Jack Waters worked at RAF Woodvale as it was being built during World War Two

A woman whose Dad helped with the construction of RAF Woodvale during World War Two has recalled the horrific incident where a brave Polish pilot crashed and died on the airfield. 

Sandra Waters told how her father, Jack Waters, was just 14 when he was called on to help provide the vital defences. 

RAF Woodvale and the Polish pilots who served there will be showcased in the Courage and Devotion exhibition which takes place at The Atkinson on Lord Street in Southport from Saturday, 26th June 2021 until Saturday, 12th March 2022. 

Curator Joanne Chamberlain is eager to hear more stories and memories from people about life at RAF Woodvale during World War Two. 

The air base, on the edge between Formby and Southport, was created in 1941 so squadrons of Spitfires could fight off the Nazi bombers which had caused such huge devastation to areas including Liverpool and Bootle during the Blitz the year before.

Bombs also fell on Southport, so RAF Woodvale was needed to defend Southport too. Seventeen people were killed in Southport and 76 others were injured during enemy raids between September 1940 and July 1941. One of the most terrifying incidents took place on the night of April 26, 1941 when German aircraft bombed the Sunshine Home for Blind Babies on Oxford Road in Birkdale. 

A huge bomb crated and damaged houses on Moorfield Road in Crosby in March 1941, during World War Two

A huge bomb crated and damaged houses on Moorfield Road in Crosby in March 1941, during World War Two

Courage and Devotion salutes the brave Polish airmen who helped to win the Second World War. Polish pilots were a familiar sight in Southport and Formby during the conflict.

Polish fighter squadrons were based at RAF Woodvale, with six men buried in war graves at Our Lady of Compassion Church in Formby.

Sandra Waters said: “I was delighted to read about RAF Woodvale and the contribution of Polish airmen during World War Two. It reminded me of a story told to me by my Dad, Jack Waters, who died some years ago.

“He lived in Liverpool and as a young teenager was sent to work on the airfield which was being built at the time. I guess he must have been 14 at the most.

“He talked about himself and others at RAF Woodvale tying old tyres around their legs to protect them from the hot tar they had to carry in buckets for the air strip!

“But he recalled a very sad story when a Polish pilot was trying to land on a still wet runway. “They all had to wave furiously to stop him but he kept coming back as he was having problems. “Indeed he ultimately did come down onto the runway but his wheels stuck in the tar and the plane flipped, exploding into flames. It must have been an awful thing for everyone there to witness, and horrendous for the crew.

“I think it was one of Dad’s enduring wartime memories. And Formby must have felt like another country for a young lad from the streets of Everton!

The Spitfires of 602 Squadron at RAF Woodvale near Southport in World War Two

The Spitfires of 602 Squadron at RAF Woodvale near Southport in World War Two

“I’m not sure how long he was there. My Grandad placed him in a Reserved Occupation in ship building towards the end of the war so he didn’t actually serve. Two of his brothers served, one of whom spent years as a Prisoner Of War, which is why Grandad did that, we think.

“He joined the Merchant Navy and spent all of his working life with Blue Funnel / Ocean Fleets, having been made a Chief Engineer in his early 30s. He is massively missed, even though he died eight years ago.” 

Britain faced a grim struggle for survival during World War Two, most notably during The Battle Of Britain in 1940, when the Luftwaffe laid siege in overwhelming numbers.

Britain survived by the skin of its teeth – in no small part thanks to the Polish fighter pilots who swelled the RAF’s numbers at such a critical time.

Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, who was initially reluctant to allow Polish pilots into battle, said: “Had it not been for the magnificent work of the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry, I hesitate to say that the outcome of battle would have been the same.”

This Courage and Devotion exhibition at The Atkinson in Southport remembers the lives of the Polish airmen based at RAF Woodvale, the iconic Spitfire and some of the stories associated with the area during World War Two.

A Nazi bomb aimer's aerial photo of RAF Woodvale near Southport, issued in October 1942 during World War Two

A Nazi bomb aimer’s aerial photo of RAF Woodvale near Southport, issued in October 1942 during World War Two

RAF Woodvale was originally conceived as a fighter base for the protection of Liverpool and the surrounding region. It later became a base where frontline squadrons in the south of the country could retire north for some relief from constant combat missions and to carry out training. 

It opened in 1941 with the 308 Krakowski Squadron, made up of Polish pilots.

Conditions were harsh in the early days, even for battle-hardened airmen, some of whom described facilities as being worse than Tobruk.

A total of 145 Polish fighter pilots served in the RAF during the Battle of Britain, making up the largest non-British contribution. By the end of the war, around 19,400 Poles were serving in the Polish Air Force in Great Britain and in the RAF.

During World War Two The Atkinson building held numerous events to help fund the Polish servicemen including music concerts and exhibitions of work by Polish artists.

Artist Suhail Shaikh has used paper to create an exact replica sculpture of a World War II Supermarine Spitfire which was flown in 1942 by Polish pilot Sergeant Jerzy Stanislaw Zielinsky of the 308 Krakowski Squadron which was based at RAF Woodvale near Southport. The sculpture is part of the Courage and Devotion exhibition at The Atkinson on Lord Street in Southport which runs from Saturday, 26th June 2021 until Saturday, 12th March 2022

Along with the stories of the airmen and objects to help illustrate the story The Atkinson has commissioned a replica scale model of a Spitfire Vb AB273 from paper artist sculpture Suhail Shaikh.

The incredible sculpture, a third the size of a real Spitfire, took five months to create. 

Jack Waters

Jack Waters

  • Courage and Devotion is on display at The Atkinson on Lord Street in Southport from Saturday, 26th June 2021 until Saturday, 12th March 2022.
  • The curator, Jo Chamberlain Joanne.Chamberlain@sefton.gov.uk is looking for stories, memories, objects and ephemera that relate to both the Polish Airmen based at RAF Woodvale and the surrounding area. Please do get in touch if you would like to contribute to the exhibition.

 

Do you have a story for Stand Up For Southport? Please message Andrew Brown via Facebook here or email me at: mediaandrewbrown@gmail.com

0 Comments

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?