The story of the RAF Peterhead (Longside Airfield) Memorial
by the late Terry Wilson, 26th Entry Telegraphist
Longside is a very rural village situated seven miles due west of Peterhead and about thirty five miles north of Aberdeen, so within the commuting perimeter of this rather vibrant city. When the wind blows off the sea we feel the raw bite of the east wind.
Longside itself is largely unremarkable, a really nice place to live with very little crime, nice honest folk but remarkable in the generosity of the people. There are a good few organisations all run on a strictly voluntary basis - It was here I finally put down roots after my RAF service. Within a year I found myself the Treasurer of the local Royal British Legion Branch. That was in 1967, believe it not I still hold that position. We have never been a very big Branch although one of our claims to fame is that we are one of the oldest, if not the oldest in Scotland if not the UK - This a disputed argument that will never be answered. I hold the minutes of every meeting since January 1919 which at that time was called the Longside Returning Soldiers and Sailors Organisation - That's how old, no mention of the Royal Flying Corp.
We have no permanent premises, using the local Football Club for meetings, coffee mornings and functions. In the past this area supplied recruits for the Army - the Gordon Highlanders being the local regiment - with the result that a lot of our former members were at Dunkirk, France and Germany and of course were in the Far East at the Fall of Singapore so a lot of them were on the infamous Railway - we have just two Gordon's left now. My historical diary carries some remarkable stories of their trials and tribulations in Europe, North Africa, Burma and the Far East.
Our Branch is now more a cross selection of all the Services from the RAF to the Merchant Navy, giving a rich mix of ideas and each giving their own stamp of experience - the result is a small Branch of around 55 members with ladies and gentlemen who give of their time and services freely. One small example is last year (2002) our Branch won the cup for all of Scotland for the Small Branch that made the most funds for the Earl Haig Fund Poppy Collection in November.
When one of our members suggested a Memorial to those who had served at RAF Peterhead (Longside Airfield) everyone showed a lot of interest but realised that it would probably cost quite a lot of money. Undaunted, we set up a Cairn Committee of five members who volunteered their help to look into the hard facts. First of all we had to obtain a piece of land - this was gifted by the owners Mr and Mrs Ross, in effect our first and most important donation. Then we set about the legalities - to finance this aspect we held a full Legion meeting to get permission from the members to use Legion Funds because at this time we had just thirty pounds in the newly formed Longside Memorial Fund. All together the legal fees, planning permission, officially drawn up plans and incidentals came to over eleven hundred pounds. We put out tenders and chose a firm who had Masons experienced in Granite work.
We were now set to go, bearing in mind that by this time we had less than one hundred pounds in donations. At this time another Legion member expressed a lot of interest in helping, he was co-opted on without delay - we had the best working committee anyone could have hoped for, everyone had different talents which we put to use. The site was virtually a rubbish dump at the end of one of the old runways. The contractors moved in and cleared the site of rubbish including over eighty old tyres dumped by an indiscriminate garage - when I first viewed the site my heart sank, what on earth could we do with this! I was told 'leave this to us, you get the finance'. Off I went cap in hand to firms, the Council, the local partnerships stressing all the time the historical importance of what we were doing. The money started rolling in, even I was delighted! Thanks to the local newspapers that I besieged with articles every other week our efforts began to be recognised - people began stopping me in the street and offered donations. It would be wrong to pick out any individuals, enough to say the sheer generosity of everyone overwhelmed me.
We of course also held our own fund raising functions which once again were very well supported. We soon began to realise we were onto a very popular project which had caught everyone's imagination. Thanks to newspaper coverage word began to spread throughout the UK, the USA and the Yukon. Aircrew and groundcrew contacted me with stories of RAF Peterhead and it was at this stage that I realised that there was probably a lot of history to be found - that started me off on another tangent - trying to get as much as I could from the wartime men and women. I can't begin to say how successful this has been, enough to get it into some sort of book form - ably assisted by enthusiastic Legion members I have a virtual drawer full of personal memories and photographs which people have been good enough to share with me - I feel very honoured.
I digress - By April 2003 we had raised the staggering amount of over six thousand pounds. The Cairn Committee at one of our numerous meetings decided to set a date for the unveiling, it was to be September 14th, a year earlier than had been envisaged.
We had numerous meetings with the Commanding Officer of RAF Buchan who overwhelmed us with their support. The Guard of Honour was in the hands of Sgt McKay, with Flt Lt Lawson as Guard Commander and Wing Commander Kay said he would be delighted to perform the unveiling.
Our next task was to draw up an invitation list. We had wanted the actual unveiling to be open to everyone who wanted to attend but due to lack of space had to restrict our invitations to 140 guests, this proved to be a great problem - who could we leave out, so great was the list of benefactors - finally after many meetings we decided who should be invited. Once again using a local man who is very adept at computer work we were able to produced invitations and an Order of Service. Many people have commented on the excellent work this chap produced for us. Sending out the invitations was the only cost incurred - 200 second class stamps! Everything else had been donated.
It was at this stage that we got a tremendous boost - Flt Lt Lawson of RAF Buchan said he was trying to organise a Flypast! Around about July I received a phone call from Major Knapik, Deputy CO of 416 RCAF Squadron, Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada - he and his wife would be delighted to attend. 416 RCAF Squadron holds a special place in the history of RAF Peterhead as it was actually formed there with Spitfires in 1941. I have some superb photographs of the Squadron, young Canadians, British, New Zealanders and Australians.
September 14th dawned, a fine day with the forecast good, we were about to see if all our hard work would pay off and it truly did, there were about 500 people to see the ceremony. At exactly 1400hrs a Dakota of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight flew overhead, low and slow a very moving moment, even the youngsters who were there seemed to get the mood. The CO of RAF Buchan, Wing Commander Kay unveiled the Cairn and the immaculate Guard of Honour were inspected - I was very proud as I had been asked by the CO if I would inspect the Guard. It was good to see them looking as smart as we thought ourselves to be all those years ago! Our 14 year-old Grandson said later to me 'That was real cool' - I guess that says it all!
The Peterhead Salvation Army Band provided the music, they also provided the Bugler for the Last Post and Reveille and we had a lone pipe playing the Lament on a wee hill behind the Cairn. Our local Minister, the Rev Norman Smith and the RAF Padre, the Rev Glyn Williams shared the service. Wreaths were laid by the Royal British Legion, the RAF, the ATC, the RCAF (Major Knapik), the Merchant Navy and the Fleet Air Arm. A lady whose late father served at RAF Peterhead laid a small bouquet of flowers. At exactly 1430hrs a Nimrod from No 42 (R) Sqn based at RAF Kinloss flew four low slow overhead runs which brought a day full of memories to a very touching and poignant end. At the reception afterwards we were very pleased to meet three members from those wartime days, local lass Jeannie Gordon an ex-WAAF MT driver, Mr Bob Bruce an ex-Air Wireless Fitter with Spitfires and wife and a former pilot, Mr Russell Steggles and his wife who made the long journey up from Ipswich to be with us.
Since then phone calls and letters have been arriving with more historical facts, photographs and memories of the 25 RAF and 4 Fleet Air Arm Squadrons that served at RAF Peterhead from 1941-45.
We of the Longside Branch, are very proud of what we have achieved - keeping the memories alive of these brave men and women from the wartime days.
L to R: Keith Robins, Don Bamford, Alan Mackay
& Bill Shearer - all 26th Telegs