LOCAL history buff Ken Gollop will give a talk on the Royal Air Force’s connection with Lyme Regis from 1937 to 1964.
Organised by the Friends of Lyme Regis Museum, Mr Gollop – well known locally for his popular series of ‘Under Shady Tree’ nostalgia talks – will host the event at the Woodmead Halls on Thursday, February 6 starting at 2.30pm.
Here he gives a snippet of what to expect: “With the likelihood of war in the near future, the Air Ministry established practice bombing and firing ranges in several areas around the country. One of these was off the Chesil Bank and the eastern half of Lyme Bay in 1937.
“A base was established in Lyme Regis to service the ranges, with moorings for seaplane tenders, a large concrete slipway to service the boats, plus barracks and workshops on the site of the old cement works (now the Boat Building Academy) on what is now called Monmouth Beach.
“Prior to the building of the barracks the servicemen were billeted with local families and from the start relationships were always good.
“Over the next 27 years there were many marriages with local girls and many of their descendants still live in town. Initially a few of the gentry objected to servicemen wearing uniform in town as it ‘lowered the tone’.
“Starting off with a couple of seaplane tenders and a small complement of men, during the war years there were up to five air sea rescue boats and up to 60 personnel.
“The war years were very active for the unit, saving both British and German pilots, experimenting with various equipment and aircraft and undertaking various duties including standing by off the French coast on D-Day.
“At the end of the war there were plans to close the base but these were suddenly dropped and a radar station established on Stonebarow. The ranges continued to be used for aircraft and flying research and were serviced by the RAF boats at Lyme.
“However, in 1964 finances forced the closure of the base and naval helicopters took over rescue duties. The range safety duties were put out to tender.
“My brother and I were lucky to get the contract and for the next 10 years worked part-time duties for the radar station and Boscombe Down Experimental Establishment. This worked well for both parties, the Air Ministry only paying us when they needed us and in the meantime we could carry on fishing and tripping.
“There are still a few in Lyme who can remember the RAF in its heyday, with boats laying at their moorings outside the harbour, the odd launch breaking away and being wrecked on the beach, airmen helping save furniture from the houses wrecked in the landslip, and helping at the big traffic accident in Broad Street, and of course the Brylcreem Boys who stole all our local girls.”