The Station 1960-2000.

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This newspaper clipping dated Jan 1966 reports that the Balloon Unit at Cardington will be moving to Hullavington in Wiltshire.

Apart from the most wonderful information supplied by Alan Thomas the Postal Clerk at RAF Cardington in the 1960's, details of the station during the years 1965 - 1999 are proving quite difficult to research. During this time various units transferred to other RAF stations or their roles were replaced by civillian workers resulting in a steady decline of RAF persoomel on site.

Alan Thomas served at RAF Cardington in the early 1960's and his personal recollections of his working life can be found on the  "Eye Witness 1960-1999"  page on this website. Here however he describes the functions of the station in the 1960's.

Alan certainly was well placed to know what was going on around him as he was the postman during this time and was very familiar with each section of the Station.

1963 - 1965 RAF Cardington

"I soon discovered that RAF Cardington was unlike any other RAF Unit. Cardington could be perhaps described as a small self contained town. Such was the diversity of tasks that RAF Cardington at that time supported three separate commands:

Transport Command was the senior command with responsibility for the Ballooon Unit and supporting sections.

Maintemance Command had responsibility for Gas production and was mainly civilian manned.

Technical Training Command had responsibility for the Youth Selection Centre. This unit selected school leavers for RAF technical apprenticeships. Some 25% of my workoad was generated by this unit.

The main & primary function of RAF Cardington at this time was to provide barrage balloons for Army parachute training. Whilst most of the parachute training took place away from Cardington at remote sites all the balloons and supporting equipments were repaired and serviced in No 1 Shed. There was also a fabric repair shop in the building behind the station headquarters. Located near No 1 Shed was a Balloon Operators Training School. At the Mechanical Transport School drivers were instructed on how to use mechanical winches and associated equipment. In the support of the Balloon Unit and the other Lodger Units there existed the usual services found on most RAF Units - Officers Mess, Sergeants Mess, & Airmans Mess.

There was no permanent medical officer however there was a well maintained Medical section. There would be a sick parade every workday morning and those in need would be seen by a retired RAF Medical Officer from a local civilian practice.Those in need of dental treatment had to report to a civilian dentist in Castle Road, Bedford. There was a Fire Section which was manned 24/7. Cardington Camp was mostly wooden built and in the main provided cover for the Gas Plant. There was a well stocked library and educational section. There was a full time RAF Education Officer and the usual RAF examinations could be undertaken.

The Stores & Supply Squadron occupied part of the old kitting out complex behind the Headquaters Building. There was an RAF Cardington Mechanical Transport section as well as a Balloon Squadron Transport & Repair section. There was also a parachute packing section which prepared parachutes for army use.

On the civilian side there was the Gas Plant (217 Maintenance Unit), several Ministry of Public Buildimg & Works departments, Airfield testing laboratories and a very active Meteorological site close to the balloon sheds. At that time they secured their weather balloons in No 2 Shed.

During 1963-1965 there were 2 guardrooms the walk in guardroom was manned by RAF Personnel and the drive in guardroom manned by the MOD police. The MOD police were responsible for Station security. Sport was encouraged at RAF Cardington and both the soccer & rugby teams fielded teams in the local Joint Services leagues. I played rugby for the Unit on several occasions." (Alan Thomas Dec 2011)

Alan has also been able to give us a glimpse into what was going on in the Headquarters building back in the 60's. Officers entered the building via the revolving doors at the front, other ranks by the back or side doors. Below is a list of all the units that operated from the building at this time.

Ground Floor:

PBX Private Branch Telephone Exchange - normally civilian manned.

The Station Warrant Officer

RAF Police Office

RAF Typing Section

Sports Store & Sports Office

The offices located to the right of the main entrance were occupied by:

The Station Commander

Officer i/c Admin Wing

Officer i/c Personnel Services

Officer i/c General Duties Flight

The First Floor

RAF Post Room

RAF Pay and Accounts Section

RAF Accountant Officer

RAF General Office

Station Registry

Civilian Personnel Officer and staff

Second Floor

The second floor was in the main occupied by the Meteorological Officers and Staff


*With grateful thanks to Alan for taking the time to give us such detailed information. Thank you Alan.

Alan Thomas, postman at the station in the early 60's.

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Thanks to Mark Baker at W & H Peacock in Bedford we are able to show this fascinating front page of a catalogue of huts and sundry items put up for auction on April 10th 1962. As we know the camp was beginning to wind down in the 60's as units moved out and in many ways this sale marks the start of the decline of the station.

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Station H.Q. Building and surrounding workshops in 1980.

 

 

Above is a snapshot of Station HQ in 1980. Showm left is a catalogue of an auction of ex RAF huts and sundry items held by local Bedford company Peacocks. The catalogue lists 136 lots consisting of 94 barrack huts each measuring between 70-78ft long by 18ft 9ins wide, 28 ablution blocks and 3 bath houses and the number of each hut is also recorded in the catalogue. When one considers the size of these huts it soon becomes apparent that a very large area on the camp was to be cleared.

There are also other peripheral buildings on offer - lot 45 consists of "Remaining portion of N A A F I canteen buildings...containing 41ft run of stainless steel counter equipment with two 4ft 6ins Gardiner and Gulland electric Bain Marie hot closets, G E C steam oven, Creda electric Salamander, Hobart electric dishwasher......"   Lot 83 is a stable block and there are also a small number of other sized huts for sale.

We do not know how much each hut cost and where they ended up but I have been told that some huts were bought by local people in Bedford.

A fabulous overview of RAF Cardington and Shortstown in 1990 (photo courtesy Malcolm Clarke (www.airliners.net) (C) Malcolm Clarke.

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Thanks to Malcolm Clarke who has kindly allowed this photograph to be shown. The photograph was taken in June 1990 and gives a terrific overview of the Station on the top half and Shortstown in the bottom half. Apart from the Sheds and the Shorts Building everything on the camp side of the road has now disappeared in the wake of the new housing development begun in 2010/11. This photo also shows the former RAF buildings across the road on the right in Shortstown. These were demolished sometime in the nineties and have now been replaced with housing.

Many thanks to Shortstown resident Derek Jones who has identified some of the buildings in Shortstown shown here.

1. The large group of prefab buildings to the right of the houses in Shortstown were the admin, messing and accommodation blocks for the RTCC (Residential and Training Conference Centre) for the then Dept of the Environment (Property Services Agency).

2. The large house immediately adjacent to these buildings opposite what looks like a car park was the residence of the Station Commander.  All of these buildings have since been demolished and replaced by additional houses.

3. Moving extreme left back into the village below the Shorts Building is a large white roofed property which was the RAW Social Club (now a large shop). Derek has identified the long white buildings next to this as the old NAAFI shop  - again since demolished.

It is very difficult to find out what was happening on the site in later years. The RAF presence dramatically reduced in 1966 when the Balloon Unit moved out and most of the buildings and the HQ was taken over by MOD departments. However the Gas Plant still continued under the RAF but was mostly manned by civilians, it still played a vital role as the gas produced was used by all the UK forces both at home and abroad. It was great therefor to hear from Tim Holland a Design Engineer who worked on a piece of equipment delivered to the site sometime in the 90’s ….

“In my role as Snr Design Engineer for Pennant Training Systems Ltd, Cheltenham I helped engineer a gas plant trainer, simulating the mobile gas plants producing oxygen and nitrogen for aircraft use. I remember helping to install it at Cardington in the early 90's (?) It’s taken a while, but I knew I had a photo somewhere of the trainer but my archives aren’t totally indexed; I found it while searching for something else in the end. The photo is time stamped September 2000 but I suspect it’s a scanned in ‘real’ photo, so dating is difficult. The company went through a few name changes, Pennant Audio Visual was the earliest I remember from the 80’s, it currently Pennant International.

The AT70 (can’t remember what the initials stood for!) was one in a series of panel based trainers we developed for training all sorts of aspects of aircraft systems for basic training, mainly maintenance. Most of them ended up at RAF Halton and Cosford but we did a couple of specials like this and another for Nuclear Electric to train switchgear operations, all based on the same general structure and standard components developed in house.

The one for Cardington was to train in the operation of mobile gas concentrators, which I believe were intended to be used on front line bases to provide oxygen and nitrogen for aircraft maintenance, by extracting the gasses from the air by some devilish process!!

The main panel shows the process of the concentration; all the lines lit up by moving LEDs showing flow, valves open and shut and pressures. The angled panel shows the variable controls that allow opening and closing all the system valves. The hardware was, I think based on industrial PC with loads of input and output cards for the switches and indicators.

I wasn’t involved in the theory of operation of the simulation, but developed the hardware to let the computer read all those knobs, light the lights and read the switches.

My only visit to Cardington was to do a repair.. which I can’t remember, and all those RAF stations all had a very similar look! Most of the time a call out was because the simulation didn’t quite do what the real thing did under a specific set of circumstances; or the instructor had miss remembered a step.

All the trainers had self-tests so you could verify that each switch and dial and lamp was being driven by the computer correctly, so either the software was broke.. unlikely... or it was ‘finger problem’. But that would at least show the hardware, my side, was doing what it should and I could get back home and let the softies sort out the problem.

As for security and the rest of the site, I’m afraid I’ve no memory; it was an early start out from Cheltenham, fix the problem and drive back, grabbing a meal on the way home. These days they have a whole department to deal with maintenance! Most of the time there was no maintenance contract so any visits were ad hoc, and I must say the equipment was pretty reliable. What happened to it I’d love to know; there’s one of my Lynx helicopter trainers at the Middle Wallop museum now!! ”

Many thanks to Tim for giving us this insight. - Jane. Sept 2020.

Tim Holland - a visitor to RAF Cardington in the 90's.

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The old Station HQ commonly known as the Shorts Building in 2019 on the day of the unveiling of the memorial stone to RAF Cardington in May 2019. The building is now home to a childrens centre and a small number of office units on the ground floor and private apartments on the upper floors

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Shown above the trainer that Tim helped to design 

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The back of the modernised station HQ is shown to the right with the new Shortstown Lower School opened in 2013 adjacent.