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Sunday, 31 August 2014

A deserted camp

FIFTY years ago saw the end of a direct military presence in Haverigg for the first time since the Second World War.

First, trainee aircrew had called RAF Millom their home – before the end of any risk of German invasion saw the camp eventually handed over to the Army for Civil Defence training.

The major natural disaster or nuclear war they prepared soldiers for never came, so the complex of broken buildings – known as Doom Town – had to go.

What was left after the Army went became HMP Haverigg by the end of the 1960s but back in 1962 people in the village thought that the site would probably fall into dereliction or revert to farmland.

Back in August 1962, this is how the Evening Mail reported the imminent closure.

It said: “The gates of the Army School of Civil Defence at Haverigg close for the last time on October 6.”

It recorded that the last of many thousands to have trained there were from Lovett’s Scouts and the West Riding Battalion of the Duke of Wellington Regiment.

The commanding officer, Lt-Col O.A.J Cary-Elwes, had left for a new posting in Devizes.

Millom councillors in July 1962 worried that youngsters would find the Doom Town buildings a tempting place to play – which would result in injuries.

Cllr Peter Cross said that the buildings were due to be blown up before the soldiers left but there were tunnels and pits underneath which could be a danger to children.

The closure also resulted in an auction of 400 acres of land which sold for £6,250 in just 30 minutes.

Brothers, Leslie and Frederick Hunter, from Haverigg, bought 215 acres for £1,400.

John Phillips, of Millom, bought 6.3 acres for £1,250 and James Craghill, of Haverigg, paid £3,600 for 178 acres.

The Evening Mail in October 1962 described the abandoned site.

It said: “For more than 20 years Millom has been a garrison town and the townspeople have grown used to the benefits as well as the nuisances caused by the existence of Haverigg Camp.

“Already the camp has a ghostly quality about it that is emphasised by the empty billets, the deserted roads and the bleak desolation of Doom Town.”

The Millom area would lose £1,000 a year in rates with the closure of the camp, plus spending through local shops on snacks, beer and souvenirs.

At the end of the Second World War, the site had been used as a repatriation camp for Polish servicemen until 1948 – although some stayed in Millom and Haverigg.
From 1952 the camp trained RAF cadets, before the army took over.

Mr W Haris, landlord of the West County Hotel, in Millom, said: “We welcomed the troops.

“We made them feel at home and had no trouble with them at all.”

He was not telling the whole truth. The Millom court sessions saw their fair share of cases involving military vehicles being borrowed for joy rides round the town, soldiers using trains and buses without paying and brawling.

There are legends of 100-a-side scraps involving soldiers – mainly from Scottish regiments – and Millom men. The Peel Green was a popular place for such encounters.

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