The air above wartime Walney was always abuzz with Royal Air Force training flights. Planes chased each other, shot at each other and dropped imitation bombs, in preparation for the deadly real-life battles of WW2.
Two types aircraft predominated: the Avro Anson a sturdy, lumbering bomber with the gun turret atop the fuselage, giving almost all-round visibility; and the single seat Miles Magister, a training plane which towed a drogue, an oiled linen tube, which the apprentice gunner aimed to try and hit.
Bombing was over a measured stretch of beach, to the north of the airfields. Twin towers marked the approach and release of smoke bombs. If the aircrew of pilot and bomber synchronised, speed, altitude and direction, they were cleared to fly real bombers into the intense dogfights over Germany.
An unexpected discovery on Duddon Sands
A couple of miles north of Walney airfield, in the middle of Duddon Sands, a fixed gantry of scaffolding stood above the waves as a target for smoke bombs. Early one sunny morning two local beachcombers were amazed to see a man sitting on the target. Checking with binoculars, it appeared that he was still, unconscious, frozen or worse. An ambulance was sent. The driver and mate took a stretcher and recovered the recently dead man from the framework. They laboriously carried him to the ambulance, trudging through sand and mud.
The ambulance men laid the body in the back and drove to the mortuary at North Lonsdale Hospital. The driver’s mate went to open the doors at which point the driver heard a cry and a thump. He got out and found his mate lying flat-out in a dead faint, the open door revealing a naked corpse sitting bolt upright on the stretcher. The dead man’s muscles had regained the rigor mortis position of his overnight stay on the target.
The event proved quite a passing out experience for the ambulance crew and a sad tale to tell all round Barrow.