Halesowen RAF veteran spreading the word about his top secret air base
8:43am Thursday 6th February 2014
8:43am Thursday 6th February 2014
Adam Smith meets a remarkable RAF veteran from Halesowen who is on a one-man mission to tell the world about the top secret Worcestershire air base he worked at during World War Two.
SPRITELY Albert Shorrock cant stand people having barbeques in Halesowen as it reminds him of the smell of the charred bodies of his RAF friends who died defending King and Country.
For three years during World War Two Albert kept the planes airworthy which defended Great Britain, bombed Germany and dropped secret agents across mainland Europe.
And for the last 20 years he has made it his quest to first save and then tell the world about RAF Defford - the top secret air base in Worcestershire which he believes helped swing the war in favour of the Allies.
The Telecommunications Flying Unit was set up following an audacious commando raid on a German radar base in France to steal the radar equipment needed to kickstart the RAF radar systems.
As one of the best mechanics in the country Albert was picked to work at RAF Defford from its inception in 1942.
The top secret air base housed scientists who, through trial and error, produced the radar systems which helped the RAF detect enemy planes, protect ships, navigate across Europe and save stranded airmen.
Albert had to learn about all the planes operational for both the RAF and the USAAF as he would have to repair, inspect and pass them for flight at the start of each day.
He said: "As I signed the form to say the plane was airworthy the pilots would take me up in the planes without a parachute to prove a point."
The worse part of the job was seeing so many of his friends not return for missions or when attacked planes returned injured or dead airman.
"I cannot abide the smell of a barbeque because it brings back the memory of having to clean out the burnt planes, it was awful.
"They used to take off and fly off as graceful as swallows in the sky but knowing they would not all come back was hard."
He added: "The pilots and crews were so brave and brilliant, some of them had fought in the battle of Britain and many of them missed the action when it was quiet.
"Getting the planes ready for the special agents to be dropped behind enemy lines was an honour as well. They were as brave as it gets."
Albert told the National Trust not to knock down the buildings when they took over the Earl of Coventry's estate, where the base is, in the early 1990s.
"I wrote letter after letter telling them not to knock down all that history and finally they changed their minds and kept it open."
Now 20 years after that victory a musuem is set to open in one of the restored buildings detailing the vital work undertaken at RAF Defford.
He said: "If it was not for radar then who knows what would have happened, we were in real trouble in 1941 as we were reliant on ships bringing supplies and the Germans kept on sinking them.
"We knew we were working on something top secret, we could not talk about it, keep diaries or know what other sections were doing at the airbase."
He added: "The fact is was not on the map for years says it all but it is important people know about it now. It will be a proud day when the museum finally opens after all these years."
Originally from Lancashire Albert, now aged 93, settled in Halesowen after being demobbed in 1946 after ending his military service in Eygpt.
He was a keen long distance runner winning medals for Halesowen Athletic Club and even qualifying for the 1948 Olympics before being forced to pull out due to injury, he is now a life member of the club after serving as groundsman and treasure for years.
He became district inspector of South Staffordshire Waterworks Company then head groundsman of Dudley Borough Parks department and then ended employment as a manager of a bonded warehouse.
Meanwhile, RAF Defford had been abandoned. The TFU remained at Defford after the war, and was renamed the Radar Research Flying Unit (RRFU) in 1953.
The airfield was too small to cope with large "V" bombers and the RRFU moved to Pershore in 1957.
In retirement Albert, who grows his own vegatables at his Charles Road home, set about contacting all his old RAF comrades to organise reunions and collate a history of the base.
Despite suffering from glaucoma and being registered blind Albert still writes a newsletter about RAF Defford and all the adventures and operations at the base.
He also penned his own story - Memoirs of an Airframe Fitter - and continues to be an active member of his community, bringing a Liberty Bell for street parties.
Marion Southall, a neighbour for fifty years, said: "Everyone loves Albert around here, we all know him and love hearing all his stories, he has had an amazing life, the place would not be the same without him."
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