The RAF Chivenor Collection

One of the most popular collections in our care is the RAF Chivenor Collection. The military base next to the river Taw has been a part of North Devon life for over 70 years and many locals have fond memories of the base.

Our collection covers the history of Chivenor as an aerodrome and airport for North Devon before becoming an RAF base during the Second World War and up to the RAF’s handover of the base to the Royal Marines in 1995.

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The gems of the collection are the 7 large photo albums covering Chivenor’s time as a local aerodrome and RAF base. The albums are full of fascinating images and stories including the night a German war plane landed on the runway thinking it had reached occupied France in 1940, the night one of the Search and Rescue helicopters collided with an overhead power cable and ended up in the River Torridge and the Hawker Jets’ involvement with the Torrey Canyon disaster.

The collections also contain histories of some of the various squadrons which were based there over the years, the planes they used and accounts of some of the events the base was involved with over the years. It also includes reminiscences of former personnel who were stationed there.

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Another gem from the document collection is the visitor book which dates from 1941 to 1972 and includes signatures of Clement Atlee, Gracie Fields, foreign dignitaries and important locals.

Outside the Chivenor collection we have items about the base and it’s place within North Devon in our Document Collections. Our North Devon Journal Archive contains lots of stories about Chivenor and includes several images in the negative collection – including the helicopter crash, the preparation for the Torrey Canyon run and the official handover of the base to the Royal Marines in 1995. We also have images of the Chivenor and the SAR’s work in a new collection of images we received from the Beaford Archive earlier this year.

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You can also discover more about Chivenor on our shelves as we have a selections of books about Chivenor and other Devon aerodromes on our shelves. We also have books on World War Two and original pamphlets from the War including the work of Coastal Command.

For more information visit our website and search our catalogues.

 

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Rescuing the Rescuers!

Preparing for this year’s Armed Forces exhibition I came across this story about the Air Sea Rescue Helicopter from RAF Chivenor whose crew had a lucky escape…

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Waving boys saw sudden blue flash

Four schoolboys waved to a passing helicopter above Bideford Bridge on Tuesday night, and in the same second there was a vivid blue flash. In front of their eyes the aircraft somersaulted and plunged 50 feet through the air into the River Torridge.

For the four-man crew of the R.A.F.Whirlwind Mark 10, themselves responsible for saving several lives along the North Devon Coast this summer, it was an amazing escape from death.

The aircraft, its tail completely severed by a 33,000-volt electricity cable, came to rest almost submerged in ten feet of water. But its door was facing upwards and one by one the crew scrambled clear.

As two policemen and a fisherman waded into the water to help them to the river bank near Little America hundreds of sightseers converged on the area, drawn by the flash which lit Bideford.

 

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A second helicopter, piloted by the Chivenor helicopter unit commanding officer, Flight-Lieut. Bob Jones, picked up the badly-shaken crew – Pilot Flight-Lieut. Roger Wain, Master Navigator Gerry Perrell, Master Signaller Dennis Gibson and Junior Technician Ralph Kadby – and flew them back to the aerodrome.

Back in their crewroom, where hot coffee was awaiting them, it was discovered that the most serious injury was merely a bruised eye. All four were on duty again yesterday. But, said Flight-Lieut. Wain: “I can tell you, we must be the luckiest people in North Devon, all four of us.”

The Helicopter had been sent to Bideford to look for a person in the river, however, no-one was found and it was believed that a log floating in the river may have been mistaken for a body. This also meant there were plenty of eyewitnesses to the crash and police officers who were searching for the man on the river bank were able to help the crew of the helicopter back to dry land…

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The fisherman who eye-witnessed the crash, Mr. Roger Davey, of Marland Terrace, Bideford, said: “After the flash the helicopter turned over and went straight into the river.”

The four Bideford schoolboys – Paul Spearman, Norman Raymont, Terry Cudmore, and Mervyn Symons – watched from the bank as Mr. Davey, with Constable Jack Lane and Det.-Consable Peter Ingram, who were helping with the “man in the river” search, raced into the Torridge…

Constable Lane, deep in the water and fully clothed, grabbed two of the crew who were floating in their Mae Wests. Another, after inflating the helicopter dinghy, was pulled ashore, and the fourth reached the river bank unaided.

The accident also, unsurprisingly, caused a blackout in Bideford…

As it snapped, the cable, carrying power from an East-the-Water substation to Clovelly, caused a blackout in that area which lasted for 45 minutes before an alternative supply could be laid on. Some parts of Bideford lost their lights only briefly, and Bideford Town Hall, where the council were in session, was one of the places plunged into darkness.

A follow-up article about the helicopter appeared a week later…

Divers help to raise crashed helicopter

IMG_1291 (3)The ripped and battered remains of the helicopter which crashed into the Torridge last week is to be taken to the R.A.F.’s maintenance command…Work on salvaging the wreckage started on Friday and by Saturday the remains were back at R.A.F. Chivenor. The principal part of the operation was performed by an Instow R.E.M.E. unit, led by Major D.F. Dudbridge. Four soldiers, five civilians, and two shallow-water divers were engaged. They were helped by an R.A.F. salvage unit from Pembroke Docks. The full extent of the damage is not yet determined. An inquiry was held on Monday.

The articles were taken from the North Devon Journal-Herald 23rd & 30th September 1965 held in our collections. We also have an RAF Chivenor Collection in our Document collection. For more information read our Chivenor and North Devon Journal posts or visit our website.

…Barum Athena

Behind the Scenes…Shelving Project part two

Monday was the big day for the shelving project as the installers arrived with the new shelving early in the morning.

By mid morning one side was completed and the other under way and looking very smart and by lunchtime it was all done!

All that was left for us to do was to clean the new shelving down and fill it with our document and newspaper collections.

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It took a team of four to put everything onto the new shelves on Tuesday and the result was well worth it.

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Our newspapers can now lie flat on their shelves, and the documents boxes are no longer piled on top of each other. There was also space for us to place the RAF Chivenor Collection onto individual shelves rather than storing them in boxes which were too large and heavy for one person to handle. This means the collection is now more accessible to both staff and users.

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The work to improve the way we take care of our archival collections doesn’t stop with the shelving project. We can now start to plan and carry out a programme of replacing the old boxes with new archival ones, reducing the weight of the boxes (some of which are rather heavy!) and ensuring they items are just generally better stored. While we repackage the collections we will also be able to assess which items are in need of some tlc by conservationists and if there are any items which need more specialist storage.

Part of our Lethaby Collection is already in archive boxes and we hope the rest will be stored in archive boxes in the near future (Lethaby was a prolific writer and some of his boxes are amongst the heaviest on our shelves!)

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This post wouldn’t be complete without a few before and after pictures side by side to really appreciate the changes, nor would it be complete without thanking those who were involved with the project. The staff of Rackline who provided the shelving , CDL Southwest our contractors who took away our old shelving and laid the groundwork for the new shelves, and last but not least, a huge thank you to the staff and volunteers who helped to move all the collections and newspapers.

…Barum Athena

 

An Unusual Landing At Chivenor

Tonight marks the 75th anniversary of a rather unusual landing at RAF Chivenor.

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North Devon Journal-Herald 9th February 1964 page 6

During the Second World War, RAF Chivenor was part of Coastal Command and it was their job to find and destroy the U Boats which posed a constant threat to the naval supply lines. During a night-time training exercise on th 26th November 1941 new pilots were practicing their take-off, landing procedures when  it became apparent that an extra aircraft had joined their group in the air.

The duty Flying Control officer had noticed there was an extra set of lights amongst the group and was unable to identify it. Despite the risk it was an enemy aircraft as it had not yet fired upon the other aircraft on manoeuvres he ordered it should be allowed to land.

On landing it became clear that it was a German Junkers 88 aircraft. The Operations Room was quickly alerted and the perimeter guns put on standby to act. The pilot and crew of the enemy aircraft realised their mistake to late and after a quick burst of machine gun fire they were dissuaded from trying to escape.

The crew were taken prisoner and on interrogation it was learned the Ju88 had been on a bombing raid in the Midlands and was returning to base. They became disoriented when they strayed over Wales and seeing the Bristol Channel mistook it for the English Channel. Having assumed they had crossed the English Channel they landed at the first airfield they saw thinking it was part of Occupied France. By the time they realised their mistake they had handed the RAF an intact aircraft and crew!

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Ju88 after capture – Chivenor Collection

The aircraft was later repaired and flown to Farnborough under escort to prevent “any unfortunate misunderstandings” where it became part of a flying circus of captured enemy aircraft. It returned in October 1942 to give flying and ground demonstrations as part of the circus, it had even been given a fresh paint job.

This remarkable story was well known in the local area but was not reported on in the local newspapers for another 22 years when Leslie Hunt wrote about the story in the North Devon Journal-Herald after attending a Guest Night at the base.

The story also appears in one of several albums which make up part of our RAF Chivenor Collection.

…Barum Athena