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  1. ITV Report

Memories of Silloth Airfield, and the young pilots who lost their lives

Armourers at Silloth Airfield. Photo: Pamela Coates

The Second World War brought thousands of people to a quiet, rural community on the Cumbrian side of the Solway.

Silloth Airfield opened in 1939, as a training ground for pilots from throughout the Allied countries, who were to fight in the War.

A memorial at the site of the Airfield.

This had a huge impact on the nearby community of Silloth, and many local people took up jobs at the Airfield.

They were able to meet pilots from all around the world, many of whom made a big impression on the locals.

Jan Vella was a Czechoslovakian airman, who arrived there in 1941.

He was so popular, crews at the airfield presented him with a gold watch, that they had bought from Carlisle.

Jan Vella Credit: Pavel Vencata

But the airfield also brought many tragic stories to the area.

Most of the airmen who trained there were young, inexperienced flyers, and many of them died in air accidents, particularly when taking off from, or approaching, the airfield.

Solway Bay

The Solway Bay between Cumbria and Dumfries came to be known as Hudson Bay, because so many Lockheed Hudson aircraft crashed there, sinking into the sand, or beneath the waves.

It's estimated that as many as 90 may have crashed there, and many of the bodies were never recovered.

Lawrence Marshall

Lawrence Marshall was just a boy when Silloth Airfield was built, but he still remembers the moment a plane crashed close to him:

I witnessed one in particular, a Lockheed Hudson crashed, in 1943, and the crew of four lost their lives.

A friend of mine contacted the family in Canada, and we had a very moving experience stood beside the grave.

I had never met the man, but I had witnessed his last moments."

– Lawrence Marshall

Just yards from the Airfield rests the Causewayhead Cemetery, where some of the people who lost their lives, including the Canadian pilot whose plane Lawrence saw crash, are buried.

Most of the Commonwealth graves there have the names of young men, in their twenties, inscribed on them.

Lawrence saw the pilot crash to his death.

Now, the Silloth Tourism Action Group is using a grant of £9,600, from the Heritage Lottery Fund, to collect archive material including photographs, recordings and stories.

They want to ensure the legacy of Silloth Airfield is never forgotten.

Silloth Airfield today.

You can find out more about Silloth Airfield, and the men, women and children who called it home, on the group's website.

The work they have collated so far will be on display at Solway Community Technology College, on 24 April, at an event to celebrate the Silloth Airfield Project.

They are hoping the work they've done so far will inspire more people to come forward with their stories, and they're hoping to open a museum in Silloth, in the future.

I would like to think we've kick started further interest in developing, perhaps, a museum in Silloth.

I think it's really important to keep these memories alive, because these people were honourable people. They were ordinary men and women, who did very brave things."

– Anna Malina, Silloth Tourism Action Group