© Crown Copyright/MOD

Hull's Own Air Force Station

© Crown Copyright/MOD


The New Year Day saw an official announcement that No's 942 & 943 Balloon Squadrons had officially combined to become No. 942/3 Squadron. However, they appear to have worked under one Commander since July 1941 when a new Log had been started. The Barrage Control together with the Headquarters of No. 942/3 Squadron remained at Newland House. The locations of its Flights were at Hamlyn Avenue "A"; Pearson Park "B"; Holderness Road "C"; the Methodist Chapel, Hedon Road "D" with "E" Flight, dealing with the Waterborne Units: at King George Dock Lock pit. Two further Flights were still based in North East Lincolnshire at East Halton and Grimsby Docks and it is assumed they were re-designated to "F" and "G" respectively.

In the Squadron Log recorded items, which could be thought to be rather artistic as "No. 51 Shining", to indicate that the balloon was flying and when it was not, "No. 51 Dull". There was an occasional entry stating that such and such Officers had been seconded to attend or sit at courts-martial.

The planned release of RAF personnel from Balloon duties by the WAAF could only take place when the necessary numbers of WAAF Balloon Operators were available and their training continued at No. 17. The course consisted of classroom theory at the Centre for ten weeks then a further two weeks at an operational Balloon Site and finally each trainee took a Trade Test. Of those successful some were posted to other Balloon Squadrons while others remained locally and served with No. 942/3 Squadron at land balloon sites in the Hull Barrage.

Mac RodgersIt was on 9th April 1942 when ACW 2 Margaret Rogers (nee McIntyre) in Class 2 of Entry 'T' began her training at No. 17 and there it was not long before her given name was replaced with the service familiar of 'Mac'. From Edinburgh Mac joined the WAAF on her 21st Birthday during 1941: after her basic training she volunteered and was accepted to train as a Balloon Operator. On the first day in the classrooms each trainee received a 21 page typed booklet entitled 'Notes for Trainees'. On the first page it stated that owing to paper economy they took the place of notebooks. This document collated all the details and specifications of the balloons that a student was previously required writing down in a notebook, this method of instruction was an advance and it expedited the time taken in training. Also on the front page it suggested that, 'great care must be taken to preserve these notes for future use in your Squadron.' (Evidently Mac took that literately - the booklet is something she still treasures.)

Mac successfully passed her trade test as a Leading Aircraftwoman, and was posted to No. 942/3 Balloon Squadron on the Hull Barrage. There she became a member of a new WAAF crew, which was sent in July to relieve the Airmen then operating No. 55 Remote Site situated on Porter Street in central Hull. This site, initially formed in 1939, was heavily bombed on the night of 8/9th May 1941 when 4 HE bombs had dropped nearby causing extensive damage to the surrounding buildings.

With the arrival of the WAAF Crew at that Site and many others, no doubt those they had replaced made them welcome but for many of those Airmen their future was somewhat uncertain.

Mac recalls that when the lorry carrying the crew arrived at No. 55 the RAF driver cheerfully called, "All out - Graveyard Site" - no one moved, all eyes took in the devastation outside, and understandably it was a while before there was enough courage to obey that order.

However the 'little girls in blue' at No. 55 Site, whenever possible, soon got use to sleeping in Nissen huts and successfully maintained and flew their balloon; Mac relates proudly that during an all night storm with gusts of over 80 miles per hour: theirs was the only one left flying!

Some of the niceties available near the Site were the Darley Arms on Porter Street, where small glasses of shandy could be obtained on a warm summers evening: or instead of the Public baths, a real bath was offered by Mr & Mrs Atkinson at their flat nearby. For those who wanted to be really smart in uniform, detachable shirt collars could be beautiful starched and ironed at the Chinese Laundry at the top end of Midland Street.

Porter Streew crew Mac Rogers Mac the dog D.I.Y. artwork names this balloon 'Joan & Violet'

Heavy Repair Crew

As air raids continued the crew was kept busy and one visit from the enemy was very unusual, a German airman was disturbed in the site Air Raid Shelter. He made off and was later detained. The crew heard nothing more about him though it was said that one of the girls had met him in the Forces Canteen at the New York on Anlaby Road. No doubt he wanted to see her again!

In 1943 the Airmen returned to Porter Street and the WAAF crew left the bombed out area and were sent to pleasanter sites; Mac went to 65 on the Northfield Road recreation ground in Hull.

On the dissolution of the Hull Barrage in 1944, Mac was posted to Scotland to become a batwoman (personal servant) to a WAAF Officer. For personal reasons she wished to return to East Yorkshire and that was eventually successful, leaving the service early in January 1946 to settle in Hull.

The "all women" Balloon Crew consisted of 14 Airwomen under the direct supervision of 2 Corporals. The NCOs' required would have to been trained and gained operational experience as Balloon Operators; one such was Iris Lee (nee Dunne) who, in the year 2000, recalled her time in WAAF on the Hull Barrage. Iris, from Dudley, volunteered into the Woman's Auxiliary Air Force in November 1941, and after her initial training at Bridgenorth she chose to be a Balloon Operator, and for her training in that trade, she went to No. 6 Balloon Centre, Wythall, Birmingham. By February 1942 she had successfully passed the 12 week course and remained in the same area, having been posted to No. 915 Balloon Squadron to join a Balloon Crew on a Remote Site.

Iris Lee at Site 57 Iris Lee Her NCO potential soon became apparent, for within two months she was an Acting Corporal at the same Site and remained there until 8th June 1942 when, as a Temporary Corporal she was posted to No. 942/3 Balloon Squadron at Hull. Her first duty at that Squadron was to supervise WAAF trainees from the Centre who were undertaking their two weeks operational tuition at No. 57 Site, which was suitably located at another seat of learning - Hymers College in Hull. There, the Cricket Pavilion was the WAAF dormitory, the classroom was the sports-fields, and the "teachers" were RAF Instructors who guided the "pupils" to gain experience in the art of flying the "Silver Monsters".

During her time at the College, Corporal Lee was seen to be capable of supervising a Crew and was sent to No. 21 Balloon Site east of the British Cod Liver Oil Factory on Hedon Road at Marfleet. This Site was formed late in 1939 and like others, it consisted of one wooden hut but by 1942, as an "all women" site, it had considerably improved. Iris relates that when she arrived there it had the services of mains electricity, water and drainage, while the buildings consisted of two huts, one for sleeping, with a separate room for the NCOs', and the second with a built-in coke range, a mess / cookhouse. A brick air-raid shelter and an ablution block completed the site.

The Balloon equipment had not greatly changed but one thing of some importance to any Crews was food. It was decided that the WAAF were quite capable of cooking meals themselves, so dry rations were issued. For them, there were no more well stirred cooked meals delivered from the Centre, but there was always some difficulty with fuel for the range and heating - the coke ration never lasted the time for which it was allotted. More was needed during wet weather, when protective clothing and washing was hung in the cookhouse!

Duties on the Site for the Crew were by roster. One person was detailed as the cook for the day and two were required to cover a 24-hour guard duty on the Site, armed with batons and provided with torches for the hours of darkness. Leave was also rostered including even 24 hours passes, and for that the Crew was self-contained. This was extra to the normal flying of the Balloon and when ordered the Crew would oblige, even wearing their steel helmets. However when it was "Shining" they could take cover in the shelter if the air raid got heavy.

Late in September the Free Balloon Barrage (Albino) equipment was added to No. 21 Balloon Site and the WAAF Crews received extensive training, though except for repeated calls to "Stand By to launch", no Air Mines were ever flown operationally from that Site.

In 1943 the establishment of NCOs' at WAAF Balloon Sites changed to 1 Sergeant and 1 Corporal. Iris received her third stripe and remained at No 21 Site. In 1944 she took command of No. 63 Site on land close to the village of Hedon that from 1929 had been the Hull Municipal Airfield. Sgt. Lee remained there while the Hull Barrage was in existence and left Hull in July 1944 continuing to serve, with the same rank in a different trade until released in March 1946.

Officers & NCOs of D Flight Iris Lee Lawrence Chapman

Another WAAF Balloon Operator who joined the Hull Barrage early in August was ACW May Brown. May was a Hull girl and on the 3rd of February 1942, at the age of 21 years, instead of waiting to be called-up she volunteered into the Women's Auxiliary Air Force at the Hull Recruitment Centre.

Two weeks later she reported at RAF Bridgenorth, the then WAAF Recruiting Centre, and then to the seaside at Morecambe for six weeks of Basic Training. After a short home leave she was sent to the No. 16 Balloon Centre at Sheffield to undertake a course to become a Balloon Operator. Within 5 months she had returned to Hull to join a WAAF crew at the No. 32 Site in Hull's East Park, where she was to remain for a year. That was really a "Home Posting" - her home was in Marfleet, only a mile away!

The Site was on the remains of six tennis courts towards the Ings Road end of the East Park where the Crew lived in two wooden huts lit by electricity. Nearby was an ablution block, complete with running water, but no bathroom! To enjoy a soak in a bath, probably in the recommended three inches of warm water, bathing was available at a tobacconist shop on Holderness Road - no doubt by appointment only! With the increase of the number of WAAFs' at the sites, bathing facilities were provided with transport at the Hull Corporation Baths on Holderness Road. The trained WAAF Balloon Operators were the highest paid in Trade Group 2 and received a daily rate of 2/4d to 6/8d (11.6p to 63.2p) according to rank. (Those still in the service retained that level of pay when the Balloons became redundant.)

To make balloons more friendly, Crews often named their charges, although not recorded officially research shows that No. 72 Site: operating from within the walled gardens of Endsleigh Convent on Hull's Beverley Road, was christened " Angelous". Nancy Bowman who as a 14-year old schoolgirl, remembers it well, complete with a Nissen Hut as Nancy during WW2, lived with her parents in nearby Ingelmire Avenue. Quite rightly she is proud to remember that her Mum mothered the airmen on the Site by opening her home and helping them all she could. If one of the crew had a 48-hour pass and could not get to his home - the settee was available for them - if one of them were injured or ill, she would call her own doctor - Nancy herself darned the lad's socks!

Three times a day meals would be ready for the Crew at the Centre at Sutton and one of them would cycle a delivery-boy "bike" complete with a Hay-box on the front, to get the food - a case of a well stirred lukewarm meal they enjoyed! Nancy's Mum supplemented their meals by baking hot cakes and on occasions - lent them the odd saucepan.

All went well until the Airwomen of the WAAF relieved the Airmen on the Site. Evidently the true occupants of the Convent disapproved of - amongst other things, the sun bathing antics of the girls. Understandably, they were sent packing and the Airmen returned - a Heavenly intervention!

Hymers College site Air scoop Rudder fin Deflated stabiliser fins Winch lorry Air scoop Hymers College Hymers College

Whilst the formation of the WAAF Crews continued the Log recorded that on the 27th March No. 944 Balloon Squadron Headquarters received an official signal to the effect that the Squadron was to be disbanded; it was to have had a life of only 39 months. During its existence, Flights from it had been posted elsewhere but RAF Squadron esprit de corps prevailed and a farewell dance was held on the 31st of the month.

It was 26th April when No. 944 was officially disbanded and the remaining 38 Airmen were posted to No. 942/3 the last remaining East Riding Balloon Squadron. Mainly on Sites in North Lincolnshire the same airmen remained there until July 1944.

More news of Corporal Tom Mould appeared in the No. 942/3 Log for the 30th May: Tom, still on the Mobiles at Spurn Point but now on HM Drifter "Thora" was credited with the shooting down of his second Junkers 88.

During research it was discovered that the on the 3rd of June the RAF carried out aerial photograph survey of the Humber area which showed that 7 Balloons were flying from the Centre. The pattern of them does not appear to form part of the Barrage although they would have protected the base, and if required they could have been quickly dispatched elsewhere. It also shows that there was no supply problem of equipment on that date.

When Balloon Centres were planned they all included ample class or lecture rooms for the training of the volunteers of the AAF Balloon Squadrons and in 1942 a new use for those at No. 17 was the training of the urgently required WAAF Balloon Operators. There was obviously still some space available as on the 17th September the RAF School of Aircraft Recognition took up residence at the Centre. The Courses lasted for 16 days and were open to all branches and trades of the RAF, Army, Royal Observer Corp, and Air Training Corp and until 1945, the US Army, and Army Air Force. The School also provided printed matter on the subject of Aircraft Recognition, which was distributed, to Operational Stations for the information of the aircrews. The School there continued to operate until 5th February 1945. An entry in the Commanding Officer's Log Book for 17 Balloon Centre dated the 30th September records that his Chief Medical Officer was responsible in Medical matters for 2,682 personnel of the RAF and the Army. I do not think he was alone on that duty but the details are reproduced.

  Officers Other Ranks Officers Other Ranks Totals
No. 17 Balloon Centre 20 353 4 296 673
No. 942/3 Squadron 18 665 0 606 1297
Radio/wireless at College 2 41 0 0 43
No. 21 Embarkation Unit 5 128 1 6 140
Starfish Site 0 36 0 0 36
Total 2,189
No. 518 Battery RA 5 180 185
No. 121 AA "Z" Battery 8 300 308
Total 493

It can be seen from this report that a sum of 649 Other Ranks trained or worked at or from 17 Balloon Centre where sleeping accommodation consisted of 13 barrack blocks and 2 Sitting rooms, which could hold approximately 330. As the recruitment for the AAF was done on a local basis, the local personnel "lived out" with their family, which eased space at the Centre. It is also known that WAAF personnel were "billeted out" to live in private houses.

It is believed that at least 1,500 RAF and WAAF personnel were involved in the operation of the Hull Balloon Barrage at the start of the third year of WW2.

The large number of 296 of the WAAF listed as being at the Centre included "would be" Balloon Operators. Corporal Tom Thorpe remembered them well, as he had been recalled from No. 51 Site to be involved in their training, which for some reason was not his cup of tea. He told me, "They were always after me". (The author's reply to that as an ex RAF man was, "You should be so lucky!") Joking aside Tom was a married man with a family and he felt it was necessary for him to apply for a transfer. This was a time when the RAF was mainly using all metal aircraft and for him a posting was difficult as his trade was a fabric worker / rigger. Eventually he was sent to an operational station to attend to the fabric on the well-known Vickers Wellington Bombers. He was to leave the service early in 1946 and returned to his trade as a painter and decorator. He died in 1999.

Other information contained in the Medical Officer's report revealed for the first time the existence of two other Lodger Units at the Centre, as again secrecy was paramount.

One was the "Starfish." with 36 Airmen, which has been dealt with elsewhere. The second was the No. 21 Embarkation Unit staffed with 140 all ranks of RAF and WAAF personnel. Their purpose was to control and supervise RAF equipment shipped by sea to and from the Ports in the Humber area. It is likely that some of those shipments were boxed aircraft to Russia. (The departure of this Unit is not recorded but probably remained operational well after hostilities had ceased.)

Finally on the same report also gave details of Army personnel, who were also his responsibility who were stationed at Anti-aircraft batteries situated local to the Centre. No. 518 Battery, Royal Artillery with 4.7 inch anti aircraft guns had a complement of 185 all ranks. The second, No. 121 AA "Z" Battery was armed with rockets and manned by some 308 men mostly, from the Home Guard. The month of October saw changes in command when on the 9th Wing Commander S. J. Palmer, Commanding Officer of No. 942/3 Balloon Squadron returned with his Headquarters to 17 Balloon Centre. He also assumed command of the Centre and the Barrage. He went on to remain in that post until 16th July 1944.

The 14th of the same month saw a change of considerable importance to this narrative, as on that day the No. 17 Balloon Centre was disbanded, no doubt as in service protocol, at 23.59 Hrs. Accordingly two minutes later at 00.01 Hrs on the 15th October 1942 the site became the RAF Station - Sutton on Hull.

It was however a case of work as normal for the Balloon Crews. There was a slight reduction in the number of balloons operating last recorded in 1941 as on the 13th November of this year it had been reduced to 60, plus the 6 Mobiles operating on the River Humber at Spurn Point.

A week later on the 17th November another school arrived at the station - the RAF Safety Equipment Workers School. The purpose of the school was to re-train fabric workers, parachute packers and dingy packers to combine them into one Trade as Safety Equipment Workers and prepare them to appear before a Trade Test Board.

By the end of 1942 the personnel involved in this numbered 536 of all ranks of which 450 were under training. The necessary space for parachute packing was found in the Winch and Trailer Shed but it did not answer the same problem, where did they all sleep! The School was to close on the 31st May 1943.

The dates of that School coincides with the introduction of WAAF personnel on to Balloon Sites which resulted in the need for those Airmen relieved, whose trades included fabric workers, to be retrained for other duties.

With the approach of the end of the year the WAAF formed nearly 47% of the entire personnel in Balloon Command and some of those airmen they relieved were sent overseas to serve in Egypt and India.

During this year the Official RAF Records made no mention of any loss of personnel from enemy activity when six bombing raids did take place on Hull. The civilian population again suffered with the death of 20 and a further 33 serious injured.





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