RAF Stormy Down
a war-time airfield
The Royal Air Force aerodrome at Stormy Down served a very important role in the training of Commonwealth and Allied ground and air crew during the Second World War. Facilities initially included wooden buildings, workshops, and a small grass runway, but were later expanded to include a new VR type hangar, concrete buildings and a reinforced surface for the runway.
More than 7,000 Air Gunners were trained there on courses lasting up to seven weeks. Often as young as 18 or 19 when they arrived, they would leave as Sergeants and could expect to be in combat soon after. A ground armaments school was also based at the site. It trained 1,800 members of the RAF and Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, alongside several hundred sailors destined to become Telegraphist Air Gunners with the Fleet Air Arm.
It’s estimated that over 10% of the young men who passed through Stormy Down would go on to lose their lives serving with Bomber Command. Among these was the Canadian Flight Sergeant Frank Garbas who took part in the famous ‘Dambusters’ raid.
53 trainees – Britons, Canadians, New Zealanders, Poles – died at the site, 11 of whom are buried in Nottage Cemetery, Porthcawl.
a former prisoner of war camp
Originally constructed in 1937 as a dormitory for the extensive labour force working in the Royal Ordnance Factory, the Island Farm camp in fact lay empty until 1943 when it was used to billet elements of the 28th Infantry Division, who trained on the nearby beaches while preparing for the invasion of France.
Following the D-Day landings, it was given the name of Island Farm Prisoner of War Camp 198 and housed 1600 captured soldiers. On the night of 10th March in 1945 some of these men conducted a dramatic escape using a secret tunnel, and 70 prisoners fled into the country around Bridgend.
All were recaptured within a week, some as far away as Southampton, but the risk of further undiscovered tunnels meant that the camp had to be closed.
After the war the camp was reopened as Special Camp XI to house 200 high ranking German officers who were required to attend war-crimes trials in various parts of Europe. It was also later used by the police, as an army training ground, and even by the Bridgend rugby team as a changing room. Eventually however, it fell into disrepair and was mostly demolished, but Hut 9, the site of the famous escape, was preserved and given Grade II listed status.
Royal Ordnance Factory
located at both Brackla and Waterton
The Bridgend Arsenal was Britain’s response to Hitler’s rebuilding of the German armed forces. Work started in October 1937, less than two years before the war. Seven great caverns were tunnelled under Brackla Hill for the storage of explosives, and above the caverns a reservoir was provided which is still in use today. Two housing estates for workers and their families were built at Bryntirion and Abergarw. Two huge hostels for 4,000 female workers were constructed at Island Farm and Pencoed. At Waterton there were over 1,000 buildings, including the Administration Building (now South Wales Police HQ).
At its height 32,000 people were working at the Arsenal, 75% of them women. They came every day by train and by bus from all over Glamorgan: there was a specially built railway station at the factory.
Most workers had no experience of factories or of ammunition - yet they had to work with volatile and dangerous materials. Bridgend was a Filling Factory: many millions of components were filled with explosives. Inevitably there were accidents; 22 people lost their lives, many were terribly injured. But for the vast majority, the social life, the friendships were enjoyable, even liberating. Women in particular earned wages that would have seemed impossible before the war.
The contribution of the Bridgend Arsenal workforce to the Allied victory was immense.
a submarine paid for by the people of Bridgend
Throughout 1941-42 the nation held savings campaigns, Warship Weeks, in an effort to raise extra funds for the Royal Navy. The aim was for the cities to adopt battleships and aircraft carriers, while towns and villages would focus on cruisers and destroyers. Once the target money was raised, the community would adopt the ship and support its crew.
Bridgend and District Warship Week was held from November 15th to November 22nd1941 with a target of £300,000 for the submarine H.M.S. Urge. With a displacement of 540 tons on the surface, and 730 tons submerged, H.M.S. Urge carried a complement of 27 crew, and was armed with six torpedo tubes.
She was commanded by Lieutenant Commander E. P. Tomkinson, R.N., one of the Royal Navy’s top ten ‘Submarine Aces,’ and saw active service in the Mediterranean, where she damaged or sank a number of enemy vessels. Sadly H.M.S. Urge was lost, with all hands, in April 1942. It’s believed that she struck a mine off the coast of Malta.
The H.M.S. Urge was only the first of several submarines adopted by Bridgend. H.M.S Tudor, for example, also had a notably successful career, and served in the Far East.