An e-mail received from Mac Hawkins

Information on Merryfield during the time your Pop was there is extremely scarce. As you know, there were a number of similar establishments, one of which was 209 AFS at nearby Weston Zoyland, mainly flying Meteors. I was only nine years old in 1952, but will always remember seeing the 'Vampires from Merryfield' and 'Meteors from Weston Zoyland' flying around. I also remember the appalling amount of crashes there seemed to be at this time; the local papers often reported these tragedies in detail (given the dates, I can actually get copies of reports of these accidents from the Bridgwater Mercury and Somerset County Gazette, which are kept on microfilm at the Local Studies Library in Bridgwater). In the 1970s and 80s, 'aviation archaeology' was the thing and I recall a group of local enthusiasts dug up and recovered remnants of one of Merryfield's Vampires in which a chap had lost his life in the crash. I have details somewhere and will look them out if you are interested. Could this have been PO Gillard, I wonder?

I do remember the Royal Navy using the airfield for a period between November 1956 and January 1958, when Yeovilton's runways were being reconstructed. On occasions I saw dayglow-striped Venoms and the odd Gannet flying around (I think the latter was to do with Westlands, who kept a testing facility there).

During the early 1960s, I lived at West Hatch, about five or six miles from Merryfield as the crow flies, and on the odd occasion used to cycle over to the airfield in the hope of seeing something flying around. A forlorn hope, as it turned out! However, there was still a small group of airmen, led by a corporal, billeted in a farmhouse adjacent to the airfield. Their duty was, apparently, to look after a radio relay station sited there. The control tower was their daytime haunt and they spent time whiling away the hours either playing cards, making models, or reading novels and generally getting bored. It must have been a detachment that was largely forgotten about by the RAF authorities. Having no cookhouse facilities, they were catered for by the farmer's wife and looked a remarkably well fed bunch! On one visit, having recently passed my driving test and much to my delight, they allowed me to take my mother's MG PB flat out up and down the deserted 6,000ft runway (at all of about 70mph!). I also remember managing to get inside the three T2 hangars that remained on the airfield. In one was the Currie Wot single-seat biplane owned by Hal Penrose, Westland's then Chief Test Pilot, who kept his personal aircraft there. This prompted me to corresponded with him asking all sorts of questions about flying. He was very good and always replied to them with letters full of detail, including how to build your own Currie Wot from plans obtainable. In later life he became a friend and remained so until his death at 90 a few years ago. The other hangars contained all sorts of artefacts that Westlands were storing there: crated ejection seats, various aeroplane sections (including a Meteor fuselage and cockpit complete with instrumentation (in which I took great delight in sitting) and innumerable wooden crates containing all sorts of items and other aircraft parts. No doubt these would have been be invaluable to vintage aircraft restorers today.

I believe the RAF detachment finally left c1963/4. When I went to the airfield a year or two later, the MPBW happened to be there at the time and were removing all useful items from the control tower, including ATC equipment and the airfield plan that was pinned to an office wall, which they gave to me - and I still have. They also said that if I came back later in the day they would give me the air raid siren from the roof. Sadly, I was unable to return because of other duties (I was a rep for John Players at the time and had calls to make), so never got my siren. Just as well for my neighbours, no doubt! Local gypsies, from a nearby settlement established at the edge of the airfield, soon set about the place and stripped it of practically everything moveable. The runways soon became littered with piles of debris and the tower completely laid to waste and it quickly became a windowless derelict shell.

Being a Somerset man born and bred, I have always been interested in these establishments, but obtaining photos of them when used as AFSs has proved practically impossible and the ones on your web site are the first I've ever come across, therefore they are extremely significant as far as I'm concerned. It seems nobody had a camera at the time, although a local Bridgwater photographer (who is an old friend of mine now in his 80s), due to lack and cost of film, only took THREE shots at Weston Zoyland back in '52 or '53. One was of Meteors being refuelled on the easterly apron; the second was taken in the control tower, showing an 'erk' operating the ATC equipment and a very bored-looking duty pilot, complete with Mae West, lounging in a chair the background. The third was of a Meteor that had crash-landed on the levels near the base and was being winched over a rhyne prior to being loaded onto a Queen Mary transporter.

Although Weston Zoyland has largely remained derelict, save for some microlight and model flying, the good news about Merryfield was, that following essential repairs carried out to the perimeter fence and runways, also total refurbishment of the control tower, it reopened as HMS Heron 2 on 22 May 1972 as a satellite to Yeovilton. As you know, since then it has been in continuous use for helicopter training. The facilities, although rudimentary, have been increased over the years. This includes erection of a hangar large enough to accommodate a helicopter overnight in the event of mechanical failure.

When I was researching my book Somerset at War, 1939-1945 in the late 1980s, I got to know the CO of the airfield and was allowed to go up into the control tower to take photographs of Lynx and Sea King helicopters that were then asked to do impromptu displays for the camera. Very honoured, I was! I have copies of these somewhere in the archive.

In the latter part of 1993, I was co-opted on a Somerset County Council committee that was asked to look into ways that the 50th anniversary of D-Day could be commemorated the following June. I came up with the idea of flying American veterans of the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions that flew out of Merryfield all those years ago in 1944 to do the same again 50 years later, by taking them over to France for the anniversary celebrations in a Dakota (C-47) operated by Air Atlantique. This was thought to be a good idea and I contacted the authorities at Yeovilton to see if this would be possible. They said it would and could lay on ATC facilities at the appropriate weekend. Sadly, these plans came to nought, mainly through lack of time in trying to contact veteran groups in the USA and also wrangling as to who was going to pick up the tab for the prospective costs of the aircraft's charter. This all took far too long to sort out and the plans never came to fruition. Ah well, at least I tried.

When I by passed the airfield the other day I took a few photos with a newly-acquired zoom lens. The weather was pretty awful, but I am attaching a few JPEGs of some for your interest.