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We would like to put personal reminiscences of those who worked & lived around the Airfield here. If you have any memories you would like to share then please email us. Also, if you had a relative who was stationed at Harrowbeer and have diaries/logbooks etc of their time here, we would love to hear from you

Albert Frederick Heathfield

My father Albert Frederick Heathfield, Service number 1263089, was a Corporal Fitter Armourer at 276 Squadron RAF Harrowbeer. His RAF records show he served there from 29 April 1943 until the 3rd September 1944.

Whilst there he attended the Parnell Gun Turret Arms School 3/7/1944 to 15/7/1944. We lived nearby at I believe Hele Cottage, Buckland Monachorum, my father after the war was a dairyman plus we had a small holding. After the war we continued to live in the area until I was eleven, we then moved to London.. Sadly my father died in 1955. I enclose a photo of my father for your records. I would be interested to contact anyone who may remember the Heathfield family.

My mother tells a story of a terrible wartime accident at Harrowbeer where an airplane crashed and the wing sliced through a bus, taking people's heads off. (More on this has come to light recently)

Howard Heathfield


Don’t know if this is of interest but I have discovered that my grandfather was stationed at Harrowbeer from 11/2/1939 to 18/6/1845, he was Corporal William Henry Down a General Fitter from Exeter.

Steve Downe,

Information from an article in the Sunday Independent, dated November 16th, 1980
(N.B. I have removed the names from these reminiscences)

A spot check by the RAF in 1943 found 16 different types of aircraft packed onto the airfield, and identifying them was a favourite pastime for local schoolboys. One of them recalls "As a young boy I cycled up from Laira to Yelverton and saw for the only time in my life a Boulton Paul Defiant aircraft parked close to the Rock at Harrowbeer. We were all expert spotters in those days."

Another recalls "While living in Whitchurch, near Tavistock, my brother and I saw three aircraft flying low towards Yelverton. Being dead keen on aircraft recognition we soon realised that one was a German ME110, and another an ME109. Close behind was a Spitfire. We watched and listened for gunfire but there wasn't any. We soon realised that they must be landing so we got on our bikes and raced out to Harrowbeer as fast as we could. When we got there, we saw that on the runway near the Rock were the two German aircraft. They had been captured earlier and were now on show to the various RAF stations"

A Lancaster Bomber crash-lands at Harrowbeer - recalled by a friend of the Pilot

"He [the Pilot] was forced to crash land at Harrowbeer after a night bombing raid on Germany. He was uninjured and walked from the plane off into the night to where his girlfriend lived nearby. She was obviously pleased to see him as they married shortly afterwards!"

(We can confirm the above story is true! We were visited by the couples son in 2007 who confirmed the story, apart from the fact he was the navigator not the pilot. He added " The aircraft was damaged and the Pilot reckoned they wouldn't get back to their home airfield and asked the Navigator for the course to the nearest airfield. Realising that landing at Harrowbeer meant he could see his girlfriend, he gave the pilot the course to there! He did the same thing on another occasion too!")

The Paper's photographer recalls another incident near the airfield:

"A few friends and I used to go for walks on one of the Tors on Dartmoor. On one occasion a German Bomber was flying so low on its approach to Plymouth that we could look down into the cockpit. Unfortunately, he saw us and the machine gunner opened fire. Needless to say we hit the deck and didn't get up until they had gone"

Another chap worked for the Cornwall Electric Power Company in 1941. He and a workmate were sent to wire loudspeakers in every hut and building with control tower microphones so that all airmen could be instantly alerted. "The huts were spotlessly clean inside and besides the beds of the Polish airmen was a cross and a small figure of the Virgin Mary. We admired these men as they often went across the Channel on offensive fighter sweeps"

A sadder story is of a young airmen, recalled by his sister..

"My brother had only one ambition - to fly. He had been in the ATC and joined the RAF as a volunteer. He was stationed at Harrowbeer with the air-sea rescue squadron and, although he was part of the ground crew, on August 24th 1942, there was room for one person to go up in a Lysander to check the rubber dingies being dropped into the sea. My brother and another young man at Harrowbeer tossed a penny to see which should have the privilege of flying. He won the toss. Later that day he was posted 'missing presumed killed'. The only explanation of that fateful afternoon was that as the German bombers came in to bomb Dartmouth, they also shot the Lysander down"


Ed Mckay
Canadian Pilot - 193 Squadron

"I was on leave in London in 43 and dropped into the Ritz Hotel, Picadilly, to see if any fighter pilots were about since the ground floor side lounge was often a meeting place. I noticed a photographers' studio and was told he was quite famous, similar to our Karsh in Ottawa, so I decided to have him do a portrait and send it home.;I was 19 yrs old."
(Ed sadly passed away in 2011 ~ SCF)

"I was posted there [to Harrowbeer] in December 1942 along with 3 other Canadian Fighter Pilots` having completed fighter pilot training at RAF Tealing near Dundee Scotland on Hurricanes, We were part of a collection of green pilots to form a brand new Squadron No 193. We flew beat up old Hurricanes until the first Typhoons arrived and my first flight was February 1943 and at the time the Typhoon was a sensational aircraft and had many problems.The main runway had a hump in the middle that could be disconcerting if you landed too fast. Getting into the airfield in some of the atrocious winter weather was a challenge. I remember the Dartmoor ponies still wandering around outside the officers mess"

"The Typhoon was almost scrapped under pressure from Spitfire and Mustang advocates at the Air Ministry because of the incredible problems with the aircraft, (resulting in heavy pilot and aircraft losses) resulting from engine and structure failures. Also, carbon monoxide [in the cockpit] killed pilots, including one from our squadron at Harrowbeer. We also had a tail fall off and PO Kilpatrick managed to bail out and his greatest fear was landing in a nearby body of water, as he had been blinded by the slipstream and remained so for some time. Later in France, he was shot down behind enemy lines and not only returned, but with some Germans who surrendered to him (and for which he was decorated). There are very few Typhoon Pilots alive now from the small number who survived the war but I still meet with some of them 3 times a year at a Typhoon/Tempest pilots reunion lunch. Incidentally, one of our favourite haunts was the Moorland Links Hotel and also on one occasion Lady Astor entertained the Squadron officers in Plymouth."

"As you are probabaly aware tens of thousands of bicycles were issued on stations; a very practical solution to the problem of getting around the many dispersed areas, pilots dispersal, messes, briefings, sleeping quarters and of course the pubs, being careful not to over indulge, as navigating in the pitch black out could be very tricky; I experienced one crash landing, having misjudged a turn at the bottom of a hill but fortunately hit a hedge instead of a brick wall.

My sleeping quarters were in a Nissan hut somewhere in the north east [West?] of the field and quite
isolated, very basic, concrete floor, small stove, iron cots. Our first tasks when we were designated operational status were low level patrols, two a/c one on the deck, the other about 300 feet on designated courses, for example, Start Point to Torquay, hoping for a chance at intercepting [FW]190s or [ME]109s, low level sneak raiders as they were called. The enemy used to send them across to straff and bomb coastal towns then escape back to France and for a while only the Typhoon could catch them and destroy them, until the Spit 9s came along; the Spit 5 could only catch them after a dive and had little success."

"One day we were on standdown in the afternoon, enjoing lunch and a few ales at the Moorland Links Hotel, when all pilots were ordered to report back immediately to the airfield. We were quickly briefed that quite a few badly shot up American B17s straggling back from a raid were down in the channel, some being shot up by the enemy and at first we thought we'd be scrambled to cover them but that didn't happen. However a lone Fort struggled in to land, and the crew had really been through hell, with dead and wounded, especially a waist gunner. The interior floor of the Fort was covered with spent .50s and blood. I think the big raid had been on Ludwigshafen or Schweinfurt; the American baptisms of fire before they got fighter escorts were incredible with heavy losses and the courage of their crews was exemplary."

"We were PO Pilots on 193 and shared liaison duty, serving on an RN Hunt Class destroyer for about a week out of Plymouth, (a memorable voyage). Most of the time was spent on the bridge, getting a real navy education. At the time, the Admiralty and RAF were in a row about who was responsible for too many incidents of our aircraft being shot down by the Navy and we had to report back our observations, along with those of many other fighter pilots.There were two reasons: abysmal a/c recognition by the RN and foolhardy pilots who were dumb enough to approach any ship on battle alert without warning!"

Francis Ray Hulbert AFC AE

Photographed in 1945
© Andrew Smith

Based at Harrowbeer in 1943 with 193 Squadron. He was a regular pianist at the 'Who'd Have Thought It' in Milton Combe. The rest of the crews used to pour their pints over the piano whilst he was playing!
(A picture of Ray with his Typhoon is on the 193 Squadron page)

"I was posted to Harrowbeer in March 1943 to No 193 Typhoon Squadron as Deputy Flight Commander of 'A' Flight and also as Training Officer, as some pilots posted to the squadron had no experience of Typhoons

The Typhoon was bigger and heavier than either the Spitfire or the Hurricane and this initially caused problems.

The operations we carried out were attacks in France on various targets with cannons, rockets and bombs, the latter carried under the wings. We also did bomber escort duties and for many operations we flew from Lands End to Predannock

Harrowbeer was a friendly station and the C.O. in my time was Squadron Leader Petrie who not long before had been on a course with me in Colerne near Bath.

There were various places we could visit on our days off, such as Plymouth, Exeter and Yelverton. The latter place had a cafe we named the 'Spies Cafe' as it overlooked the airfield!

I visited the airfield in the 1960's and 70's after it was dismantled. I remember the parties and dances held there in wartime"

The above taken from notes made by Ray Hulbert.

More on 193 Squadron...

The following are extracts from the WWII journal entries of Flight Lieutant Louis McBride (Adjutant/193 Squadron).
My thanks to T Darling for allowing me to reprint them here. More from the journals can be found on http://www.amnesta.net/other/

"No. 193 Squadron existed, I believe, during the last war, simply as a training squadron and no records exist now to show the type of aircraft with which it was equipped, nor any of the operations in which it took part. During the demobilization in 1919, the Squadron lapsed again into just a number, and to all intents and purposes it really formed at Harrowbeer [Airfield, near Yelverton, 10 miles north of Plymouth, on the far southwest coast of England] in September 1942, with Typhoon aircraft. [193 Squadron was formed and mostly remained at Harrowbeer until February 20, 1944.]

It was designated one of the "Brazilian" Squadrons in honor of our ally (if such she is), Brazil. The inauguration ceremonies before the Brazilian staff in October 1942 at Harrowbeer are still remembered in the squadron with a great deal of hilarity. The day in question was stormy with a high wind and pouring with rain. A grand parade was held, however, and a number of aircraft handed over with due formality to the squadron, whilst the Ambassador and various other personages of note made speeches suitable to the occasion. A recording unit operated the while, preserving the words of the night for transmission to posterity, and incidentally to Brazil radio.

A ceremonial fly past had been arranged, but due to the appalling weather, it was thought best not to attempt it and as a last resort, the brilliant idea of a solemn "taxi past" the saluting base was formulated. When put into effect, a formulation of nine aircraft came weaving up the field, strung out in a Vic [an inflexible V-shape that was the RAF's standard tactical fighter formation until it was outmoded in the spring of 1941], past the ranks of rain soaked ground-staff and the very important personages; the whole unimpressive show being totally marred by the fact that one of the wing men, in his frantic effort to keep his position, taxied straight into the recording van and wrote off completely the records of the historic occasion, together with the van, and most of his aircraft. The remaining eight returned without further loss."

Footnote to the above: The archive film of the presentation is currently held in the ITN Archive in London and also in the Imperial War Museum. We now have a copy of this! The recording van destroyed apparently belonged to the BBC.

Sqdn Leader Derek Leyland Stevenson (DFC) of 175 Hurricane Squadron

"As we took off at first light, we got into the routine of starting our engines and warming them up prior to dawn breaking. I was sitting in my Hurricane on the Crapstone side of the airfield, when I suddenly heard a tapping on my cockpit. On sliding back the hood, I was amazed to see an elderly gentleman, wearing pyjamas and a raincoat and holding a brolly standing on my wing!. He demanded to know what all the noise was about and did we have to rev our engines so much as it woke him up! He had apparently climbed over the nearby fence and wouldn't be placated by the traditional "Don't you know there's a war on!"

Having been told this story, I have since discovered that this quote comes from "Five crashes Later" by Sqdn Leader Stevenson (as noted above). This is about to be reprinted as "Six Crashes Later" by The Erskine Press.

Excerpts from SIX CRASHES LATER - The Story of Fighter Pilot by Derek Leyland Stevenson, DFC, by permission of the publisher, The Erskine Press. The White House, Eccles, Norwich, Norfolk NR16 2PB, from whom copies of the book, price £16.95, can be obtained. The book is also available from the Knightstone Tea Rooms on Harrowbeer Airfield.
Stephen Fryer

Richard White - Local Farmer

"My Father used to keep about a thousand pigs going on the waste food from Harrowbeer. I used to travel round with him in the truck collecting all the swill. It was terrible seeing all the good food going into the bins. After the pigs had been fed you would hear this din of metal rattling! When you looked into the troughs you could find knives, forks and spoons which had been thrown away with the food!

I recall seeing a Typhoon do a victory roll after flying up the valley. Only something went wrong and it crashed straight down into one of our fields"

Typhoon Readiness (unknown)

Pilots moved through three stages of readiness in preparation to scramble.

1st Stage: 15 minutes readiness for one hour.

2nd Stage: Dispersal readiness with parachute in the cockpit for one hour.

3rd Stage: Cockpit readiness.

Under conditions of cockpit readiness the pilots were strapped in the cockpit , the engine was kept warm and everything was switched on ready for immediate start up and take off. When the Tannoy loudspeaker system called for that section to scramble the pilots simply pressed the buttons to activate the Coffman starter and opened up the throttle, taking off across the grass and runways in the direction the aircraft was pointing. At the same time red Verey lights were fired from the dispersal hut and the control tower to warn other aircraft that a section was scrambling.

It was a matter of Squadron pride to be airborne within seconds and there were some dramatic take offs. One of the most interesting I saw was a pilot who had unknowingly selected "flaps down". His flaps were coming down as he raced across the 'drome and he finally took off with full flap. He worked out what had happened shortly afterwards, pulled the flaps up too quickly and almost squashed into the ground. The readiness programme was carried out between offensive operations later on by all pilots and when the Squadron was away on a mission by the pilots who were not on that particular mission.

Typhoon Rumours (Allan - a pilot with 486 Squadron based at Tangmere)

"Unfortunately most of the rumours we had heard about the Typhoon turned out to be true.

1. It was not easy to start even though we had help from the Napier engine representatives.

2. There had been a number of engine failures mostly caused by sleeve valve wear and these were to continue.

3. There were a lot of fumes in the cockpit and this had caused the death of several pilots. To counter this we had to have the oxygen on full strength from the time we started the engine until we shut down.

4. The cockpit was very hot with temperatures well in excess of 100 degrees. When we complained the RAF installed heaters. I used to fly with a football jersey under my battledress and when I landed could take the football jersey off and wring it out. This heat factor was corrected at a later date.

5. There was a lot of vibration in the cockpit and the rumour went round that anyone who flew a Typhoon for any length of time would be sterile. Happily this was only a rumour as a number of us have proved since the war.

6. Probably the most serious problem was the tails started to come off in flight and a number of pilots were lost this way. A friend of mine, Jimmy Jones who I used to play cricket with back in Auckland was flying a Typhoon with 56 Squadron when his tail came off and he was killed. At this point they grounded all the Typhoons for inspection and I was told when they inspected my aircraft SA-L that my tail was the next one to go. They then riveted metal patches all round the fuselage just forward of the tailplane and we had no further trouble. "

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