Ferry Command






A Mysterious Place (RAF Ferry Command Ops Centre)

by Frank Tibbo


Transatlantic Air Control (TAC) Centre in Prestwick, Scotland 1942

If I were to describe it after it was abandoned, never having been in the place but depending on the descriptions of those who were, I’d probably say it was like a huge root-cellar without the vegetables. It seems to have been creepy, dark, damp and downright adventurous for fun-loving teenagers.

Originally, the place was alive with activity; one could say it was the heart, soul and brains of Gander. On March 19, 1942, military personnel were busy as bees swarming over charts and messages. The Military Operations Centre was in full swing.

“Their purpose, so I have been told, was the Ops Centre for Ferry Command where they flight planned the routes, forecasted the en route weather and monitored the progress of the flights. It was also located near the railway where the Ferry Command pilots were billeted in railway cars. Also it was just a short walk to the tarmac where the aircraft were initially parked

Later on accommodations were made available for the ferry crews in the Eastbound Inn and in “A” Building (also referred to as Saturn). But why was so much of this place under ground?

The building, which was approximately 200 feet long and 100 feet wide, was mainly below the earth’s surface (save for the roof). Concrete steps led down to an entrance on each of the four sides. The roof appeared like a large mound which eventually sprouted grass and small brush.

If one were to give it an address, it would have to be Guthrie Street, its location fairly close to the railway station. It was referred to as Building 145 on engineers’ drawings of the airport and was within a stone’s throw of a large building identified on engineers’ drawing as the “Steam Laundry.”

“I first saw it when we moved to Gander from Norris Arm in the summer of 1948. By that time it was closed and secured. However, it was easily entered and many of us spent many a day wandering the darkness inside. There were four entrances; the main one facing north and then three others largely at the other cardinal points. The south entrance was near the back yard of Pat Cashin who lived in one of the five railway houses. The west entrance faced the old base laundry. We usually entered from the north and it was clear that others had entered as well, as there was evidence that people had scavenged for wire and anything else that might be useful. Many of the rooms were derelict but in some there were still maps and photographs on the wall. I recall that there were about 40 rooms in all. Most were relatively small not much more than 10 x 10. On top of the building was an open watch tower which I do not recall was accessible from the inside. For a period in the early fifties, Goodyears used the place as a warehouse and access was tightened considerably. I left Gander in 1957 and it was still there; I understand that it was destroyed a few years after that.” Gar Pardy

“A large room had maps on the wall, photographs of aircraft and the outline of enemy submarines displayed. Cec Sceviour saw it being dismantled and large two by ten planks that had been constructed close together were being removed from the roof. Goodyears used it later for storage.” John Dyke

“There was a very large room and it seems to me there was a balcony surrounding it. It was a fascinating place and I’m sure we weren't supposed to be in there but many of us explored it despite the darkness.” Joy (Mercer) Janes

“The main room was really high, there was a ladder, and it must have been 20 feet high, leaning against one of the walls. I remember the tower but we couldn’t get in there. Skinny Griffin used it for storage at one time and the boys used to swipe the odd can of coke. I remember that Harvey Rideout broke his leg sliding off the roof.” Leo Brazil

“There were two long corridors with offices on either side. We used to get in from the north and south entrances. I remember seeing crutches lying around. The exterior reminded me of a large mound.” Carol (Mercer) Walsh

“The roof was camouflaged, but you could easily see air vents, it looked something like a bomb shelter.” Dave Hanrahan

“I remember seeing the large blackboard where they recorded the data about aircraft. The roof was just a couple of feet above ground and there were very small windows, at least on one side.” Clyde Burt

“I can remember going into one room where the walls were covered with maps. Probably a briefing room for the flight crews. We went into this one room with a huge vent type opening in the wall covered with a metal screen. The screen came off and we got up enough nerve to see what lay on the other side. It was just big enough to squeeze in. One of us crawled through. No doubt, the bravest one (not me). Then we all followed. We had hit the mother lode. We had entered the area where Goodyear’s kept their warehouse and it was full of soft drinks that we could see. We only had a candle and the light wasn’t very bright so we took a full case (12 bottles) and retreated back through our secret entrance, not knowing what flavour we had. Once back into the unsecured area, we carried our booty to a safe location for inspection. It was a case of ginger ale. Yuk. Of all the luck. Anyway, we decided it wouldn’t be too bad. It was sweet and it fizzed. And besides we weren’t going back in for more. We might get caught, plus finding that room was a stroke of luck. We could never find it again.” Jack Pinsent

“It was a super-secret place with a bombproof roof. The roof was reinforced with steel, strengthened to withstand enemy bombing. It operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At that time I was a meteorological technician and there were always a meteorological technician and a forecaster on duty performing meteorological service for the military. We were the only civilians allowed in the Operations Centre as far as I know but we were confined to our own office. Several members of the Women’s Division (was) RCAF worked with us as teletype operators. I don’t know all that was in the building but I do know that it contained the cipher office to code and decode secret military messages. The Operations Centre was closed shortly after the war’s end”. Rod Goff

Unfortunately, like a lot of other historic sites, it was destroyed. The airport authorities had it filled in. Their reason, maybe legitimate, was that it posed a danger to the adventurous young teenagers. In any case, the walls were concrete and probably still exist just beneath the surface. What a tourist attraction it could have been.

Editors Note: More information on Ferry Command Operations can be viewed here

Submitted by F. Tibbo

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