Halloween tales: Lancashire's haunted Second World War airfields

American GIs at the Warton airbase during the war. A ghostly apparition of a GI was seen at the site just a few years later
American GIs at the Warton airbase during the war. A ghostly apparition of a GI was seen at the site just a few years later
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It’s not just stately homes and castles which have ghostly phenomena attached to them, Chris Huff has been investigating Second World War airfields in Lancashire which also have a reputation for being haunted

Just one and a half miles south-west of Burscough one can find the remains of RNAS Burscough, also known as HMS Ringtail, an airfield built with four narrow runways and several hangars to train Naval Air Squadrons to land on aircraft carriers.

Burscough airfield aka HMS Ringtail pictured in 1975.  'Photo taken by Aldon P. Ferguson and published courtesy of www.controltowers.co.uk

Burscough airfield aka HMS Ringtail pictured in 1975. 'Photo taken by Aldon P. Ferguson and published courtesy of www.controltowers.co.uk

It opened on September 1, 1943 and closed for flying in May 1946, after which the hangars were used for the storage of aircraft engines and other Fleet Air Arm equipment, until finally disposed of in 1957.In one of the Second World War hangars, which are still on the site, now a part of Burscough industrial Estate, a worker had an experience while it was being used as a wood mill.

He reported seeing a shadow pass over the lathe he was working at, as though someone had passed by, but there was nobody there when he looked up. In another encounter in the same hangar, the same man, while working, felt somebody tap him on his shoulder, and again there was nobody there. It is also reported during the 1950s and 1960s that farmers on the former airfield site reported they would occasionally be approached by a young man smoking a pipe. This figure would wish them a good evening before simply vanishing. It was said at the time, that this apparition was once a pilot who was stationed there.

Roughly seven miles west of Burscough lies RAF Woodvale, still in use as an RAF training airfield. It was constructed during 1941 as an all-weather night fighter airfield with three Tarmac runways for the defence of Liverpool. However it did not open until December 7 of that year, by which time the height of the Liverpool Blitz had passed. Woodvale is another old airfield with ghostly associations.

A locally well attested apparition, seen in full flying gear, is said to be seen at Woodvale. A popular local tale is that the apparition once cadged a ride in a small aircraft only to disappear in mid-flight, whether true or merely a tale from ‘down the pub’ I cannot say. In 1998, a member of the Royal Observer Corps, stationed at RAF Woodvale Royal Observer Corps Post, came on duty at midnight during an annual all-night exercise with two other observers.

Squires Gate, Blackpool

Squires Gate, Blackpool

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They took it in turns to have a doze and, as dawn approached, ‘Fred’ was taking his turn on the top bunk while ‘Jim’ was operating the radio and ‘Don’ had the urge to use the toilet. As he neared the room he heard the sound of an aircraft flying low overhead. The engine note sounded much more powerful than the Bulldog and Chipmunk aircraft of the university squadrons.

Calling to his companions but getting no answer, Don went up the emergency shaft to look around, but there was no aircraft in sight and the engine noise had ceased.

Nobody else in the bunker had heard the sound of aircraft engines.

But that wasn’t the end of Don’s experience that night, for at the top of the shaft he had the feeling that someone was watching him. He felt cold and the hairs were standing up on the back of the neck. Then he saw a man in uniform standing by the crash gate leading on to the A565 Ainsdale to Little Altcar road. He described the man as wearing a blue uniform which had flashes at the top of the arms, over this a light coloured sleeveless jacket of some sort but not wearing a hat or cap.

The figure was holding something in his right hand and looking directly at Don, who called out “can I help you, mate?” or similar, whereupon the figure turned slowly and began to walk into the bushes that abut the perimeter fence at this point and just seemed to merge into them. Quickly running down the slope to the place where the figure had been, Don was perplexed to find nobody there. Blackpool Airport was, during the Second World War, a civil aerodrome named Squires Gate, which was requisitioned by the Air Ministry in 1938 and three Tarmac runways were laid for Fighter and Night Fighter squadrons based there.

RAF Coastal Command also established an operational base on site and on the edge of the airfield there was a shadow factory for Vickers Wellington production. During the late 1950s, Julia Wolfe-Harlow was at Squires Gate Airfield, on the southern outskirts of Blackpool, as a trainee air hostess alternating her time there by staffing a pleasure-flight booking kiosk across the airfield.

One particular wet day, while she stood in the booking kiosk, she felt she was not alone, turned and looked towards the door where she saw a young man staring straight ahead of him with his arms folded. He was wearing a light grey uniform but no cap and despite the weather outside his clothing was quite dry. When she spoke to the man saying “hello, I didn’t hear you enter”, he ignored her and disappeared as she watched.

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Six miles west of Preston we arrive at RAF Warton, which today is a major assembly and testing facility of BAE Systems. But back in 1940 Warton aerodrome was acquired by the RAF and new runways were built so it could act as a satellite airfield for nearby RAF Squires Gate. However, the airfield was first operated as an air depot of the United States Army Air Force and after the war the station reverted to RAF control.

In an article from the Blackpool Gazette from 1951 it was stated that airmen stationed at No. 90 Maintenance Unit at RAF Warton claimed to have witnessed the apparition of an American GI which visited them during the early hours of the morning while they were on guard duty.

Several young airmen stated that they had seen the apparition, which appeared at “B Group” the loneliest part of the station, nearly one quarter of a mile from the camp. One young airman told a reporter that he was on duty at about two o’clock in the morning, sitting by the fire in the Picket Post when he saw the ‘thing’ a few yards away.

It was all in white except for some greenish legs and it wore flying boots. It did not seem to have a face and stayed for about a minute and then glided away.

Another man said he saw the ghost when he was on duty near a hangar. This time it had a white face and was in a green Yankee flying suit and flying boots. It made no noise, stood for a moment then moved away silently. It was uncanny.Rumours abounded that the ghost might be that of an American airman who hanged himself at Warton when he was stationed there during the war.

And if you are out at Halloween in East Lancashire remember to look up at the skies. In January 2004 The Craven Herald reported the encounter of Moira Thwaites, a retired policewoman and her husband, who had been driving along Skipton Road approaching the Rolls-Royce factory at around 11.20am.

Suddenly a WW2 Lancaster appeared, flying so low with no sound from the engines that she expected it to hit them or the houses near the Bankfield site. But it simply vanished. Soon after this many more people from nearby came forward to report seeing the ghostly silent aircraft,

several on the same day.

* Chris Huff is the author of Haunted Second World War Airfields volumes one to three which are available from Fonthill Media priced £18.99. www.fonthill.media

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