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A short history of Galdenoch Radio Station Lochnaw 54.55N 05.10W

by Peter Linzey

Galdenoch was linked with Prestwick aerodrome, Redbrae House, Westburn House and the USAAF

It was probably conceived by the Ministry of Information in 1939/40 as a LW broadcast station, when it was perceived that Ireland might be lost to the enemy. It was built, with considerable difficulty, in the wilds of SW Scotland and despite diligent enquiry no details of the actual construction have been forthcoming, although we know that the Wigtownshire Electricity Company [now part of Scottish Power] supplied the mains power, and ST&C supplied two LW transmitters, type CM8 of 10kw output each, working into aerials supported by qty 4 off 315’ non-radiating stayed masts. The Station was technically completed in early 1943, but by then the threat of loss of Ireland had receded, so it was not required for it’s original purpose. It may have been designated as an RAF station for admin purposes for a short time after completion, but was never an operational RAF unit. MOD and MP Douglas Alexander have neither confirmed nor disputed the above information.

There had been flying in and around Prestwick/Monkton since early in the century, and in 1936 Prestwick Aerodrome was created, together with Scottish Aviation Ltd [SAL] as it’s operating arm. A flying school was set up, by SAL, training RAF pilots. This school together with the control tower etc was on the North side of the aerodrome

By 1939, the UK was at war with Germany, and SAL was managing Prestwick Aerodrome as ‘Govt Agents’.

In 1941 the United States entered the European war. Orangefield House Hotel, which had been built as a private mansion, had been developed into the Aerodrome ‘Club’ for the general public. The first Officers of the USAAF came to Prestwick and stayed at the hotel as ‘observers’, as some ‘proving’ flights from America were taking place. These were not usually ‘direct’ flights but were routed via various intermediate stop-overs. Quite early on the original Control Tower was accidentally destroyed by fire, and a new Control Room was built on to the roof of Orangefield. All the Air Traffic services were operated by the RAF, who also took over nearby Redbrae house as a ‘signals centre’. A nucleus of the now growing US forces also operated from Heathfield aerodrome, adjacent to Prestwick.

In 1942 the Eurowing of the American Air Transport Command was formed, and regular flights from America began to arrive in Prestwick. USAAF staff numbers at Prestwick increased, including some ‘works’ personnel, to assist with the development of the various sites needed to accommodate the increasing number of troops and services, but some US troops were detached to other parts of the UK.

By 1943 Galdenoch was technically completed, as a long-wave broadcast station, but not really required as such as the perceived need was no longer there. 1403 Base Unit, the operating arm of the USAAF, took over Westburn House [next door to Redbrae] as a Signals Centre. Air Traffic was still controlled by the RAF, but later in the year the USAAF took over the transatlantic ATC services. USAAF Signals people now had a transmitter ‘at Stranraer’ [probably at Galdenoch where their engineers identified above had installed extra aerials and equipment.] A small operating unit of American Signals men worked at Galdenoch until the time of the Berlin airlift [June 48 to May 49] and because there was no ‘domestic site’ they lived out at Portpatrick. It had long been the intention of the British government, via Ministry of Civil Aviation, to operate Galdenoch in an Air Traffic role such as the Americans had been doing, and when the Americans left early in 1948, with some of their equipment, employees of the MCA took over and started installing new gear to take over the established point-to-point services.

Eventually the LW CM8 transmitter was used for Radio Teletype [RTTY] tests, and some other ancillary services were provided on site, so that the Station appeared to be providing a useful service in it’s civilian role, although manning was never easy owing to it’s relative remoteness. All the circuits were operated from Redbrae, and transmitters were located at Symington [55.325N 04.338W], near Prestwick , or Galdenoch.

Post war Prestwick had become a major international airport, with regular civil flights to worldwide destinations. Orangefield had become the Airport Terminal, with the then usual check-in desks etc, and it had a certain period charm. As the Irish also had a similar ATC set-up there was considerable duplication of effort, so in the mid to late 60s most of the point-to-point services were transferred to the Irish Aviation Authority at Ballygirreen, the telescoping of names forming ‘Shanwick’, leaving Galdenoch with not a lot except the L/W CM8s, which it had started with in 1943, continuing doing RTTY service. By 1970 there was no further perceived requirement for the Station and it closed on 31/07/70, staff were dispersed, and eventually it was demolished, the masts being the last bit to be cut up in 1979 by King Bros, Stranraer scrap metal merchants, [they had been ‘dropped’ earlier, but not cut up] Although the Station was dismantled and services disconnected, the lease by the Govt was still maintained. Now history started a repeat as it often does, and ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland caused the BBC to fear for their transmitter sites, in NI, so they obtained a ‘sub lease’ from CAA, installed some mobile equipment, in a trailer, at Galdenoch, and no doubt regretted the loss of the earlier CM8 equipment. New power supplies were arranged, on which I have no information, although there is still [2009] an abandoned pole-mounted transformer adjacent to the still-remaining shell of the MT garage, presumably for the BBC equipment.

There was said to have been an Army signals unit on site, or at least ‘interested’, at that time to cover the same problem, but the MoD has not confirmed this situation.

In the event the BBC emergency equipment was not required for the intended purpose, and it was removed from site by the late 80s At a later, undisclosed date, possibly in the 90s the CAA/NATS lease was terminated and the land reverted to the original landlord who presumably re-let it for agriculture, as that is it’s current usage.

In the meantime Prestwick Airport went through various changes of fortune, as aircraft development rendered it less attractive as a UK terminal, but the outgrown Orangefield was demolished, together with Redbrae and Westburn houses, a new Airport Terminal was built, a new signal centre developed at Atlantic House, Prestwick, and a new Control Tower built, together with other site developments.

The 4 pictures below, taken in the 1960s, show the main transmitter hall with part of the domestic offices to the left, the Nissen hut engine shed, the two CM8 transmitters, and a rather poor shot of a mast lower section. (Click on the pictures to enlarge them and use your browser's Back button to return.)

Altogether an interesting time with little physical remains of Galdenoch or the other sites to activate memories.

Thanks are due to the many correspondents who contributed various bits of information, some relevant and others on divergent tracks, but with just enough plausibility to cause a search to take place, hence the long gestation period of this brief [and possibly incomplete] history.

If you have anything to add, dispute, or comment on, please feel free to do so by clicking here (the email will be received by Martin Ellen and passed on to Peter). 

Peter Linzey, November 2009

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