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When I'm not writing Foo Fighter books...

...I'm coming up with ones dealing with the aviation history of Northumberland, the county I was born and currently live in.

There's some really interesting information located in RAF unit and station records, but anything beyond squadron level has to be physically searched through at The National Archives. This is an account of a gas decontamination drill held at RAF Morpeth in May 1943.

Putting a book together on the history of a local airfield requires plenty of research, photographs and eye-witness accounts. I had the latter courtesy of a couple of senior members of an aviation enthusiasts society I once belonged to back in the 1990s. They kindly provided me with lots of really good information relating to several wartime aerodromes that they'd actually visited at the time whilst in the Air Training Corps (the "Air Cadets"). In addition to some other local people's memories, newspaper reports and a few references from various wartime biographies, I had a starting point from which to write the history of RAF Morpeth, home to No.4 Air Gunners School (No.4 AGS) between April 1942 and December 1944.

Of course, the "meat" of the book is provided by details culled from official wartime documents, particularly the station logs. Normally, an aerodrome would have a station record book and then others for each unit that was based there - especially as squadrons tended to come and go quite often. However, Morpeth was a training airfield and as such, really only housed one unit for nearly three years - the aforementioned No.4 AGS. It therefore never had a station record book, as all of the station records ended up in the No.4 AGS Operations Record Book (ORB).

The official Form 1180 RAF Accident Card for Westland Lysander TT Mk.I L4736, which crashed at Morpeth on 17th May 1942. Details of the incident itself were listed on the reverse. The engine cut as the pilot was climbing away from the runway. The pilot received serious injuries in the crash and never flew again.

Then there were the aircraft accidents and crashes - many of which involved fatalities. I used to collect copies of the official "accident cards" for the events that happened in Northumberland, which involved paying the RAF Museum to send me them back in the 1990s. They also came in useful for my research. And finally, there's nothing quite like walking around what was a wartime aerodrome. Providing one sticks to public footpaths or has the permission of the landowner, then it's a great way of soaking up the atmosphere, letting your imagination wander and putting yourself in the shoes of the airmen and airwomen based at the site nearly eighty years ago.

The sole surviving hangar at RAF Morpeth out of twelve - a single Miskins Double Extra Over blister hangar. It was designed to be portable without being dismantled. Experiments took place at Morpeth to move them around the airfield. Eight hangars like this were moved in this fashion in 1944. This one was re-clad in the 1950s or 1960s and is now used to store animal fodder. Patches of tarmac from the old aircraft parking areas and taxiways are still visible although Mother Nature is slowly reclaiming what man built during the war.

Of course, you need a little knowledge of RAF practices, slang, abbreviations and military history to be able to put all this information together in the proper manner, and make it both coherent and interesting. Only the readership will know whether I've succeeded in that one....

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