Fascinating photographs of Royal Navy base being built in the 1940s uncovered

Some of the old photographs, which have never been seen by the public before. Credit: RNAS Culdrose

Old photographs showing some of the people who helped to build Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose more than 70 years ago have been unearthed.

Lloyd Sluman found the tiny pictures, measuring just two by two inches, among the papers of his late parents. They lived in Porthleven, not far from the Helston air station in west Cornwall.

His mother, Phyllis Miners, worked for construction company John Laing and Son Ltd, one of the main contractors responsible for building RNAS Culdrose.

As well as showing workers clearing the land or building the first aircraft hangars, the photographs also capture more light-hearted moments and candid images of the staff at work.

Workers during the construction of RNAS Culdrose
Phyllis Miners who worked for Laing during the construction of RNAS Culdrose.
A bulldozer during the construction of RNAS Culdrose

One picture includes a group shot with families on a company outing, and is dated 1947, the same year the work was completed and RNAS Culdrose was officially commissioned by the Royal Navy.  

Laing staff and families outing 1947.
One of the workers before a Laing lorry during the construction of RNAS Culdrose Credit: MoD

Mr Sluman, who is originally from Falmouth and now lives near Liskeard, said his family had strong links to the area and the Lizard peninsula.

“My mother grew up on a farm on the Lizard next to Predannack airfield,” he said.

“I know my grandfather, who owned the farm, and my uncle helped pull a pilot from a burning plane that crash-landed there during the war. They saved the pilot’s life and got an award for it.

“My mother later lived at Porthleven and worked at Culdrose during the 1940s. She worked for Laing in the site office in some secretarial role. I remember her saying that she put in the order for the fir trees that now stand by the entrance to Culdrose. My uncle, who saved the pilot, became the civilian workforce manager.”

Outside the Laing site office Credit: MoD
A member of Laing staff.

The construction of RNAS Culdrose began in 1944.

The main contract was awarded to Sir Robert MacAlpine and Company to level the ground and build the runways and accommodation blocks. The remaining work was awarded to international construction company John Laing and Son.

A mechanic works on a Laing vehicle.

One of the first steps in building the air station was to reroute the main road between Helston and Lizard away from the site to the south, where it remains today.

One of the photographs shows a man standing beside a signpost on the junction of the Helston-Lizard road with the road to Gunwalloe and the old road to Gweek. In the background, looking south, is the site office of Laing and Son behind the air station’s new perimeter fence.

A signpost before the road to Gweek was rerouted also showing the Laing site office during construction of RNAS Culdrose

This picture was taken near the main entrance to RNAS Culdrose where the bridge spans the road today. The road to Gweek was moved east to the end of the runways and later moved again outside the fence to its present location off the road to St Keverne. 

Mr Sluman added: “I think my mother might even have taken some of these photographs. They were always in an album and she’d look through them every so often.

Laings staff during the construction.

"I found them among boxes of stuff belonging to my parents. I am not sure if they’ve ever been widely shared with the public before.”

He presented the original photographs to RNAS Culdrose.

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