By His Excellency the Governor of His Majesty's Colony of Southern Rhodesia . . . I do hereby grant unto SAMUEL JEWELL, hereinafter called the Proprietor, a piece of land containing 453 Morgan and 537 square roods, being the farm THORNHILL . . ."
THESE are the opening words of a, document, dated 1939, which marked the end of 13 years of u toil for Mr. Jewell. He came to Rhodesia in 1926, and worked until he was able to buy his land from the Government for 25 shillings an acre.
The Government was seeking three sites in the Gwelo district for the establishment of airfields for the Rhodesia Air Training Group. The provision of such bases was Rhodesia's main domestic effort towards, the defence of the Empire during the war years. The area finally chosen comprised a large portion of the farm "Thornhill", with a part of the farm Glengarry", the latter being owned by Mr. Tom MacDonald. In 1940 this land was commandeered from the farmers and a nominal rental was paid, (Outright purchase of the area followed after the war, when Mr. Jewell received £8 an acre for prime arable land!) The base was ready for occupation early in 1941.
On the morning of 24 March, 1941, the first two trainloads of young men arrived at Thornhill. They could not have realised that they were the first few in a continuous flood which was to last for four and a half years. For these men Rhodesia was a quiet back-water far away from the harsh privations of the European war. One of the major problems to be overcome by the first Station Commander, Group Captain S. S. Chick, was the maintenance of morale in a situation fgr removed from the glamour and excitement of the front lines. In this he was supported by the warm hospitality extended by the people of the Gwelo district.
The production of trained pilots continued at a constantly high flow. Batches of some 30 LAC pilots graduated at fortnightly intervals. By the war's end 1 810 pilots had received their Wings at Thornhill, having recorded about 314-000 flying hours. These figures speak for themselves in terms of effort by both the ground and air crews.
In September 1945, the Station closed for some months until it reopened as No. 3 Navigational School the following year for seven years, it was just another of the many overseas postings available to a Royal Air Force airman, and there was a high turnover of personnel.
In 1953 it was again decided to close the Station and to hold a closing-down sale! Housewives flocked in from miles around to snap up vast quantities of linen and cutlery at absurdly low prices, while many highly complex pieces of technical equipment were simply sold to the highest bidder. Among the legends of Thornhill is one about the reputed burial of a large cache of valuable tool-kits at the time of this closure, but the "treasure" has never been found.
During these early post-war years, the Rhodesian Air Force was being re-established as a separate fighting force, its primary task being Imperial Defence. As it expanded, it became clear that Salisbury's New Sarum air base would be unsuitable for flying training with the establishment of the 'civil 'air terminal. Once again, Thornhill was-to be opened.
Easter 1956, saw the arrival of some 40 men, led by Squadron Leader Doug Whyte, who commanded both the Station and No. 4 Squadron, its only unit. The sole task of the new unit was the initial training of pilots on the recently-acquired-Provost aircraft. The pupils then returned to Salisbury to complete their advanced flying training on Vampire jets. The first to be trained under this new scheme were the cadets of No. 9 Course, who were subsequently presented with their wings by H.M. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in 1957.
Following major reconstruction of the airfield and dispersal area, the Vampires were moved to Thornhill in 1958, in order to consolidate all flying training in one locality.
The first detachment of aircraft and men actively to iake pan in Imperial Defence operations left Thornhill during 1958, bound for Aden, which was then a British Protectorate. Subsequently, several squadron detachments were made to Aden and Cyprus as annual training exercises, and these continued until 1963. Visits were made to the Station during these years by the Royal Air Force, the French Air Force and by a number of other friendly Air Forces.
At the break-up of Federation, the era of close co-operation with the Imperial Defence scheme ended, and the need for a sharper focus on internal security arose. It was not long before air-strikes were made against infiltrating terrorists in the Western Matabeleland area.
A number of similar air-support operations were carried out by Thornhill-based aircraft in the early days of terrorist infiltration, and the resident Squadrons still remain poised to meet any threat.
If one of the original airmen of 1941 were to wander into the precincts of Thornhill today, he would find little changed geographically. The essential corporate spirit of Air Force life is also unchanged, save that it may be expressed in a less demonstrative fashion than was the custom during the wartime years. The neat rows of standard-issue headstones in the Gwelo Cemetery bear silent testimony for those who would reflect on the cost, in terms of human effort, of the making and the preservation of peace during Thornhill's history.
ONE WOMAN’S WAR
Can one person disrupt an Air Force base?
The late Mrs. Jeannie Boggie tried to do so, when she fired the first shots in her life-long war against the progress of military aviation. And yet the reason for her antagonism was not as simple as one might imagine: she became an opponent of flying after seeing a Harvard crash on her farm. The result of low flying, it killed a very young pupil pilot.
The event affected her deeply and she resolved to do all in her power to deter low flying in her vicinity.
She used the fairly standard complaint that her farm was situated immediately below the approach to the runway-and it would seem that her chickens would never synchronise their egg production with the intermittent roar of low-flying aircraft.
As the years rolled on, the enmity between Mrs. Boggie and the Air Force became legendary both in scope and frequency. Because of her reputed ferocity, no figure in uniform would dream of approaching her homestead. However, towards the end of her life, in the early 1960's, the C.M.C. of the Airmen's Mess, Cpl. Antel, took courage and invited her to a Mess dance. Her answer was to protest that she had mislaid her false teeth. Cpl. Antel promptly removed his own false teeth, slipped them into his pocket and promised to escort her in that condition. To this she happily agreed, and it appeared that she thoroughly enjoyed the evening
- Beaver Shaw
- Nairobi, Kenya
- I an ex member of both 7 and 8 Squadron's of the Rhodesian war spending most of my operational time on Seven Squadron as a K Car gunner. I was credited for shooting down a fixed wing aircraft from a K Car on the 9 August 1979. This blog is from articles for research on a book which I HAVE HANDED THIS MANUSCRIPT OVER TO MIMI CAWOOD WHO WILL BE HANDLING THE PUBLICATION OF THE BOOK OF WHICH THERE WILL BE VERY LIMITED COPIES AVAILABLE Contact her on email@example.com The latest news is that the Editing is now done and we can expect to start sales and deliveries by the end of April 2011
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