The Wartime Memories Project - RAF Stormy Down

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World War 2 Two II WW2 WWII


The field was a training field, primarily for wireless operator/air gunners

I would like to relate to you a story that was originally told to me by my father.

The tale takes place in the year 1940, when my father was an RAF wireless operator, on an air sea rescue launch, number 274, based in the old Jennings building, now a marine base, in Porthcawl, the two launches there covered the Bristol Channel area, including the docks of Swansea, Cardiff and PortTalbot. It had been a wicked winter that year, the coldest on record, Britain was at war with Germany and did not seem to be doing so well at it at that moment. The might of Herr Hitler's Germany had leveled all of Europe and now was directed, in its entirety, against Britain, at the that time, concentrating against the coastal ports, to disrupt the movement of food and munitions, many things were in short supply, so strict rationing was in place, but some things could be bought if you knew the right someone.

Between the Royal Navy laying mines, to keep the U boats out and the Luftwaffe laying mines to keep the British in, the Bristol Channel in 1940 was a very busy place, not to mention down right dangerous.

Now as if this was not enough angst for the air sea rescue lads, the RAF establishment did not really like it's air sea rescue service, as they were not considered "real" airmen, they were looked on as somewhat akin to pirates, and as for the Navy, well the Navy looked on them as either well meaning amateurs, or as some sort of poachers on what the Navy liked to look on as their exclusive preserve, So figuratively as well as literally there was the crew of 274, right in the middle of a sea of troubles.

One day they responded to a Mayday call from a ship just off of Newton point. A freighter had hit a mine, whether it had been a stray British one or a fresh laid German one did not matter much any more, the end effect had been the same, The SS Cato was going down and need help.

In a matter of Minuets the launch was there, the survivors picked some straight off the ship with out getting wet, and then a high speed run to the pier in Porthcawl to the waiting ambulances, all in all a good pickup.

Once the survivors had been dropped off, the launch headed back to the freighter to check the area, well when they got there it was a wondrous sight that met their eyes, for the ship had been a special one, it's run had been from southern Ireland to Cardiff, and in it's deck cargo, amongst other things had been barrel after barrel of that famous liquid black gold, straight from Dublin, Guinness, and there they were, bobbing around in the gentle swell of the Channel.

In no time flat, the lads of 274 had as many barrels on board as the launch could hold, Back to Porthcawl, high speed all the way, unload them, pile them on the pier, back out, pick up another load, Back to Porthcawl, and so on until there was tidy few barrels sitting by the old coastguard station on the pier and after the proper authorities had been notified, with due ceremony an armed navel guard was placed there to await the arrival of the said authorities.

The proper authorities in this case started with the Navy, and once it had placed the armed guard on the barrels, they elected to wait a few days as it was only those Brylcreem boys and they could jolly well wait, and it is almost the weekend, my guess is they were slightly put out by the fact they had not taken part in the rescue of both humans and beer.

At that time it was customary to be paid a lump sum for any cargo rescued and returned intact, now remember, this was 1940, and those of you can recall those days can also recall that beer was sometimes in short supply, so you can imagine the thoughts of that happy crew, for not only had a barrel, um, not quite made the official pile, but with the shortages a good price would be paid out as soon as the proper authorities had evaluated the worth.

When this happy event happened, the official way of divvying up the money was, the base commander had so much, out of the rest the officer in charge of the launch had a third, the nco's had a third and the rest of the crew had a third, usually though, by common consent the money was split up more evenly than that, all had equal shares, but this time the launch was suffering under a new officer, who always demanded his correct share !!

Needless to say, this did not sit well with the crew, but rules are rules and what can you do. Still, the speculation on what was going to be done with all that money was rife for the whole of that week end, the skipper had even gone as far as looking at a new car . There was however, several of the crew with bigger smiles than anyone else, and their talk about the money was strangely muted.

Then came the day, The proper authorities came ,and in due course, in front of a large audience, the big barrels were opened, one at a time and pronounced empty or half full of sea water, worthless.

Empty ???



How could that be ? visions of the great sums of money suddenly took flight, the officers new car drove rapidly out of reach.

What was not noticed by any one was that a couple of the navel armed guard, several of the townspeople, especially the publicans and funnily enough some of the launch crew all had shall we say self satisfied smiles on their faces.

Perhaps those of you who can remember those dark days can remember the static water tanks that were in place in case of bombing ? well there was one, tank water, emergency firefighting for the use of, along side the marine base, only that morning, it could no longer, truthfully, be classified as a tank water, emergency firefighting for the use of. for it no longer contained water you see, oh yes, it still had liquid in it, but the nights had been dark. the tank had been near, And the navy had sailors that liked a drop of Guinness, my father liked to say that it had been one of the first true combined operations of the war, no wonder he had always chuckled at any commando film for, he had been there first.

Now if you go to Porthcawl, go down to the pier and look at the old coast guard tower, then turn around and look at what is now a council building but once was an RAF marine base, pay particular attention to the water tower above the old R.N.L.I. boat house for that was the very tank involved, it is slightly higher than it was in 1940 but there it is.

There is an interesting sidebar to this story, as you gaze from the pier over to Wig Fach & Ogmore, think about that somewhere in those dunes, lies buried a full barrel of Guinness, for some of those barrels were washed ashore later that day in 1940, and the locals, unfortunately with their thirst overcoming all civic responsibility buried one and opened another, the bad part was that they opened it to the extent of forgetting where they buried the first , so if you are thirsty and in the aptly named Happy Valley part of Porthcawl, grab a spade and start looking, a full barrel of well aged beer is out there somewhere.

A quote from Author: Ken Lewis Source: Ship Wrecks Around Wales by Tom Bennett, Volume 1. 1987. ISBN 0 9512114 0 4. 1940-3 March "CATO" Quote: One memorable event, which ironically enlivened the dark days on the war for many people, was the mining of the s. s. Catoł bound from Ireland to Bristol with a cargo of stout. She sank off Nash Point on 3rdMarch 1940, a great many barrels of liquor being strew around the coast of Swansea Bay. Like their ancestors of the old wrecking days, hundreds of Glamorgan men crowded the beaches for communal binges, not a few on the barrels being taken away. One barrel was rolled from Morfa beach to a Margam home nearly two miles away, and I shudder to think what the stout was like when it was tapped. In another instance, a Pyle man took a barrel home and emptied it into the bath with the intention of treating it in some way, but his hopes drained away when his irate wife pulled the plug! Author; Ken Lewis. Source: Some Pirates, Smugglers and Wrecks in the Bristol Channel by A. Leslie Evans. 1984 Quote: Type: Cargo Steamship Port of Registry: Bristol Tonnage: 710 tons gross Built: 1914, Campbeltown Length: 230 feet Breadth: 31 feet Date of Sinking: March 3rd 1940 Owned by Bristol Steam Navigation Company, the CATO II was one of the ships most frequently seen passing up the river Avon in the years between the Wars. Her cargo, more often than not, was Guinness from Dublin. Somehow she had escaped enemy action in World War I and when war returned in 1939 she, again was the only Company ship to be in service. All went well until March 1940 when the Cato was returning from Ireland. She had her usual cargo of Guinness in her holds when a few miles off Nash Point she was struck by a magnetic mine. The ship sank quickly and 13 of her 15 crew were lost. On sinking some of her cargo freed itself from the hold and a number of barrels of stout washed ashore. The wreck quickly earned the title of the Guinness Wreak. The sight of the barrels delighted the Glamorgan folk living nearby and there are stories of them having communal drinking sessions on the beaches

At that time my father was a corporal air gunner/wireless operator instructor. He was present for the only bombing raid carried out on the airfield, the only casualty being the camp postman who dived into a hut just as a bomb hit it! The offending bomber also managed to jettison it's bomb load over Porthcawl with very little damage. The bomber was shot down by a fighter from nearby Pembrey, unfortunately crashing on an army camp in St Donats killing one soldier. By a strange quirk of fate he was the fighter pilot's brother! Most of his time was spent on one of the two seaplane tenders stationed there that were being used for rescue purposes. The two launches were 274 and 275, were very busy at this time of the war as the ports of Barry, PortTalbot & Swansea were being hit hard, both by bombing and by mines. My father related several stories about this time, One relating to a ship going down with her skipper and mate trapped in the wheelhouse. My father and a couple of others climbed aboard and cut them out. Survivors and crew were picked up by the launch actually sailing over the sinking ship. For this the crew received a Mention in Dispatches.

Just as an aside, in the 1980's my father was attending a RAFA conference, I think in Blackpool, he and a couple of friends visited a local RAFA club. It turned out to be a Polish RAFA and as they walked in there was a sudden silence. It wasn't until later that conversation resumed, and then the talk seemed to be centered around them. A little bit later a deputation came over and asked, excuse me, but were you Corporal Jones? when he answer yes the room went wild, it turned out that most of the present company were "looked after" by him at Stormy Down in 1940 and they all wanted to thank him for his care. He didn't remember much about the rest of the evening.

I am trying, rather slowly, to put together a history of 274, if anyone has any information on them I would appreciate an E Mail.

Huw Jones


No 7 Bombing and Gunnery School December 1940

Course of W/Op AG's,can't remember all the namesbut the ones I do remember are: Standing 4th from left J.Chubb: O Catt Sitting-2nd from left; Ed Cooke; 4th-Conroy Floor- 3rd from left Bryant

Ed Cooke

If you have any Photographs you would like to share please get in touch.

List of those who served here.

  • Bryant
  • O Catt
  • J.Chubb
  • Ed Cooke Read his Story
  • Sergeant Ernest 'Sunny' Gledhill (Air Gunner)Read his story
  • Sgt. John Goodwin, RAF(VR) (Air Gunner (Rear))Read his Story
  • Charlie E. Hobbs
  • John Meirion Jones
  • William Llewellyn John.
  • Cpl A E (Richey) Richardson
  • Thorne
  • Allan Tregellas Read his Story
  • Stan Yarwood

If you have any names to add to this list, or any recollections or photos of those listed, please get in touch.

If you have a story which you would like to share, or a website dedicated to an airfield or aircrew, please get in touch.

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