Service to honour ‘significant’ role played by RAF Sidmouth in WWII

PUBLISHED: 11:30 17 February 2018

Councillor Jeff Turner and Alastair Watson, who is leading the RAF100 celebrations in Sidmouth

Councillor Jeff Turner and Alastair Watson, who is leading the RAF100 celebrations in Sidmouth

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The significant role played by RAF Sidmouth during World War Two will be marked with a special service at the parish church.

The RAF 100 logoThe RAF 100 logo

The event at 11am on April 4 will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force and the valuable contribution of the town.

Sidmouth Museum is also planning an exhibition that will open on March 23 and it hopes to hear stories from families.

Organiser Alistair Watson, who served in the RAF for 40 years, said: “It may not be widely known that Sidmouth played a significant military-related role during World War Two. In that period of national emergency, the town was ‘invaded’ by servicemen and women in ‘light blue’ uniform – the Royal Air Force had arrived.

“Although there was no airfield, we know that a great many hotels in the town were requisitioned for accommodation and training facilities.

“In addition, many of the permanent staff of these organisations were billeted with local families, which left the valuable barrack accommodation in the requisitioned hotels for students and classroom space.

“Everyone is welcome to the service, but in particular all former serving RAF, WRAF and WAAF veterans, along with veterans from the other services.

“Just as importantly, anyone from the town, or elsewhere, who had relatives who served in the town, as well with any other members of the public, will be warmly received.”

Alistair appealed for contributions to the museum exhibition, adding: “We would like more family stories, such as those of Heather and Derek Simpson who both served at Sidmouth. Heather was in the WAAF and Derek in the RAF – are there still family connections for them in the town?

“One young aircrew officer named Jack Hedger met and eventually married a local girl with the maiden name Holland. Are there other such stories?

“Did any former RAF or WAAF personnel keep coming back to the town on holiday and keep in contact with local families?

“Did anyone serve in the RAF, WAAF or WRAF at any time in the past and have any small items of memorabilia that the museum might borrow?”

Anyone with information can contact Alastair by emailing ajwatson25@hotmail.com or joining the Facebook group, ‘RAF Sidmouth’. Events are planned across the country to mark RAF100, the centenary of the RAF’s foundation, and the Red Arrows are set to return to open Sidmouth Regatta in August.

The units that formed in the town and assumed the title RAF Sidmouth were:

• An air ministry experimental station ‘chain home’ radar site situated where the Oakdown caravan park is now, on the A3052 between Sidmouth and Seaton. It was in operation during 1940 and played a significant part in the Battle of Britain. The caravan park still uses buildings that were in use during World War Two.

• The medical training depot, which moved to Sidmouth from Harrogate, in 1942 and which eventually was relocated to Halton in Buckinghamshire. It included the first ever school of dental hygiene in the UK at Glenside in Manor Road, and hence produced the first ever dental hygienists.

• The RAF Regiment, which was formed on February 1, 1942, established an officer cadet training unit in the town.

• An aircrew officers school formed in the town and that eventually went to Hereford.

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