The benches commemorate the work of the American personnel who served at RAF Burtonwood from 1940 to its closure in 1993, and the vital role that RAF Burtonwood played in the Berlin Airlift.
RAF Burtonwood was opened in 1940 and was transferred to the US military in June 1942. It became the US Military’s ‘Base Air Depot No 1’ (BAD#1) and was the largest air base in Europe during the Second World War, with the most US Air Force (USAF) personnel and maintenance facilities.
In June 1948, and after the post-war division of Germany, the Russians closed all the roads, railways and canals from Western-occupied Germany into Western-occupied Berlin, the Western Allies responded with the Berlin Airlift. ‘Operation Vittles’, as it became known, took place from 24 June 1948 to 30 September 1949 and supplied the people of West Berlin with all their needs. It was the biggest air lift in history.
RAF Burtonwood, played a central and vital role in the success of the Berlin Airlift. The main aircraft used in the operation was the C-54 Skymaster – and each aircraft needed to be serviced after every 200 hours of flight. Every C-54 Skymaster involved in the Berlin Airlift was serviced at RAF Burtonwood and the 200-hour overhaul was completed 1,571 times during the operation.
On 12 May 1949, the Soviets lifted the blockade and reopened the roads, canals and railway routes into the western half of the city. However, the Allies continued the airlift until September 1949 to stockpile supplies in Berlin in case the blockade was reinstated. There were approximately 5,000 USAF personnel on the RAF Burtonwood base by the end of the Berlin Airlift.
After the war and role in the Berlin Airlift, RAF Burtonwood became a major equipment storage and supply centre for the US Military in Europe before its eventual closure in 1993.
The two bespoke benches now in place at Airlift Hill were designed in collaboration with Aldon Ferguson, the President of the RAF Burtonwood Association and funded by Omega Warrington.
The benches were delivered in a collaboration between Omega Warrington, the RAF Burtonwood Association, Warrington Borough Council, Great Sankey Parish Council, and the Land Trust. They were installed next to the Pickett-Hamilton Fort at Airlift Hill, Great Sankey, by staff of Castle Green Homes.
Cabinet member for health and adult social care, Paul Warburton, who supported the project, said: “The benches are a fitting and lasting commemoration to the base, its vital role in the Berlin Airlift, and to all those who served at RAF Burtonwood. They look magnificent next to the Pickett-Hamilton Fort at Airlift Hill and I’m sure they will become a valued local landmark.”
Aldon Ferguson, Founder and President of the RAF Burtonwood Association, said: “Sincere thanks go to Cllr Paul Warburton and Colin Graham at Omega Warrington for their involvement in arranging for this wonderful memorial area to be created. It immortalises the dedication by those who served at RAF Burtonwood and their achievements in preserving peace in Europe ever since.”
Euan Hall, Chief Executive of the Land Trust, said: “Since opening last year, Airlift Hill has become a very popular site in the local community with many people using it for their daily exercise, while the local school has used the space for a variety of different activities. The new memorial benches are a lovely recognition of the important role Airlift Hill played in our history.”
In addition to this fantastic commemoration, a US Military Plaque which has been displayed at Warrington Town Hall has been lovingly restored. The plaque was presented to the people of Warrington in 1945 to acknowledge the friendship and hospitality to US Military personnel.
Following discussions about the condition of the plaque, it was removed and restored by a specialist renovation company. It has now returned to its home at Town Hall and is back on display in its original glory.
Mayor of Warrington, Cllr Maureen Creaghan, said: "The plaque is a fitting memorial to honour all those who were based at RAF Burtonwood during the war and the important work that took place after there after the war ended.
“It is fantastic to see that it has been restored to its original condition for visitors to the Town Hall to appreciate."