Aileen Morton, Councillor Ellen Morton, Councillor Richard Trail, Ex-Provost Billy Petrie, Commander James Leatherby representing HM Naval Base Clyde, representatives from the Helensburgh branch of the Royal British Legion, and Arrochar man Bill Ross, who was in the RAF during World War Two and flew Liberators.
The event was organised for the Heritage Trust by Geoff Tompson, a former Navigator Captain of a Nimrod crew on 206 Squadron at RAF Kinloss who then cross trained on Buccaneer aircraft, and his wife Trudi, who started her RAF career as an Air Traffic Controller before becoming a Russian linguist.
The experimental unit was located in and around the hangars at Rhu and surrounding area of mainly requisitioned housing, which officially comprised what became known as RAF Helensburgh.
MAEE carried out work on all aspects of maritime air operations during World War Two for the Royal Air Force. It even played a role in developing the Dambusters bouncing bomb and its smaller relative Highball, which was designed for attacking ships such as Germany’s Tirpitz pocket battleship.
One system tested by MAEE was the Lindholme Gear air-dropped liferaft system, which is still used in search and rescue missions to this day. Sadly, because of the experimental nature of its work, some personnel were killed in local accidents.
An unusual event for MAEE was when a German-built Heinkel 115 seaplane of the Royal Norwegian Navy Air Service’ was flown to Rhu, an event witnessed by Billy Petrie, then a schoolboy.
The memorial itself is the main standardised design already widely utilised by the Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust, and its objective is to eventually commemorate each known disused airfield site in Britain with one of two forms of standardised granite memorial.
ABCT is the world’s first national airfield charity and making a real and revolutionary difference to the advancement of everyday society. The Trust website is http://www.abct.org.uk.
- Photos by Donald Fullarton.