Monday, 16 July 2012

Wind and old concrete: RAF Davidstow Moor and RAF St Eval

RAF Davidstow Moor was one of Coastal Command's many airfields during World War II. It lies at the north end of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. It didn't see much action. Seventy years on, Nature is slowly destroying the concrete runways. The main control tower (centre shot) still stands and is still imposing, a modern ruin, a monument to the men who flew from here, and to some who did not come back. In the bottom picture, Fiona looks quite out of place, an alien usurper on an apparently empty scene that is nevertheless full of ghosts.

I have always found these old airfields so evocative. You can almost hear in the breeze the echoes of aircraft engines and urgent radio conversations. Each old airfield is an outdoor museum that is crumbling away a bit more every year. So many were built. So many are now just places for pig farms and radio aerials, and for flying your model Spitfire or Hurricane. After the war, part of RAF Davidstow Moor was a motor racing circuit. Nowadays microlites must use the best of the three runways - hence the '02' painted on the concrete in the top photo. I suppose the disintegrating concrete should give us all an assurance that there is no such thing as 'countryside spoiled for all time' by a motorway or some such. In just a few years, if the structure is left to rot, Nature will reclaim.

Not nearly so sad and desolate is another Cornish airfield near Padstow, RAF St Eval. This was in much longer active use, and did see plenty of action during the Battle of Britain in 1940. There was actually a village called St Eval, but as in all these instances the requirements of national defence meant that the villagers had to move, and their homes were flattened. The modern settlement on the south-east edge of the airfield was the former married quarters for RAF personnel, now occupied by a motley collection of people who were prepared to queue for days to secure a house when they all came up for sale to the public. If you are desperate for your own home, then any chance of one is worth an effort, even a house set miles from anywhere. But I noticed that they at least had a shop, which must have once been run by the NAAFI.

The original village church was allowed to remain. It's full of RAF stuff. Services are held here regularly. It was sunny when I visited it, the day after my recent birthday:

I'd been here before, in August 1973, with my younger brother W---. You can't do it now (Health and Safety!), and you couldn't when I returned in 1980 with my girlfriend D---, but forty-odd years ago in 1973 you could climb up to the top of the tower and get a magnificent panoramic view. Here's W--- giving a salute from the top of the tower, to prove what I say:

He liked his leather wristbands! He was 17 at the time, and I was 21. We got on very well. I often wonder what he would now think of me as Lucy, but of course he died seventeen years ago in 1995, and I can never know.

St Eval church and its grounds were spruce and well cared-for, with a very impressive stained glass window in the church. But there were no empty runways, no gaunt control towers, and I heard no frantic messages from battered aircraft limping home hanging in the wind.


  1. The first thing I noticed when I saw the photos Lucy was the very thing you mentioned in the text, the way nature reclaims things. I have seen many instances of this in airfields, old buildings and more often lately alongside railway tracks. When travelling by rail one gets to see much more. I wonder why these disused monuments were not demolished when finished with but have to admit the runways would be more of a problem to dig up! I wonder what your brother would say about Lucy had he lived to see. Such a shame that he died so young, around 40 is too young to die.

    Shirley Anne x

  2. Found this looking for sites on my dad's old WW2 airfields. Great photos.


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