There were 18 military aerodromes in the Vale of Mowbray during the 1939-45 War. That at Croft was the furthest west and north of the cluster Unlike many it was a fresh start, having no pevious experience or facilities. Unlike many it was not built on sound firm ground, but rather upon an areamarked as “mire” on maps and in the names of the local villages. Its site was further limited on the east by the immediate proximity of the main LNER and the Darlington road from Northallerton..
Alan Todd presented a very clear portrayal of the development of this unpromising site, from its initial earthworks in 1941 to lay the main runways and thence its mission to deliver bombs to the project sites in Germany, northern France, and ultimately to support the D-Day landings. Croft was to be the home base for a succession of Halifax, Wellington and Lancaster bombers – the heavy brigade. Technological advances brought in new and heavier planes, requiring longer and stronger runways such that the site was thus one of continued structural development. Not least was the provision of substantial tightly secure areas of bomb storage and the major risk they posed in the event of a successful German air raid on the aerodrome.
Alan told in some detail of the major successes achieved, of the tragic losses when squadrons were nearly wiped out, and of the often tense atmosphere and life at Croft, speaking in particular of the role played by the Canadian Air Force units located at the base. He pointed out the logistical problems faced in moving large numbers of staff in and out the region, and of course supplying the vast arsenal of firepower. Implicit in this was the strategic importance of the Eryholme railway station on the LNER line, now a mere dot on the map.
This was a well-researched piece of local history, a significant player in the war scene – a role where time and peace have served to virtually obliterate any record of its existence. Alan made great use of photographs supplied by one of the then serving staff at roft and by some informative maps of the area. The talk provided Club members with a good morning to ponder about wartime strategy and the risks undertaken in times of conflict.