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THE MIDDLE YEARS.

1947 saw the end of the friendly relationship between the village communities and the RAF.

The winter of 1946/47 was the coldest since records began in 1659. Although November and December 1946 were cold the severe weather did not set in until January 22nd when it snowed every day until March 15th 1947. The country was covered in a blanket of snow for three months with daily falls of snow ranging from 7 inches to 60 inches and drifts forming up to 15 feet high. Road and rail transport was disrupted with the routes being impassable and there were daily power cuts.

The thaw, which followed a violent gale on March 16th sweeping the country and causing extensive structural damage, was brought about by a rapid rise in temperature, and the prolonged heavy rain caused floods which were the worst to occur inland in recorded history

The severe weather made it necessary for the Unit Firemen to prevent fire appliances, static water tanks, etc from being frozen up. Wing Commander F.W.Taylor retired in February 83 days ahead of his official retirement and was replaced by Wing Commander A.E.Connolly as Air Officer Commanding 70MU.

In March members of the Henley RDC severely criticised 70MU as a waste of public money in that it restricted available accommodation with part of the work force lodging locally and taking up valuable accommodation, and that it aggravated the labour position with 15 to 20 buses bringing in another part of the work force daily. The continual movement of equipment on heavy lorries wore out the local roads and 'Vast dumps of material lay on the sides of the road around the Unit'

To add insult to injury a RAF Officer from Mongewell Park had called on one of the Councillors who lived opposite 70MU to complain that he had been unsuccessful in obtaining a tin of paint from 70MU for his Rehabilitation Unit. Bearing in mind that there was a shed crammed full of paint this news fuelled the fire of discontent amongst the Councillors, although an ex Navy Councillor suggested that had it been a Navy matter the Officer would have used his common sense and broken the lock to the shed.

They decided at the meeting to write to the Air Ministry and enquire the annual running costs of the Unit and when they intended to vacate it.

In May Sir Gifford Fox, MP for Henley, raised the matter in the House of Commons and was told by the Rt. Hon. P.J.Noel-Baker, MP, Secretary of State for Air that the 'Vast dumps of material that lay on the sides of the road around the Unit' were in fact equipment for which there was not enough covered storage space to house them and that those least likely to deteriorate were covered with tarpaulins and kept in the open. The annual running costs were £ 125,000 for salaries and wages and £ 5,000 for maintenance. The value of the equipment stored was £ 2,000,000.

Life continued at the camp although work loads dropped and the number of civilian workers fell accordingly. The destinations of consignments included overseas bases at Zellick; Phaleron; Prague; Kjellers; Ohakea; Kjerik; Tangiers and other names less familiar today than they were then. In April they tied for 2nd place with 93% in the Maintenance Command Fire Fighting Competition. Routine Fire exercises were carried out at regular intervals whereby umpires judged the standard of drill. The Chief Fire Officer, Charlie Clack, would set a smoke bomb off outside a Storage Shed or an Office and the workers would then have to use a fire extinguisher or call out the volunteer Air Ministry Fire Unit. On average it took 5 minutes from the sounding of the alarm the arrival of the Fire Tender and auxiliary pumps at the scene of the 'fire'. The Fire Brigade consisted of 7 civilians and 2 RAF Officers.

In June Wing Commander A.E.Connolly was posted out to 16MU and Wing Commander A.E.Evans was posted in to assume command. An official from the Air Ministry visited to discuss the de-requisitioning of land and the following month another one checked the stock of petrol coupons.

In August 70MU stopped using Prisoner of War labour. Throughout the war years they had used both German and Italian POW labour but stopped using German labour earlier on after an 'incident'. The German POW camp was at Pangbourne and the Italian at Checkendon and they were brought to the camp daily. They were used for the loading and unloading of equipment and occasions this meant trips to the railway sidings under armed escort.

Air Ministry Minute No.895/47 in September gave authority for the disbandment of Woodcote and for its re-establishment as No.8 Site of 3MU with effect from 31 October 1947. Wing Commander A.E.Evans was posted out leaving Flight Lieutenant H.E.Little to act as Commanding Officer until the last day when Group Captain F.A.R.Smith of 3MU Milton took over combined command. The strength of 9 RAF Officers and 360 civilians were added to the Milton total work force of 1,951.

In December Sir Gifford Fox was on his feet again in the House of Commons asking the Secretary for State for Air whether he was aware that a quantity of paint purchased from Woodcote was full of water and worthless; and that as this evidenced the condition of the stores held there; when would the establishment be closed.

The reply was that the paint had been condemned some time beforehand because of age; had been stored in the open; and sold as scrap. The question of closing down the Site therefore did not arise.

This cut no ice with the local Councillors who referred to the Government Surplus Sale catalogue and could find no indication that the paint described as 'new and unused' was in fact scrap.

The discontent continued with Henley RDC and Oxfordshire County Council advising the Ministry of Town and County Planning that they felt that the continuance of Woodcote after the end of the war was a waste of material; a waste of man power; aggravated local housing and labour problems; and spoilt the amenities of the District.

In June 1948 lorries were sent to the London docks to unload potatoes and meat as Britain prepared for the 'Berlin Airlift'. In July the last of 2,376 ex BAFO vehicles were either towed or carried from various British ports and delivered to 236MU Grafton Underwood or 16MU Stafford; a task that took 14 months and covered 789,750 miles. It is likely that Woodcote was involved in these tasks, otherwise they kept a low profile issuing equipment as required; preparing for Inspections by HQ Command and tracing stocktaking errors in Section 1 (Hand Tools) and Section 16 (Motor Transport spares).

Sales of Government Surplus were held monthly at Mounts Farm, a nearby ex wartime air field and the following gives an idea of auction prices reached for vehicles:-

Hillman  10hp   £380
Hillman utility  14hp  £340
Morris  8hp  £240
Morris  12hp  £380
Morris Ambulance  £350
Standard  12hp  £300
Bedford Luton van  £310
Austin  10hp   £230
Austin  8hp   £260
Ford  10hp  £300

Despite local opposition to Woodcote, the RAF still considered it part of their peacetime and war time strategy. A Minute of 21 March 1949 indicated that it would fulfil the roles of a Southern Barrack Depot in peacetime but would revert to its original function of Ground Equipment Depot in wartime.

In May 1949 the Berlin Airlift ended and in November Air Vice Marshal C.N.H.Bilney made his brief Annual Inspection.

A Public Enquiry in April 1950 revived the local opposition. Despite reminding the Ministry of Town and County Planning of the important part contributed by Maintenance Units to the success of the Battle of Britain; its current role of storing barrack and married quarters furniture on 176 acres under the camouflage of woodland did not have the same appeal. There were discussions over the Rights of Way that existed on the land; over the continued need for woodland camouflage; the damage to the local roads by articulated lorries and 'Queen Mary' trailers; and the local nuisance from 'clouds of anthracite fumes and smoke from the Administrative buildings and noise from low geared vehicles' to the impression locally that the men employed at the Unit did not have enough to do.

In December the Unit came to a standstill for four days with 10 inches of snow. As the works buses could not get up Whitchurch Hill they had to be routed through Reading. Shovels were kept under the seats. The late Jack Cox was a civilian driver from 1941 to 1952 and one of his jobs was to get up extra early on the days when it snowed and attach the snow plough to his lorry and drive around all the roads used as routes to the Unit for lorries and buses and clear them of snow. He had one of the few lorries that could make it up Whitchurch Hill when it was covered in snow - a just requirement if operating the snowplough. He drove most of the RAF lorry types and with the 'Queen Mary' trailer attached and was awarded the 'Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents' diploma for safe driving for the years 1949 to 1952. He was also a driver on the daily work bus runs covering Whitchurch and Pangbourne driving the RAF blue Bedford OWB wartime utility bus.

The compliment of armoured fighting vehicles, lorries and trailers was adjusted to meet current needs in December 1950.

Ray Davies who was a LAC with No.2 Motor Transport Co, 40 Group, Maintenance Command whilst serving out his National Service 1950-52 recalls this winter well as he was a pool driver on loan to Woodcote for about 3 months at this time. He remembers seeing the 1951 New Year in sitting on the railway station at Reading waiting for a train to take him home for a short spell of leave.

As a LAC he drove a Bedford QL whilst the Corporal drove the articulated 9' wide and 60' long 'Queen Mary' trailer. He remembers whilst waiting at Pangbourne railway station watching the first diesel locomotives on test runs to and from Paddington.

His daily meal allowance was 4s and his nightly lodging allowance was 13s 4d, but whenever at Woodcote he had to go to RAF Shinfield Park and stay the night there as the Camp accommodation was no longer habitable.

In April 1952 the Unit became No.7 Site, Woodcote and additionally held Section 21 B,C,D Barrack Equipment stores (Wooden stores - Beds; Metalware - cutlery; and Gymnastic equipment). In July Mechanised Pay Accounting was introduced on an experimental basis and the Annual Inspection in September by Air Vice Marshal H.D.Jackman commenced 10.30 hours and finished 14.45 hours. In December he was back again to present the Imperial Service Medal to Mr. Percy Braun, the Shop Foreman of the Furniture Repair Section in recognition of 29 years of distinguished service with the Air Ministry, the last 5 years at Woodcote.

31 January 1953 saw the East Coast floods where 500 people were missing and 35,000 were evacuated from their homes. Operation 'King Canute' was organised and Woodcote provided approximately 1,400 beds and 2,500 cutlery in the assistance provided to the Civil Authorities.

In August 1953 the Commanding Officer of the Unit presented Mr.Edmunds, Principle Foreman of Stores, with his Imperial Service Medal. The presentation was made in the civilian canteen in front of a large gathering of his colleagues.

Over the next few years the routine continued with visiting dignitaries and Annual Inspections. The Unit gained importance in the Maintenance Unit world for its Furniture Repair Section having made a table that was used by H.M. Queen Elizabeth at Odiham on the occasion of the Coronation Review of the Royal Air Force in 1953.

Ron Coles was a regular with the Royal Air Force between 1954 and 1957 and was also a LAC pool driver with No.2 Motor Transport Co, 40 Group, and Maintenance Command. He remembers being one of two pool drivers on loan to Woodcote for about 3 or 4 months from mid 1955. He too had to stay overnight if necessary at RAF Shinfield Park.

By March 1955, Section 21B stores had been transferred to Membury and Section 21C stores to Milton, leaving Woodcote storing beds, bins, buckets and fire guards in addition to running the furniture workshops, which were not only visited by Air Vice Marshal B.E.Essex, but later in October by Mr.H.T.Smith, Assistant Under Secretary of State, Air Ministry and also in January 1956 by Mr.R.Kingsland, DFC, Australian Department of Air.

On four occasions in 1955; during July, September, October and November; aerial surveys over the site were made and on each occasion the resulting photographs show that the camouflage was effective.

The Annual Inspections of 1956 and 1957 by AOC No.40 Group, Maintenance Command by Air Vice Marshall G.L.Worthington were rapid affairs which lasted 90 minutes whereby he spent less than 5 minutes per shed inspecting chairs, tables, beds, wardrobes, the saw mill, the upholstery shop, the carpenters shop and the polishing and painting shop.

Mollie White worked at Woodcote from 1943 as a young girl starting as a labourer at Site 3, Shed 31, which stored motor vehicle, engines. On 9 April 1948 she was advised 'that as a result of a reduction in the establishment at Woodcote, she was to become redundant. Her redundancy had been agreed by the local Whitley Works Committee'

However there was a 'get out clause' to use a modern term. If she accepted a downgrading from Storewoman to her previous grade of Labourer semi skilled she would not be made redundant. This Mollie did by 'certifying that she was desirous of reversion'

She received a similar Redundancy Notice on 13 January 1950 giving a final discharge date, which was later deferred and then cancelled. Not all news was bad. On 2 May 1952 Mollie was advised that she had been selected to appear before a Promotion Board at HQ site, and six weeks later she was promoted back to her old position of Storewoman. She left in 1957 when she got married.