To quote Winston Churchill’s phrase “The gathering storm”, was building up over Europe during 1936 with the antics of a certain Mr Hitler in Germany. So to the background of a worsening European situation the then Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, started to increase Britain’s military capability. Consequently the 1930’s saw a rapid expansion of the Royal Air Force with modernisation of the nations’ striking force to meet both home and overseas eventualities. This resulted in a requirement for an urgent increase in stock holdings of equipment and places to store it.
In line with the policy to provide storage throughout the Country, land at Quedgeley was bought by the Air Ministry and called No 7 Maintenance Unit, RAF Quedgeley, shortened by most to RAF 7MU, the name it held to the day it closed. It was one of 7 equipment depots planned and built as part of the RAF’s expansion scheme before World War 2 and opened on 15 April 1939. One of its’ first tasks was to issue motor transport and supporting equipment to No 87 Squadron, a Hurricane Fighter Squadron before its departure to France in 1939.
The depot was now rapidly taking shape, and increasing in size. Buildings were springing up on all the 8 sites. Steel erectors, concrete mixers and labour gangs worked day and night to complete the task as war with Germany was inevitable. The 40,000 square foot storage hangers, some of exactly same shape, colour and size are at Hullavington in Wiltshire and in many other military locations. Stores of all types were arriving hourly, if it had a roof on it something was stored underneath it. The MT section, (motor transport), stored hundreds of vehicles out in the open all around the area up to their axles in mud, often to be dragged out into convoys of 30 plus, to be driven, often in darkness to the docks prior to shipment overseas. They were often driven by well known drivers, such as Fred Rimmell, the famous National Hunt trainer. One vehicle which often used to cause problems was a trailer called a Queen Mary Trailer. It was so long, some 60 foot, that it could carry a complete airplane ( minus the wings) on it and got its name because it was so big.
The winter of 1939-40 was very severe, none of the storage sheds had any form of heating. It appears the thought of open fires in the buildings was frowned on, not surprisingly when you think what they were dealing with. It was so cold that as there were no ballpoint pens in those days they used ink which froze in the ink pots and in true military style skipping ropes were issued to help keep the staff warm. During the height of the war, there was a total of 1,118 Service Officers, NCO’s and airman and 3,400 civilians employed on the site. Most of the staff working on the administration side of the camp were based in Avionics House.
In addition to the RAF Regiment that was stationed there it had its share of ‘visitors’, German and 270 Italian prisoners of war, were also detained with “free accommodation” at Quedgeley Court and “helped out” at the base.
In addition to our own British stock it had American aircraft spares that were stored there with the depot operated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week helping the Nation take on the might of the German army and Air force.
It was never attacked directly by the Germans although it’s known it was photographed by the German Air Force. The photographs exist at the Imperial War Museum, but luckily they didn’t realise what the site was producing or storing the odd bomb or two were dropped onto the surrounding area.
However one or two accidents did happen on the site. The worse appears to have been a Spitfire that crashed into a storage shed, killing the pilot and a woman that worked on the site. In 1949, the then Commanding Officer, Group Captain Read committed suicide in his room in the Officers’ Mess and was given a military funeral and was laid to rest in St James churchyard. There was also a massive fire on no 1 site where a large amount of aircraft tyres were stored and caught alight. The site was honored during the war years with a visit from HM Queen Mary during 1941.
Amongst the vast range of items that were stored there were uniforms, paint, fabrics for airframes, ground equipment, clothing, American spares, parachutes (these were packed on site by RAF personnel), armaments in all forms, bomb racks, gun turrets, sten guns, hispano cannon, medical items, AGS (aircraft general spares), parts for Hurricanes, Hind, Hector, complete Spitfires in kit form, Typhoon, Tempests, Lysander, Defiant, Oxford Gladiator, Tiger Moths, American Harvards, Lockheed Hudson, Ventura, Whitley, Wellington, Beaufort, Beaufighter, Anson , Mosquito and of course enough spare parts to build another “guardian of the gate” that used to protect the main gate of RAF Quedgeley, The Gloster Meteor, model WF 784.
It was this MK7 Meteor which saw service in Germany from 1951 to 1954, at a ferry training unit from 1956 to 1958 and it was based at the Royal Air Force Flying collage from 1959 to 1962. Finally it was a target towing aircraft until 1963 when it was “retired” to Quedgeley.
In 1945, RAF Quedgeley saw its third role take place, that of an accommodation storeage site for furniture and other non-urgent items. A role it did well until its closure. Who in the village can forget the stations 50th anniversary party, back in 1989 and the comments from the then station commander, Group Captain M C G Wilson about the role the site had paid in its long life, and where from nowhere, thousands of plastic chairs appeared for everyone to have a seat to listen to the bands in the bright sunshine?
They had every conceivable item of furniture and household effects you could imagine, you wanted a chair – what colour? a dinner plate – what size ?, a bed for how many ?, a telephone, some electric kettles, an odd carpet or two, knives forks spoons and yes, even the odd kitchen sink or two, the list was endless. They had the lot, and who knows what was hidden away in some old packing case, treasurers from some far-flung outpost of the British Empire? No, more than likely just some old bits of rubbish. However In one of the hangers hidden underground were some very special boxes belonging to the Air Historical Branch of the MOD which contained many items of military silver belonging to disbanded squadrons and units. It also held VVIP Packs ( Very Very Important Persons). These contained things like a red carpet, silver table settings and everything a VIP needed when they visited another country. These boxes were collected from the site and sent around the world when VIP’s, including Royality went on visits. During 1955 32 houses were built on the site as married quarters and named after one of the station commanding officers Group Captain Needham, hence Needhams Avenue. The older of Quedgeley people will recall that if you dialled 999 to report a fire the engine and fire team based at RAF Quedgeley would turn out first.
On 2nd April 1982 the Argentineans invaded the Falkland Islands and again RAF Quedgeley sprung to life and started to supply our troops again. Some items did cause a few strange looks, one being a a large demand for masking tape. This it appeared to be for the windows in the Canberra and other ships requisitioned as part of the task force, as a precaution against any flying glass from the windows. They were however prepared for the demand for sick bowls. Which local charity can say it didn’t benefit from the help given to it by the staff at the camps charity collections, its’ car boot sales or its’ November 5th Fireworks displays. The camp had a long association with the guide dogs for the blind. This arose when a young woman that worked on the site became blind and the staff there realised that a guide dog would be of great benefit and enable her and others to keep a degree of independence. This association continued for nearly 30 years with 14 guide dogs being sponsored by the workers.The camp employees repaid the area of Quedgeley, Hardwicke and the country well.
However it was with great sadness to the staff of the camp, and the Quedgeley area that Group Captain. D R G Forsyth announced to all on 15th December 1993, that operations at the station were to end by 31st March 1998. However due to more cost cuttings it closed earlier on 13th February 1995. The Guardian of the gate, the Meteor plane, on the closure of the base was transferred to become the Guardian of the gate at RAF Innsworth, which like RAF Quegeley faces closure.