The RAF opened an airfield by the village of Errol, within the Carse of Gowrie, midway between Dundee and Perth, on 1 August 1942. Operations at RAF Errol commenced with the transfer of No. 9 (P)AFU from RAF Hullavington in Wiltshire and No. 21 AFU, which was posted there on 9 August 1942.
The station’s RAF complement included 67 officers, 116 SNCOs, 1682 ORs – its WAAF complement included 10 officers, 15 SNCOs and 405 ORs. There were 6 Type 1 hangars and 13 blister hangars, 17 concrete hard standings (circular), 3 runways arranged in an ‘A’ orientation of lengths 1,600 yards, 1,180 yards, and 1,170 yards. No. 21 AFU maintained a complement of 37 pilots, 9 of whom were from New Zealand.
Units using RAF Errol during the Second World War include:
No. 9 EGS (Elementary Gliding School).
No. 9 (P)AFU (Navy pilot training unit relocated from
RAF Hullavington, Wiltshire).
No. 260 MU, No. 271 Squadron RAF.
No. 810 Squadron RNFAA.
No. 1544 BAT Flight (Blind (later Beam) Approach Training Flight).
No. 1680 (Transport) Flight RAF
Arthur A. J. Roberton was born on 12.03.14, in Westmount, Quebec, Canada to Lewis Alexander Roberton (of Govan, near Glasgow) and Mary (nee Pearson), also born in Scotland. Arthur’s parents were married in Montreal on 17.05.06 and Arthur was the third child (and second son), all of whom were born in Canada.
Arthur was baptised (as a Presbyterian) in Montreal on 19.03.14. His father, Lewis Snr, was a chartered accountant, who died on 30.03.16 aged 49 years, shortly after Arthur’s second birthday. Mary and her three children arrived back in Glasgow, on board the Athenia, on 29.10.16.
Arthur’s mother remarried in 1933, when Arthur was 19, to Douglas Graham in Hillhead, Glasgow.
Arthur spent much of his schooldays at Hillhead High School except for a short period at Liverpool Collegiate. He attended the Universities of both Edinburgh and Glasgow, studying the Arts at Glasgow from 1931 – 34 and 1937 – 39, then decided – according to the honour roll of Glasgow University – to enter the Church, though there was no further evidence to substantiate this. Towards the end of 1941, Arthur joined the Fleet Air Arm and was trained at Kingston, Ontario, Canada, where he won his “wings” and was commissioned. He became a temporary acting Sub-Lieutenant on 30.12.42. Also in 1942, in Hillhead, Glasgow, Arthur married Sarah Beattie McNaughton Tait, from Kirkintilloch, who was aged 19 at the time of their wedding (Arthur was 28).
After training, Arthur was posted on 22.02.43, for further instruction and flying duties to Errol in Scotland; to Crail Aerodrome, also known as HMS Jackdaw. Royal Naval Air Station Crail or RNAS Crail (HMS Jackdaw) was located 4.9 miles (7.9 km) of Anstruther, Fife and 8.8 miles (14.2 km) of St Andrews. The Royal Navy had commissioned the airfield on 1 October 1940 as HMS Jackdaw for use as a TBR (Torpedo Bomber Reconnaissance) base. Many units visited Crail for varying lengths of time including brief stays from aircraft carriers and longer durations for training. Crail’s location gave quick accessibility to the sea ranges in the Firth of Forth and Navy ships with which to train, making the airfield ideal as a base for torpedo training especially.
Arthur is listed as being part of 9 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit and, at this stage of WW2, his training (after having received his wings) could have been expected to last 4 – 6 weeks. Tragically, he would appear to have been only about 4 weeks into this advanced training, whilst on an exercise from HMS Jackdaw that he met his death. The University of Glasgow memorial site records that he was flying in close formation over the Firth of Tay when his aircraft came into contact with another and both crashed, with fatal results to the occupants. The aeroplane Arthur was reported at the time as flying in was a Miles Master two-seater training aircraft.
Royal Navy Reserve Sub-Lieutenant Arthur Allan Jackson Roberton is in fact cited in conjunction with Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve Sub-Lt Bertram Henry Prance on several reports, as both having died on the same day. Sub-Lt Roberton and Sub-Lt Prance were in fact the pilots of two Fairey Swordfish biplane torpedo bombers on 19 March 1943 which collided and interlocked above the River Tay near Longforgan. No other individuals were listed as having died on that date on the graves’ registration record. Sub-Lieutenant Arthur A.J. Roberton was flying Fairey Swordfish I V4380, Sub Lieutenant Bertram H. Prance was flying Fairey Swordfish II DK781.
It should be noted that whilst Arthur was listed as having been serving with the RAF, in 9th Pilot Advanced Flying Unit, Sub-Lt Prance was reported as having been serving with the Fleet Air Arm, in 834 Sqn. Both were still officially listed at the time of their death as assigned to HMS Jackdaw. Whilst Arthur was listed on the Royal Navy casualty lists – Sub-Lt Prance was not.
Arthur was survived by both his siblings, despite his brother – a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery – having had to survive the rigors of a Japanese P.O.W. camp. Brother Lewis died in Montreal in 1994 and sister Mary in Glasgow in 1990. No reliable evidence of a date of death for Arthur’s mother could be located. Arthur’s wife Sarah died in Kelvin on 23.08.61 and no evidence of her re-marrying or of any children could be located at this time.
Betram age 24, was the son of Henry Aylett Prance and Cissie Elizabeth Prance and the husband of Maude Evelyn Prance of Colney Hatch, Middlesex, England
Bertram Henry Prance was born on 31st March 1918, the first (and only) son of Harry Aylett Prance and his wife, Cissie Elizabeth (nee Elsdon). Bertram was the youngest of four children. Bertram was five years old when his father died in 1923, at aged 40. His mother remarried (to Henry Snell) in 1928, when Bertram was around ten years old, and Henry was fifty-three.
On 28th October 1935, Bertram joined the police force, aged 17 years (though one site lists him as having joined on 7th February 1938). His warrant number was 126666 and he appears to have served in both G and Y Divisions, which accounts for the anomaly in dating, if 1938 was the time at which he transferred divisions. One set of police records identifies him as having left on 19th March 1943 (his passing), so it is feasible that he remained “on the books” of the police force until that time (see below).
In 1939, Bertram was recorded as living at 40 Beak Street, London W1. His occupation was given as ‘police constable’. On the same register, two of his three sisters (Katie and Marjorie) were listed as living in Orchard Cottages, Richmond in the North Riding of Yorkshire. Both Katie and Marjorie were married at this time; Katie’s husband was a ‘farm pig man’ and Marjorie was recorded as living with them.
On the eve of the war there were some 60,000 police officers in England and Wales divided between 182 separate police forces. The largest force was the Metropolitan Police in London with just under 20,000 men; there was a separate force for the City of London (1,100 men). There were fifty-eight county forces and 122 forces patrolling cities and boroughs. (There were fewer than three hundred women in the total of 60,000. Policing was seen as a man’s job. Women police officers were largely confined to dealing with family problems and particularly with women and children.)
The advent of war meant that young men were required to fight in the conflict, but the situation also required reservists – men who had recently been soldiers – to return to the army or navy since trained men were essential. Many police officers were reservists, and many more were young enough to serve in the armed forces. This meant that, at the outset of the war, police numbers were reduced as reservists returned to their units and as young police officers volunteered for military service. The government and the police authorities sought to limit the reduction in police officers by restricting the numbers who might volunteer. Police ranks were made up by recruiting reserve policemen, special constables, and more women officers. In the closing months of 1939, 3,000 reservists left the police forces to serve in their former military units. Over the course of the war another 16,500 policemen volunteered for the army, navy, or air force; of these 1,275 were killed or died while on active service.
Policemen who were military reservists had been called up at the start of the war. The more formal use of ‘reserved occupations’ in the Second World War did include policemen. However, manpower shortages by 1942 meant policemen under twenty-five were conscripted. As Bertram did not leave the police force (to enlist) till 10th July 1942, aged 24 years. It is therefore possible that he had been conscripted.
Bertram married Maude (elsewhere spelt ‘Maud’) Evelyn Elizabeth Stonehouse (also incorrectly cited as ‘Storehouse’ on one occasion) in 1940. Maude had been born in Edmonton, Middlesex on 29th October 1915. The couple were married in the same locale. There is no evidence of children from this marriage.
All three of Bertram’s sisters outlived him, dying in the 21st century. His mother Cissie also outlived him, dying in 1974 in Brixworth, Northamptonshire; her second husband having passed away in 1948 also in Brixworth. This would appear to suggest that at least most of the family had moved to the north of England at some stage. (His sister Ivy died in Enfield, Middlesex.)
Bertram’s probate record, registered on 6th September 1943 in Llandudno, leaves a total of £832.11.2d to his widow, Maude Prance. At the time of that deposition, his address was cited as 39 St Ivian Court, Muswell Hill, Middlesex.
Maud remarried, to Geoffrey D. Kay, in 1945.
Bertram was reported as having been serving with the Fleet Air Arm, in 834 Sqn at the time of the incident in which he lost his life, having been seconded to No.9 (Pilots) A.F.U. Course RAF Errol for further training. No further details of his service since the time of his enlistment have been unearthed at this time.
Bertram is interred in Murie cemetery, beside his comrade (Sub-Lt Robertson), in a section designated for those who served with HMS Jackdaw.
Temporary Acting Sub-Lieutenant John Roland Hobday, Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, HMS Macaw, age 19, was killed on 30 March 1944. Sub-Lieutenant Hobday died as the result of an air crash whilst flying with RAF 9(P)AFU Errol. He is buried in Murie Cemetery, Errol.
John Roland Hobday was born on 12.07.24, in Walsall, Staffordshire, England to Harold and Sarah (nee Wootton). John’s mother died in April 1936, a few months before John’s 12th birthday. John’s father appears to have remarried within three months of his mother’s passing, to Joan (nee Cullerne) and it is Joan who is memorialised on his gravestone. John’s half-brother, Peter, was born in 1940.
John attended Moseley Grammar School, near Birmingham from 1935 till 1940. No information could be found about his life from then until 12.01.44, when John – as a member of the Royal Naval Voluntary Reserve – became a Temporary Acting Sub-Lieutenant, at which time he was noted as serving with H.M.S. Macaw, as part of the Fleet Air Arm. However, as he has been noted to have spent time at Wellbank in Cumberland before his promotion to Sub-Lieutenant, it is considered likely that he would have – prior to this – undergone pilot training in Canada.
The Wellbank Hostel, as it was known, had been built in 1941-42 on land requisitioned by the Ministry of Supply near Bootle Station, to house five hundred workers engaged in the construction of the Royal Ordnance Factory at Hycemoor. It was transferred to the Admiralty in November 1943 and work began to adapt the site as a transit camp where new Fleet Air Arm Pilots were to assemble on their return to the UK after completing their preliminary flying training in the Service Flying Training Schools in Canada. The hostel was commissioned on November 17th, 1943, as H.M.S. Macaw and, initially, the ship’s accounts were carried by the Naval Air Station at Inskip, H.M.S. Nightjar, before becoming an independent command on New Year’s Day 1944, less than a fortnight before John was commissioned.
Although no records were discovered of John’s service prior to him joining H.M.S. Macaw, it would not seem unreasonable to assume that his career path followed the “standard route”. Trainee pilots left the UK for Canada as Leading Naval Airmen, having completed their preliminary, non-flying training at HMS St Vincent in Gosport. On arrival back in the UK, those qualified as pilots reported to HMS Macaw where they attended the Admiralty Interview Board, which comprised a panel of senior naval officers, to decide their suitability to become an officer in Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (Air Branch). Those under 19½ would become a Temporary Acting Midshipman RNVR, whilst those over 19½ – like John – would become a Temporary Acting Sub Lieutenant RNVR. The newly commissioned officers were then sent on two weeks leave, during which time they would attend a Naval Tailors and be fitted for uniforms. On return to HMS MACAW any deficiencies in their flying equipment and other kit would be rectified from stores held on site in preparation for appointment to their next stage of flying training in the UK.
In John’s case, he began his documented service with HMS Macaw on 07.02.44 and was sent to 9 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit based at Errol, Perth, where he was killed just over a month later.
John died on 30.03.44, at the age of nineteen. Various sources report that he was flying a Miles Magister T8559 from RAF Errol when the aircraft became “iced up” during a night flight exercise and had to be abandoned, subsequently crashing into the river Tay near Newburgh in Fife. John bailed out before the crash but did not survive. His body was recovered from the river on 11th May, 42 days after the crash.
John is interred in Murie Cemetery, where his headstone states he is “remembered with honour”. (On this stone, as previously mentioned, Joan is recorded as his mother, though her name is recorded as ‘Joan Pease Hobday’, whilst her middle name is Pearl).
John was survived by his father, stepmother, and brother.
Although they may not have seen active service per se, Arthur, John and Bertram’s volunteering spirit is deserving of honour and respect. These two brave men, both of whom had lost their fathers at an early age, may have been buried at a distance from their homes and loved ones but they are not forgotten. Lest we forget.
Two days before Arthur and Bertram’s mid-air collision, a Miles Master T8768 belly-landed at Errol.
A Soviet Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle ST1 P1503 on a training flight from Errol, crashed near to Fearnan, Loch Tay on 29 May 1943 killing the crew of three. Also onboard was Staff Sergeant Frantisek Drahovazal a 34-year-old cook in the Czechoslovakian Army from Trutnov (Czeck Republic) who wished to take an aerial excursion before the end of his tour in Scotland. He lies in Murie Cemetery, Errol.
Fairey Swordfish K8407 collided with a Tiger Moth BB685 on 23 December 1942 at Balhepburn Farm, near Elcho Castle, Rhynd (Where Sky and Summit Meet (2019), Ken Bruce). Swordfish K8407 was delivered to the packing depot at RAF Sealand, south of Liverpool on 29 December 1936. This was where aircraft were crated before (usually) being sent overseas. It was then assigned to 824 Squadron in April 1937 until October 1941. It spent some time at RAF White Waltham and RNAS Lee (on Solent) until was transferred to 9 (P)AFU at Errol in April 1942. Swordfish K8407 is not listed as being lost due to the accident, one report suggested the pilot was killed, this is unconfirmed. The assumption must be that this aircraft survived the crash and returned to its base, probably RAF Errol.
RNAS 824 Squadron took part in Operation Judgement, the Battle of Taranto on 11 November 1940, 5 aircraft being transferred to new HMS Illustrious from the elderly HMS Eagle (launched 1918) which was having its leaking aviation fuel system repaired. 824 along with 813, 815, and 819 squadrons were involved in the battle.
Fairey Swordfish P4267 from 9 (P)AFU at Errol on 14 November 1942 had an engine failure and force landed at Balhelvie Farm just east of Newburgh. The aircraft nosed over at speed; Sub-Lieutenant P. T. Gifford was unhurt.
(William Wallace fought a skirmish with the English, Earl of Pembroke in 1298 near here, at the battle of Black Earnside.)
Fairey Swordfish Mk. I, W5856 which was at RAF Errol in 1943 and 1944 was restored to fly again from a badly corroded condition at Sir William Roberts Strathallan Aircraft Museum near Auchterarder. Swordfish W5856 is the oldest surviving in the world. She first flew on 21 October 1941 and was delivered to 82 MU (Maintenance Unit) at RAF Lichfield for overseas transport to Gibraltar on board the SS Empire Morn. After a year she returned to Fairey’s Stockport factory for refurbishment in the winter of 1942/43. On 14 April 1943, W5856 was assigned to 9 (P)AFU at RAF Errol. After a temporary short loan in February 1944 to RAF Manston for tactical trials, she returned to join C Flight at 9 (P)AFU and suffered an engine failure on take-off from RAF Errol on Sunday 5 March 1944. W8586 crashed through the road on the north side of the aerodrome. The pilot was Sub-Lieutenant S. T. Brand who was unhurt. It was repaired at 76 MU RAF Wroughton on 11 July 1944, and it was known to be in transit between Hamble and Eastleigh on 18 July 1944. On 15 October 1944 it went to 1 Naval Air Gunners School at RCAF Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. It was taken on strength by Canada on 15 December 1944. She was sent to storage in April 1945 at RCAF Mount Hope (Hamilton Ontario), where she was again used in the training role. Struck off charge on 21 August 1946, W8586 was sold as war assets. It was bought by an Ontario man and stored on a farm until it was re-sold to a J. F. Carter from Monroeville, Alabama, USA, for use as a crop duster. It was next bought by the Strathallan collection and arrived there in crates on 7 August 1977.
British Aerospace at Brough acquired W8586 for reconstruction in 1991 and following a successful test flight in 1993 she was gifted to the Royal Navy Historic Flight. Three years later was adopted by the City of Leeds, in tribute to the local companies that built Swordfish components during WWII. She now wears the City’s coat of arms and name on her port side just forward of the pilot’s cockpit. Grounded with corrosion in her wing spars in 2003, a new set of wings were delivered in 2012 and W8586 re-joined the display circuit in 2015. It now carries a new paint scheme depicting a Swordfish of 820 Naval Air Squadron during the attack on the Bismarck in 1941.
Royal Navy 820 Naval Air Squadron’s Lieutenant Commander John William Charlton Moffat, piloting a Fairey Swordfish on 26 May 1941, is recognised as being responsible for crippling the Kreigsmarine (Nazi Germany’s navy) battleship Bismarck by hitting the ship in the rudder-steering area. John Moffat resided in Dunkeld for several years and passed away at Viewlands House care home in Perth on 11 December 2016 (Where Sky and Summit Meet (2019), Ken Bruce & I Sank the Bismarck (2010) John Moffat). A later Mk.III Fairey Swordfish NF389 was one of two used during the filming of the 1960 movie, Sink the Bismarck staring Kenneth More.
Sub-Lieutenant John Weatherhead from Pitlochry flew Swordfish K8586 at RAF Errol in 1943. On the first occasion on 24 June 1943, he flew K8586 for one hour and 10 minutes, on the second occasion two days later for 35 minutes when he brought it back from RNAS Crail (Jackdaw). After completing basic flying training, he was sent to 9 (P)AFU at RAF Errol to convert to the Fairey Swordfish. He moved on to RNAS Crail for weapons training, followed by a spell at East Haven (HMS Peewit, between Carnoustie and Arbroath) for carrier deck landing. HMS Peewit was commissioned on 1 May 1943 and closed in July 1946. During WW2, John Weatherhead flew 375 hours in Fairey Swordfish, 108 of those on anti-submarine hours with Fleet Air Arm 836 Squadron. He notched up sixty-seven deck landings (four at night) flying from Merchant aircraft carrier (MAC) ships. These were converted grain or tanker ships with a makeshift flight deck installed. They could carry up to four Swordfish aircraft or six Hawker Hurricane fighters whilst still maintaining its cargo-carrying capacity. John Weatherhead when he retired stayed in Bonnethill Road, Pitlochry.
Upon the closure of the Strathallan collection, one of its display aircraft, a de Havilland Vampire found its way to a collector who stored it at Errol Airfield.
Seven paratroopers drowned on 13 June 1943 at Wormit Bay during a training exercise. Two Armstong Whitely bombers approached from the south at about 4.00pm. Winds were gusting up to 30 mph and 18 fully laden paratroopers of the 8th Battalion (Midland Counties) The Parachute Regiment landed in the river. RAF air sea rescue launches, and the Broughty Ferry RNLI lifeboat took part in the rescue. One of the two planes contained Polish troops who landed in shallow water and survived.
These two aircraft were part of a ten Armstong Whitley parachute drop exercise, carrying in total 130 troops were about 10 miles west of their intended drop zone at Tentsmuir, near Leuchars. One paratrooper at Wormit Bay refused to jump and was later court-martialled. At Tentsmuir, a paratrooper was struck during the jump by an ammunition box and killed.
In the River Tay Estuary opposite Dundee between Woodhaven, Newport and Tayport on 6 October 1938, the Short Brothers-Mayo (Maia & Mercury) composite flying boat/seaplane aircraft (piggy-backed aircraft) set off to establish a record seaplane flight to South Africa. The two aircraft comprised the Short S.21 Maia (G-ADHK) and the Short S.20 Mercury (G-ADHJ). They separated over the Dundee Law and Captain Donald C.T. Bennett (later to be founder of the Pathfinder bomber force) and his co-pilot Ian Harvey, proceeded to fly 6,045 miles in Mercury in 42 hours 26 minutes to the estuary of the Orange River, just short of their destination at Cape Town.
Sunderland Flying Boats of 210 Squadron arrived at Tayport around the same time being transferred as a precaution during the Munich Crisis. They did not stay long and transferred on to Wales on 8 October 1938.
In February 1942, No. 333 (Norwegian) Squadron RAF, a detachment of No. 1477 (Norwegian) Flight arrived at Woodhaven equipped with Consolidated PBY-1b (Catalina) seaplanes. This was a mixed squadron; in May 1943, a full squadron was formed from this flight, equipped with de Havilland Mosquito’s Mk. II and Mk. V, based at RAF Leuchars and later RAF Banff. The Catalinas carried out anti-submarine patrols and search and rescue. They also operated in the ‘Special Duties’ role assisting the Norwegian Resistance. They landed agents, transmitters and even are said to have dropped Christmas presents to the Norwegian population. The squadron is still operational today and is currently based at Andøya Air Station in Nordland, Norway
During 1943 there were a series of three deception operations designed to deceive the Germans that an invasion might occur in areas such as Brest and Boulogne in France or at Stavanger in Norway. The second of three-deception operations of the plan, Operation Cockade was Operation Tindall in which RAF Errol played a part. It was conceived to suggest that the goal of the allies was a sea and air landing at Stavanger, Norway in mid-September 1943. The Germans kept back twelve army divisions in Norway to counter the potential threat. This weaking their defences in Sicily which the allies invaded 9 July 1943 – 17 August 1943 and the forces available for the German Operation Citadel, the encircling attack at the Battle of Kursk, July 1943 which was repulsed by the Soviet Red Army. Adolf Hitler eventually cancelled further attempts to break through the Soviet defences during this offensive, in part due to the news of the Allied invasion of Sicily. The soviets suffered 800,000 casualties at Kursk.
Two Armstrong Whitley A.W38 twin-engine bombers, each towing a glider landed at RAF Errol on 6 August 1943. RAF Errol at the time was a base for packing and air-dropping supplies to advancing troops using six Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport aircraft, (aka Dakotas) of RAF 271 Squadron. A pair of Airspeed As.51 Horsa I troop-carrying gliders were listed on the manifest of RAF Errol in 1943. It is conceivable that the goings on at Errol worried the Germans, a Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft of Luftwaffen-Führungsstab Ic (Command Staff) was detailed to photograph the Flugplatz (airfield) in April 1943.
Arthur Roberton’s Fairey Swordfish V4380 was delivered from Fairey’s Blackburn factory on 26 April 1941 to 812 Naval Air Squadron, one of a batch of three hundred made. It took part in Operation EF, the Raid on Kirkness and Petsamo, on 30 July 1941. During the German Operation Barbarossa, Fleet Air Arm aircraft from the aircraft carriers HMS Victorius and HMS Furious attacked merchant vessels in the northern Norwegian port of Kirkness and the north Finnish port of Liinakhamari in Petsamo. Swordfish V4380 was one of nine Swordfish along with nine Fairey Albacores that attacked Petsamo. V4380 was transferred to 779 Squadron Fleet Requirements Unit at Gibraltar which was formed on 1 October 1941. In February 1942 it was back with 812 Squadron and on 8 September 1942 a tail wheel was broken on landing at RAF Docking (Norfolk). An engine failure occurred on 13 October 1942 on take-off from RAF Coltishall (Norfolk) and it appears it was then transferred up to 9 (P)AFU – (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit) at Errol. Marked as written off following the crash at Longforgan on 19 March 1943. A notable Coltishall fighter pilot was Douglas Bader, appointed as leader of No. 242 Squadron, a mostly Canadian pilot Hurricane squadron.
Liinakhamari, Petsamo was in part of the Finnish territory that was ceded to the Soviet Union in 1944 at the conclusion of their Continuation War. Following their armistice and with pressure put on the Finns by the Soviets to actively remove the occupying German forces in Lapland, the retreating Germans adopted a scorched earth policy and laid waste to the entire Northern half of the country. 100,000 people lost their homes. The main strategic interest to the Germans was the nickel mines in the Petsamo region.
Bertram Pance’s, Fairey Swordfish DK781 was delivered from Fairey’s Blackburn factory on 25 April 1942, one of a batch of four hundred made. It was assigned to 834 Squadron from July 1942 to September 1942 when it was transferred 9 (P)AFU at Errol. 834 Squadron was formed at Palisades, Jamica in December 1941 as a torpedo bomber reconnaissance Swordfish squadron. They embarked on the Long Island Class escort carrier, HMS Archer which was commissioned into the Royal Navy on 6 May 1942 at Brooklyn, New York. After sailing to South Africa, HMS Archer was detailed to convoy duties to the USA and Gibraltar. DK781 was also marked as written off following the crash on 19 March 1943. Ten numbers after DK781 were designated, DK791 is now on display at the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland, New Zealand.
Early in 1943, three Supermarine Walrus single-engine, amphibious biplane reconnaissance aircraft were lent to RAF Errol. Despite remonstration that at least one Walrus should be retained for rescuing downed pilots in the River Tay, they were assigned elsewhere in April 1944.
RAF Errol went into maintenance mode on 26 June 1945 when 800 RAF and WAAF personnel left for Shropshire. One hundred men entrained at 2.00pm at Inchcoonans and about five hundred personnel left by train at 6.00pm from Errol Station. Perth Black Watch Pipe Band piped them on the 2½ miles from the aerodrome. The remainder flew directly to Shropshire. The daily transport service plane to RNAS Hatston (HMS Sparrowhawk) in Orkney was maintained until the RAF left the aerodrome.
Malcolm (Callum) Mitchell a resident of Kinnoull, Perth was born in 1923 and joined the Fleet Air Arm at the age of seventeen. He was commissioned as a Sub-Lieutenant a year later. In 1943 he spent five months at RAF Errol, RNAS Crail and RNAS Arbroath (HMS Condor) learning to fly the Swordfish, torpedo, and land on aircraft carrier decks. In 1944 he sank a U-boat during Russian convoys operations. He left the navy with the rank of Lieutenant Commander in 1946.
RAF Sergeant Pilot (Instructor) 1345409 Charles Muirhead, 9 (P)AFU RAF Errol, was reported as killed on active service on 25 January 1943. Age 21 he was the only son of Mr and Mrs Douglas Muirhead, Palacehill, Ancrum. It is not confirmed but is suggested that he was the pilot of Miles Master Mk.I T8398 which flew into high ground at Balluderon Hill near Auchterhouse, north of Dundee. Balluderon Hill is beside the popular Balkello Community Woodland Park managed by the Forestry Commision. Sergeant Muirhead is buried in Murie Cemetery, Errol.
Sub-Lieutenant Winston Veron Stark, Royal New Zealand Reserve, HMS Macaw, age 20, died on 7 March 1943. He was the son of George Harry and Eliza Stark of Havelock North, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, formerly of Leicestershire, England. After training at HMNZS Philomel, Devonport Dockyard, Auckland, New Zealand, Winston left New Zealand in October 1941 to join the Fleet Air Arm. On arrival in the UK, he transferred to HMS St. Vincent, shore establishment in Gosport and was sent on to 9(P)AFU at Errol. After advance flight training, he was posted to HMS Jackdaw at Crail. Winston was flying Hawker Hurricane V6786 when on 7 March 1943 it crashed into Loch Leven near Kinross. The crash was recorded as ‘unauthorised low flying’. Sub-Lieutenant Stark is buried in Murie Cemetery, Errol. Winston’s parents George and Eliza Stark did later visit his grave and Loch Leven.
Sergeant Pilot William (Billy) Edmonstone Woodington, R/112242, Royal Canadian Air Force, age 19, was killed on 29 December 1942. He was the son of Leslie and Jean Woodington of Kensington, Prince Edward Island, Canada. Sergeant Woodington was born in Scotland; they went to Canada in October 1942 where he was a student. It is believed he died piloting a Miles Master monoplane advanced trainer aircraft from 9 (P)AFU at RAF Errol. He is buried in Murie Cemetery, Errol.
On 27 March 1951, de Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk T.10 WB737 of 11 RFS (Reserve Flying School) RAF, (RAF Perth at Scone – disbanded 1954) crashed during manoeuvrers in the river Tay just off Kingoodie. The aircraft was seen to enter a spin from what seemed an adequate altitude, with enough height too initiated a safe spin recovery. No recovery was made from the spin and the aircraft crashed into the river.
They were picked up by a coble boat (used in salmon fishing) after 20 minutes rowing to reach the half-submerged aircraft, just a few minutes before the tide covered the aeroplane. It took forty minutes to row back to Kingoodie where an ambulance was waiting. They were rescued before the Air Sea Rescue launch from Tayport reached the scene. William McKay was an architect who served with the RAF during the latter part of WW2, he was taking part in his annual fortnights training. Robert Laing Robertson was a schoolteacher at Methven, he was in the RAF, transferred to the Fleet Air Arm and after being demobilised joined the RAFVR.
Crew of Chipmunk WB737:
Sergeant William McKay RAFVR (pilot) – killed on active service 27/3/1951 – 12 Old Inn Entry, Bridgend, Linlithgow.
Sergeant Robert Laing Robinson RAF (rear seat passenger) – survived with injuries – Rumgally Farm, Cupar
The wreckage of WB737 was recovered by 63 MU (Maintenance Unit) at RAF Edzell and was scrapped after accident investigation procedures.
The surname Roberton was first found recorded in Lanarkshire. The village of Roberton is in South Lanarkshire, where it was the seat of the Roberton’s until their dispossession by Robert the Bruce in 1296 for Stephen de Roberton’s signing of the Ragman Roll (their allegiance to the English King Edward I).
Research by Ken Bruce and Sue Gibson.