History, Latest News | Posted: Wednesday, October 14th, 2020 at 1:49 pm | return to news

Tarrant Rushton’s history marked on 40th anniversary of closure

A piece of aviation history has been celebrated with the unveiling of a display board at the site of the former Tarrant Rushton airfield.

Shirley Lockwood at the last flight 40th anniversary unveiling. © Andrew PM Wright
Shirley Lockwood at the last flight 40th anniversary unveiling. © Andrew PM Wright

The new display board details the history of the Dorset airfield and how it played a vital role in both war and peace. It was unveiled by former Flight Refuelling air traffic controller Shirley Lockwood on the 40th anniversary of the last jet flying out of the base.

Shirley was in the control tower on Tuesday 30 September 1980, the last day the airfield was operational. She was in control of the final flight leaving the base, when a former Royal Navy 1950s-built DeHavilland Sea Vixen jet took off for its new home at Hurn, now Bournemouth Airport, just before 10am. It was the end of an era, as the airfield had been the home of pioneering aviation research, manufacturing and services company Flight Refuelling since 1947, following its involvement in World War II.

Exactly 40 years on from that last flight, Shirley returned to the former airfield –to unveil the new display, which is situated next to the stone memorial in memory of the airfield’s personnel, unveiled in 1982.

Initially opened by the Royal Air Force in May, 1943, Tarrant Rushton was a large three-runway airfield. It was home to 3,000 people and was a significant player in the UK’s World War II effort, including towing gliders in the D-Day, Arnhem and Rhine crossing operations of 1944 and 1945.

The young aircrew based at Tarrant Rushton flew low and in radio silence across occupied Europe, dropping secret agents, troops and weapons to Resistance forces from the south of France to the Low Countries and up to Norway.

Shirley Lockwood said, “I found it very moving to return to Tarrant Rushton and it was a real privilege to unveil the new display board illustrating the airfield’s history from 1943 to 1980.

“The airfield played a very important part in the Second World War and the decades afterwards when Flight Refuelling carried out world-beating aviation research there. The new display board will ensure that the airfield’s history is not forgotten.

“Tarrant Rushton always had a special atmosphere and it still does – even though the runways, aircraft hangers and other buildings have been gone for almost 40 years. It is a very special place for me and many other people who worked there.

“The airfield was a lovely place to work and many people didn’t want to retire from there because working for Flight Refuelling was like being part of a large family,” added Shirley who was awarded the MBE by Her Majesty the Queen in the early 1990s for services to aviation after working at Flight Refuelling for more than 30 years.

The new display board was produced by a member of the Wimborne branch of the Royal Air Forces Association, Bob Seymour, whose father was a navigator on Royal Air Force Halifax bombers at Tarrant Rushton in 1944.

Bob said, “We were delighted and honoured that Shirley agreed to unveil the new history board because she worked on the airfield from the late 1950s through to closure in 1980 and controlled that last jet take off from Tarrant Rushton.

“It is important to tell the story of Tarrant Rushton. Between April, 1944, and May, 1945, Tarrant Rushton’s No. 298 and No. 644 Squadrons flew 2,284 top secret missions into occupied Europe, from southern France up to Norway.

“Twenty-seven Halifax bombers were shot down and more than 160 young aircrew lost their lives. Also killed were glider pilots, airborne troops and the Special Operations Executive secret agents dropped behind enemy lines.”

After the closure of Tarrant Rushton, Flight Refuelling moved its research, development and services aircraft to Bournemouth Airport at Hurn to form a new company called Flight Refuelling Aviation. Within weeks, the runways, aircraft parking bays, two large aircraft hangers and some 300 other buildings began to be demolished. The 3.5 mile perimeter track was reduced to half its width and last of the runway concrete was removed in 1984. The area has since been returned to agricultural use.

Anyone interested in helping with the maintenance and upkeep of the Tarrant Rushton airfield memorial should call 01202 882895.

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