Commemorating the Royal Air Force in Torbay during World War Two
- Credit: Torbay Civic Society
The stories behind Torbay's blue plaques by Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society. This week: The RAF AT ERCC
It was January 2008 that the late George Wootton, as archivist for the RAF South Devon Air Gunners Club, first approached Torbay Civic Society about the possibility of an RAF blue plaque at the International Riviera Conference Centre, previously the Rosetor Hotel.
The hotel had been used to train part of 55,000 RAF airmen based in Torbay during the Second World War.
Having agreed the idea, with numerous meetings with George and Torbay Council, they finally declined any assistance with finance although gave their civic support to the concept.
Mr Wotton immediately appealed to the Turning Point Heritage Trust, the Rotary Clubs of Torbay and the RAF Association itself plus the local Air Gunners' Association and, finally, private donors before succeeding to obtain the whole sponsorship required for what was to be a special plaque with an added special event.
It would be the first time that Torbay Civic Society would supply colours on the plaque, as the RAF badge was required to be in full RAF livery while the perimeter of the plaque also required a thick added line of colour to make it unique.
Mr Wotton next arranged for members of the aircrew association to complete a text for our 'Collectors Series' publication, which gives the full history of the RAF in Torbay including the many training wings established here at the outbreak of the Second World War.
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With places as remote as the Hydro Hotel, Oldway Mansion and the Palace Theatre at Paignton all requisitioned for activities and/or accommodation for members of the RAF, in Torquay more than a dozen properties were similarly requisitioned.
This included rooms for the Women's Auxiliary Force and the RAF cadets.
The cadets alone eventually involved 27,000 young men being based in and around properties as diverse as Babbacombe Theatre, Cavendish and Devonshire Hotel, Harbour Point, Marine Spa, Northcliffe, Osborne and Palm Court Hotels, St Vincent's and the Torquay gas showrooms.
All assisted in providing support for trainers as well as storage and accommodation facilities with some providing administration areas.
By March 2008, Torbay Civic Society were well aware this unveiling was going to be an historic event as George had not only arranged a formal guard of honour to line up outside the ERCC on the chosen afternoon but literally hundreds of local cadets and ex RAF personnel would be attending on what was the agreed date, Thursday, August 28, 2008.
With his president on board, George also arranged for a formal luncheon to be provided prior to the unveiling in the large Rosetor restaurant of the ERCC and, afterwards, time to view RAF memorabilia on display around the large room.
With more than 190 formal invitees at the lunch, they heard from numerous speakers including the leader of council and then David Blair, president of Torbay and District Aircraft Association, John Coltman representing 4 Squadrons and Air Marshall Peter Walker before finally as current chairman of the society and partner to the project, I responded.
Following the three-course lunch and speeches, the exhibition of local RAF material provided by the local aircrew association was viewed before afternoon refreshment was served and everyone was then finally asked to move to the outside of building for the official unveiling to take place.
With so many RAF officer corps and ex officers involved, George had thought it appropriate for the mayor to be accompanied by Air Marshall Peter Walker, who formally addressed the many hundreds of ex RAF and members of the public who had joined us.
Then, to finally top it all, George had arranged a formal flypast of RAF planes which had survived the the Second World War.
The day was truly memorable.
The pamphlet entitled The Royal Air Force in Torbay - During World War Two can still be obtained by sending two second class stamps plus a stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA