Heaton Park, one of the largest parks in Europe, was in use through both World Wars. During WW1 it was a training camp for four of the Manchester Pals Battalions. But during WW2 it became an even more important site, when the RAF used it to train 133,516 aircrew. This information was all made available to us by the wonderful display on Heaton Park, "The People's Park" at the Longfield Suite, Prestwich in 2012.
While this camp must have been "top secret" in WW2, the German Luftwaffe knew precisely where it was, where its searchlights were and where its anti- aircraft guns were! - See Below:
Above Left: A photo of a map on display at the exhibition. The description reads as follows: This map of Heaton Park was used to show new recruits where they were during their initial induction into the Officer training regime. There are three clay pigeon shooting ranges, one barrage balloon anchorage site, one anti-aircraft emplacement (AA), as well as the sentry box, the NAAFI and various stores and squadron places. And the swimming pool/Lido.
ABOVE: the German Aerial Reconnaissance Photo
LEFT: the description of the photo - note they knew where the searchlights were and the anti-aircraft guns (here refered to as "Flache" or flak in English
Above: The map shows the NAAFI and the whereabouts of No. 2 Squadron.
Above Right: The position of No. 1 Squadron.
Below Left: What was once called "The NAAFI" is now a cafe but was previously the Boathouse.
Below Right: The position of the AA Guns adjacent to Sheepfoot Lane
It was not only the RAF who used Heaton Park. The WAAF did too. As Olive Powell (nee Tattersall) was stationed there for a short time (between 1942 and '43) during her time in the WAAF. She mentions it in passing in "Salford from the 1920's to the 1960's - Lower Broughton Remembered" - compiled by Eric Pegg.
World War One
Heaton Park was in use by the RAF throughout World War Two, but it was also used in World War One.
According to C.S. Jackson, in his book "Down Hollow Lane - Memories of Higher Blackley" he mentions the park being used "for the billeting and training of thousands of soldiers". And that "In one part of the Park there was a small mock-up of a trench system like those on the Western Front (The Pitch and Putt golf course is now on the site.)"
As well as being used for training - they were a tourist attraction! - see advert, Right.
The 16th, 17th, 18th & 19th Pals Battalions of the Manchester Regiment trained in the park between September 1914 and April 1915.
A THIRD MAP: Above there is the map for new recruits, the Luftwaffe reconnaissance map and here is a THIRD MAP with Heaton Park on it.
During WW2 many Home Guard units drew their own maps of their area.
Two maps of Prestwich Home Guard recently came to light - SEE MORE DETAILS HERE.
On one (RIGHT) you can see a part of Heaton Park drawn on. Just off Sheepfoot Lane are marked "The Hutments" wooden huts used for housing troops here in the Second World War.
Heaton Park suffered THREE seperate attacks by the Luftwaffe according to this map of Manchester's bomb sites recorded in 1941 (BELOW).
The yellow dots are where High Explosive bombs were dropped on 16/09/40
The green dots mark where High Explosive bombs were dropped between the 9th and 10th of January 1941.
The large orange dot is a 400lb fire bomb dropped between the 1st and 2nd of June 1940, the two small orange dots are High Explosive bombs dropped at the same time.
Having served a role in both World Wars, Heaton Park's story did not end there. It had an important role in the Cold War as well.
The "BT Tower" that we all take for granted as a communications building was in fact a Cold War installation to keep lines of communication open after a nuclear attack. SEE OUR PAGE HERE
However, Heaton Park's Cold War story did not end there. It also had a further role to play. In the shadow of the tower is a Royal Observer Corps (ROC) Monitoring Station (PHOTOS: ABOVE LEFT: - Where the ROC site was - Now removed. ABOVE RIGHT: The remains of the surrounding fence for the site. The only remaining feature.
It was a secret monitoring station to record the nuclear blast and fallout in the event of a nuclear war. Three men would have lived six feet underground in a small room and recorded what was going on above ground in the event of a nuclear strike. They would also regularly go down there and monitor and record as part of the ROC's (Royal Observer Corps) role. There were hundreds of sites like this all over the country.
During the annual Heritage Open Days festival (September 2017), Heaton Hall was open to all for free for two days to explore. We joined hundreds of other visitors and were very grateful to the Friends Of Heaton Hall for their informative dispays and knowledgeable members who were on hand.
They set one room out as a ward for recuperating soldiers as it would have been during World War One (See Photos BELOW).
During WW1 Heaton Hall took in soldiers released from Dunham Massey's military hospital. The Friends' displays told the story Major Robert Tait McKenzie, of the RAMC, who helped rehabilitate these wounded soldiers (the same soldiers who built the mock trenches shown above) and how he "laid a founation for modern physiotherapy practices" (Wikipedia).
RIGHT: Major Robert Tait Mackenzie
LEFT: Some cap badges found at Heaton Park and displayed by The Friends group.
Heaton Hall is open to the public for guided tours on occassions. Check out the Friends Of Heaton Hall's webpage for more details.