The Wartime Memories Project - RAF Usworth

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The airfield started life in October 1916 as a Flight Station for 'B' Flight of No. 36 squadron and was originally called Hylton or West Town Moor. With the ending of the first world war the area returned to non-flying use. In the early 1930`s construction of a new airfield began on the site. The new airfield had been designed to accommodate one squadron of the recently expanded Royal Auxiliary Air Force. This was to be No.607 (County of Durham) Squadron.

In September 1939 work was started on laying two concrete runways. A new perimeter track was laid along the airfield boundary with eight dispersal pens, and thirty four hard standings for single-engined fighters. New buildings were erected and anti aircraft gun emplacements were installed. Usworth was designated a Sector Fighter Station in No. 13 Group, Fighter Command and thus controlled the reporting of all raids on the area. The work on the runways continued into 1940 and was much hampered by severe frosts which delayed the reopening for flying until the end of March 1940.

On August 15 1940, due to its role as a sector fighter station, Usworth was singled out for a major Luftwaffe attack during the Battle of Britain.

On 3 July 1962, RAF Usworth, was purchased by Sunderland Corporation and reopened as Sunderland Airport. The North East Aircraft Museum was established at Usworth in 1975. Usworth closed at 1500 GMT on May 31 1984, the site to given over to Nissan for a new car factory.

The RAF sent a Jet Provost to pay their last respects and airport manager, Bob Henderson, fired off a few shots from a Very pistol as the flag was lowered. Nissan decided to retain the large Lamella hangar erected in 1929, for storage and garage facilities. However the runways would be lost under the factory's vast expanse.

Today the remaining buildings house the The North East Aircraft Museum.

Squadrons stationed at RAF Usworth

  • No 20 Initial Training Wing. Nov 1943
  • No 31 Gliding School. Sep 1944 to Feb 1949.
  • No. 43 Squadron 8 Sep 1940 to 12 Dec 1940
  • 55 Operational Training Unit. Feb 1941 to April 1942.
  • No 62 Operational Training Unit. April to June 1942.
  • No: 64 Squadron. March to May 1940
  • 416th Night Fighter Squadron (USAAF). 1943.
  • 607 Squadron 1939 and May to Sept. 1940 and Dec 1940 to Jan 1941.
  • 776 Squadron Fleet Air Arm. March to July 1943
  • No 2739 Squadron RAF Regiment. June to Sep 1944
  • No 2759 Squadron RAF Regiment. June to Sep 1944

The Wartime Memories Project would like to hear from anyone who was stationed at Usworth during the war years, or anyone who lived nearby. We would love to hear your recollections of life on the base and the surrounding area.

Please contact us:

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Sgt Ronald Graham White Carter was killed on the 1st of January 1942 whilst on a dog fighting exercise training with 55 O.T.U. He was 24 years old. I would love to hear from anyone who remembers him, does anyone have a photo of him?

Amateur historian wins right

The Northern Echo: Friday 15 September 2000

NEARLY 60 years after a shocked schoolboy witnessed one of the saddest accidents of Britain's war in the air, he has won the right for two brave pilots to be commemorated. Harry Spence was just 13 when he looked on in grim fascination as two RAF Hurricanes collided in mid-air on Valentine's Day, 1942, hurtling to the ground near his home in Tudhoe Colliery, near Spennymoor, County Durham. Like others who watched the tragic spectacle, Harry believes that the pilots saved their community from disaster by sacrificing their lives to fly their planes clear of Tudhoe's pit cottages and shops.

At 22, one of the pilots, John Porter, was already a sergeant at RAF Usworth, near Sunderland, and taking part in a mock dog fight in the skies near his home village of Brandon, County Durham. As he flew into one of the most complex manoeuvres of the exercise, coming towards him was a second Hurricane from Usworth, in the hands of 26-year-old Sergeant Clifford Scott, married with a young daughter, and a member of the Canadian RAF.

Now the courage of both men will be recorded on a plaque to be placed by Spennymoor Town Council in Tudhoe Cemetery. Harry, 72, a keen amateur historian, came up with the idea as a tribute to the heroes of the skies. He still remembers vividly the Saturday morning of the crash. Despite their sense 0of horror, he and his friend Harold Kirkup ran to where one of the aircraft fell and burst into flames, yards away from their homes.

Harry said: "We ran towards the pilot, but, of course, we could do nothing. We heard him say his prayers and then he died. I found one of his flying boots in a nearby gully, full of water." Villagers found an old door and used it as a makeshift stretcher to carry the pilot's body away. Harry added: "The pilot stayed in his plane until the last possible moment after avoiding the houses. They were both flying away from the village."

Three years ago, one of Harry's colleagues in the Spennymoor and District Local History Society, former fighter pilot Bill Fleming, laid a wreath at Tudhoe's war memorial in memory of the lost fliers

I joined up at the end of 1940 and in 1941 became W.A.A.F Doreen Kinsey plus service number, hoping to see new and i interesting places. I was sent to Bridgenorth where I was kitted out medicated and then moved on to Morcambe to begin basic training plus lots of jabs, all very exciting. After a month on the prom learning the correct way to Salute, March, including turning the "right" way , and several necessary things I was posted to Usworth, at a few were miles out side of Sunder land, in other words back home. Not for me the fun and games - I was billeted at home and provided with a bike. This meant I had to travel 12 miles each morning to be on camp by the 8 o'clock, roll call! I it was attached to Technical Services in a hut on the edge of the aerodrome which was home to the Anson training planes for Canadians etc. to have training in a of course, but not to flirt with I can assure you! Having undergone my own training, office work plus Gas training - I was at last a W.A.A.F.

A group of WAAFs in the NAFFI at Usworth

I spent 10 months at Usworth and then off I went onto a radio course at Stafford, two weeks there then off to Fighter Command at Kenley in Surrey - things I thought were looking up! I was attached to Admin and spent almost two years there. May I say happy times between the lulls of air raids etc. I met my twin Dorothy, same birthday and year-and we became very close. We celebrated our 21st birthday in London at the Corner House and ducking for cover later on our way back to Kenley.

Doreen Kinsey aged 21

Doreen Kinsey, aged 21

I took my exams at Biggin Hill and rode behind a dispatch rider delivering batches of I D cards - which of course was just not done - but it was!

Towards D. Day great things were happening and I was posted further down the country to Durrington, near Worthing. We were billeted in three houses which had been built at the beginning of the war at the edge of its very large field with quite a few hens, source unknown, who delicately laid away in the long grass and gave us girls many a nice extra tea. Days off work were spent in Brighton sipping Pink Gin if we were lucky and we always had the boys to take care of us and see us across the field back to billets. D. Day came and we of course saw the build up down the country lanes which were full of Tanks, Lorries and "men" and I saw the planes and gliders by the hundreds, all very young men up there and us down on the ground saying our prayers.

Then demob and up to Greenlaw in Scotland to become a civvy again. I married my husband on St Valentine's Day 1945 he had just returned from his war in South Africa - very different war to mine but he was an R.A.F. Engineer servicing battered aircraft so that they could be returned to service in the Middle East as soon as possible.

Doreen's husband in RAF uniform

Doreen's husband in his RAF uniform

I am a member of the W.A.A.F. Association and I am proud of myself and my friends and my heart lifts and a tear is shed on Remembrance Day. How I would love to swing my kilt with the rest of them in Whitehall, but I'll be there in my heart.

Doreen Arrowsmith. (nee. Kinsey)


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

List of those who served here.

  • F/O Wilkinson Barnes
  • Hector Jack Raymond Barrow. Read his story
  • James Michael Bazin. DFC. DSO
  • William Francis Blackadder DFC
  • T.R.T. Carr-Ellison
  • Sgt Ronald Graham White Carter. pilot. 55 OTU. Read his story
  • F/O George Dudley Craig. 607 Sqd. Read his story
  • Peter Henry Dixon (d. 3rd June 1940)
  • F/O Anthony Douglas "Bunny" Forster DFC.
  • William Ernest Gore DFC. (d. 28th Sep 1940.)
  • Sergeant J. Graham. pilot 55 OTU. RCAF (d. 10th Feb. 1942)
  • F/O M. Griffiths
  • Sgt J B Hurley. Pilot 55 OTU. RCAF
  • Maurice Milne Irving. (d.28th Sep 1940.)
  • Joseph Robert Kayll DSO.DFC.
  • W.A.A.F Doreen Kinsey.
  • Robin John McNair. instructor 55 OTU Read his story
  • P/O Stuart Boyd Parnall. (d. Sep 1940)
  • Sgt. John Porter (d. 14 Feb 1942) Read his story
  • Augustin Preucil. 55 OTU. Czech Pilot and German Spy Read his story
  • Bobby Pumphrey
  • T.T. Richardson
  • Sgt L W Rogers. Pilot 55 OTU. Read his story
  • Sergeant Clifford Scott. pilot. RCAF.(d. 14 Feb 1942) Read his story
  • Launcelot Eustice Smith 607 Sqd
  • LAC Pearson Watson Smith. 55 OTU.
  • James Anderson Vick.
  • Pilot Officer Harry Welford. 607 Sqd.
  • Sgt W J Wetherall. Pilot 55 OTU. Read his story
  • F/O William Hubert Rigby "Nits" Whitty. DFC. 607 Sqd. Read his Story
  • John Watson "Jack" Yost Read his story

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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