Lancashire At War.co.uk
Exploring the hidden history of War sites in Lancashire
Lowercroft Camp, Bury
I heard from a very knowledgeable local source (personal communiaction with Mr B. Simpson of Holcombe Moor Heritage Group) that some time after the new estate was built on the site of the Army Camp, guns were discovered when workmen dug a drain, Mr Simpson said:
"It was near Gisburn Drive and the story came from an occupant of a house who walked his dog down to the site and picked up some bits of broken rifle and other stuff. He identified it as early 20th century which is entirely possible if it was a dump from the POW camp as the Lee Enfield .303 rifle has been in service in some form or other since 1888."
I also recall that in an earlier conversation about the find, Mr Simpson stated that they were a mix of American and British weapons.
However, one has to remember that prior to WW2, the area is listed on an old OS Map (circa 1908) as a firing range at the lodge. Was it a Military range? I have yet to find out.
If anyone has any further information - please contact us.
'Bury and the Second World War' by Ken Inman and Michael H. Helm, has, to my knowledge, the only published references (excluding on line ones) to the camp. Intriguingly, while mentioning the Military College of Science based at the Technical College, they state: "The Military College of Science ran specialised training courses, mainly for R.E.M.E. and R.A.O.C. personnel, including instruction on the latest radar developments. Many who attended courses there were billeted in local homes, although some were based at Lowercroft Camp at Walshaw, which served a variety of purposes during the war, one being to house the quaintly named School of Electric Lighting."
What could this school have been teaching Army personnel we wonder?
Online references give us a few more details but no more answers.
Lowercroft Camp has been a puzzle to me for a while now - what was it? It is not on any POW Camp list that I have found - yet locals say it was one. It is not on the list of Army Camps I have - and yet we have anecdotal evidence that it existed. Below is the evidence, such as it is.
Above Right: The only photo I have found of Lowercroft Camp. And the link to the site where I found it. Read Bill Dalton's war memories and record of service on the Lancashire Fusilier website link above.
About the Camp it says the following (Taken from the link to the Lancashire Fusilier website):
" Bill who was already a qualified driver and a keen motor-cyclist chose the MT Section. He was therefore posted to the Depot's Motorised Transport (MT) Section, which at that time was based at Lower-Croft Mills near the Village of Walshaw (about 3 miles from Wellington Barracks).
Although part of the 'Mills' are still intact, the area of the Lower-Croft Billets just north of the Lower-Croft Mills Depot, now form part of a large housing development. During the following weeks and months Bill undertook various driving duties, including transporting Officers 'here, there and every where' and also performing duties as a motorcycle despatch rider. As a qualified driver on both four and two wheels, Bill later found him self assigned to Driving Instruction Duties and spent numerous hours teaching Army recruits how to drive. It is a fact that in the late 1930's early 40's the ability to drive was not common and Bill's "teaching skills" were in great demand.
Bill tells a truly sad but heartwarming tale of the "knock-on" effects of the war during those early dark days of 1940, whilst based at Lower-Croft Mills. On the 4th June, 1940, the German Army seized the Port of Dunkirk, and in the days prior to and thereafter, members of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) began arriving back on the UK mainland. The returning troops, many in sheer desperate state were subsequently billeted throughout the United Kingdom. Such was the scale of the Evacuation and administrative turmoil that followed (with due regard to the monumental and sterling efforts made by many individuals both Military and Civilian, as readers will be only too well aware), quite a number of the evacuated BEF troops found themselves in the Bury area.
In the true spirit of Lancastrians everywhere, Bill and his fellow Fusiliers based at Lower-Croft Mills actually gave up their billets and blankets in favour of the returning troops, and spent several nights sleeping in the fields adjacent to the camp. Bill says that no orders were necessary, it was just done. It would suffice to say that the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few! "
Inman & Helm back this up, saying that Lowercroft Camp housed Dunkirk evacuees "many of these showing signs of extreme fatigue, even to the extent that having placed their orders at the canteen, they had fallen asleep by the time it was served"
Read more about Bill Dalton here: http://www.lancs-fusiliers.co.uk/feature/Bill_Dalton/dalton.htm
Further evidence of who else trained at Lowercroft Camp:
Right is a postcard sold recently on Ebay addressed to Pte. A.B. Williams, Hut 3, A.T.S., Lowercroft Camp, Bury, Lancs. Which means that the camp also housed The Auxiliary Territorial Service, which was the women's branch of the British Army during the Second World War.
Another clue to the possible role of the camp, and one of the few references I have found is the story of Harold Fisher.
Lance Corporal Harold Restarick Fisher joined up in 1939, originally of the 8th (Irish) Battalion, The Kings Regiment, he volunteered for Special Forces training and was selected for parachute training with the No. 2 Parachute Commando, billeted in Benchill, Manchester.
In August 1941, as part of F Troop, 11th SAS Battalion, he was sent to Lowercroft Camp, Bury.
Sadly, he was declared missing in the North African campaign during Operation Torch on the 5th February 1943, aged 23.
His details can be found here along with further photos: http://www.paradata.org.uk/people/harold-r-fisher
For some time I was struggling to find any concrete evidence of Lowercroft Camp being a Prisoner Of War Camp, as all evidence pointed towards it being an Army Camp. However, several local recollections of it being a POW Camp made me keep looking. Fortunately, Ian from http://aircrashsites.co.uk/ solved the problem by reminding me of a reference in the Inman & Helm book. They state: "At the end of the war the Italian prisoners began to return home, and many of the Germans were moved to Burrs, as were others moved to Lowercroft."
They no doubt stayed there longer than they first imagined as re-patriation on both sides was slow and often took place a few years after the war was over.
There are local accounts of the POW camp on the Ainsworth Village History website:
Lowercroft, POW Camp, Bury
June Bradshaw of Radcliffe recalls on WW2 People's War BBC website the following: "In Lowercroft lodge at Ainsworth, we used to go swimming from school to meet the Americans. I used to get 5 Winston cigarettes for my dad, nylons for my mum and a dollar and chewing gum for me."
By my calculations she can only have been in her early teens at this time - what was she bartering? Then she states: "I was a weaver at 14 years of age, running 4 looms. We made ‘gun cloth’ for cocooning all the ‘sticky out bits’ on the tanks etc as camouflage".
Read the rest of her recollections here:
Above & Right: The site today. Houses were built on most of the site of the camp. But there are many large lumps of concrete cleared to areas of trees at the extent of the site - has a farmer cleared these to allow him to continue farming? There was nothing here pre-war, so these seem to be the last remains of any WW2 use. The rest of the site is now modern housing.
The photo (right) shows an isolated area of ploughing next to possible hut bases (not visible in the photo) - was this a vegetable patch in WW2? Or the only area unaffected by the C20th intrusion?
The photograph (left) is used by kind permission of Airborne Assault Duxford.
Mr Tony Saville got in contact with us a few months ago with the following additional information:
"My father was posted to Lowercroft Camp in September 1943. He was Staff Sargent Horace Karl Saville1441014 (possibly another 1 on the end) He was an instructor at the camp. He instructed on the use operation and maintenance of gun control by searchlight or acoustic microphones. The first antilog computer they used was all mechanical. I remember the drawings he made up to demonstrate these devices. Dad died about 3 years ago age 99 and 6 months."
Many thanks, Tony, for getting in touch and sharing this information.
The book 'The University of Manchester at War 1939 - 1946 by Eric E.Rowley with Colin Lees has another reference to Lowercroft Camp: Dr F.B. Beswick, MB, ChB, 1948 tells how medical students were exempt from military service as long as they did well in the Senior Training Corps - a military training programme for undergraduates.
"the practical use of the Lee-Enfield Bren and Sten guns took place at a residential course at Lowercroft Camp at Tottington near Bury. It was an Army camp where there were serving soldiers and members of the Women's Royal Army Corps. It was there that I learned how to judge people with whom I would more readily enter into battle! We were taught bayonet drill and marched towards a reservoir becoming increasingly anxious about how soon the order to halt or turn about would come. The first rank was on teh very edge when we did halt! We studied field craft and camouflage there and at Dunham Massey and Abney Hall, Cheadle." I heard that our function, should there be an invasion, was to lay a telephone cable somewhere in the Pennines which seemed to be just about what we were good for; certainly, we should not have been allowed to interfere with the real army."
Update, August 2015.
A few years ago a recording was found of Canon Reg Smith M.B.E. M.A. speaking live at Deeside Rotary Club, in 1981.
During Chapter 7: “75th Anniversary and The Huts” he tells the following story:
“…the Mayor of Guildford on this side of me, we were having our photograph taken and he said “Tell me, are the huts still at Lowercroft?”
I said, don’t tell me you were in the R.E.’s in the war, don’t tell me you came to our Technical College and lived in the huts at Lowercroft.
And he said, “I did” and he said “and is the Palais still there?”
I said, did you go to the Palais on a Saturday night?
He said “I did”.
Well, I said, there’s a girl in Bury looking for a fellow from down here…. And you owe her 33 years paternity money.
But suddenly, I said my daughter lives in a house where those huts were and suddenly Bury became real and we became real again. He put me back on my feet and really made me feel well we are something, we do matter in this great fact. But believe this or believe it not, please yourself, within two days I am at Redbridge which is the nice posh name now for Ilford and the places around it and the Mayor of Redbridge sits next to me. And he had a plumb in his mouth, you couldn’t tell what he said he was that posh: “Where are you from?”
I said I’m from Bury.
I said Bury in Lancashire, there’s only one.
“Are the huts still at Lowercroft?”
I said, don’t tell me you were in REME?
He said “I was, yes”
And I said, did you go to the Palais?
He said “Every Saturday.”
I said, well there’s a girl in Bury…..looking for a fellow.......
And he turned to me, and this is the power of Rotary, and he said to me, “Isn’t Bury a lovely place” and all the edge had gone and all the finesse had gone. And we were together and Bury really mattered again.”
This Cd is available to buy at The House On The Rock, the coffee shop at the back of Bury Parish Church.
Click on the above link to see Opening Times, and say hello to Nigel from us when you are there.
People keep contacting us about the huts at Lowercroft.
Hopefully more stories coming soon!
UPDATE August 2015
Our sincere thanks to Mr Stephen Porter who contacted us and sent us the following three photographs of his family at "The Huts at Lowercroft" as we will now forever call them thanks to Canon Reg Smith.
Mr Porter's family lived in the huts for a short time after the war. And it was always a mystery to him how they came to be in an ex-army and ex-POW camp.
The reason, according to others who have since contacted us, is that after the war there was a shortage of Social Housing and so Bury made use of the camp at Lowercroft to house families until new houses were built or available.
It is wonderful to see more photos of the huts. Mr Porter informs us that the people in them are as follows:
Left: My sister Jaqueline back left. Kathleen Cannon front left. I don't know the girl and baby.
Bottom Left: My sister Lilian
Bottom Right: My sister Joan
Update August 2017 - A New Novel featuring Lowercroft Camp
Alice Graysharp, whose novel The Keeping of Secrets features Lowercroft Camp (published 5th September 2017) was in part inspired by her late father's time at Lowercroft. She has been in touch with us over recent years and we have offered information and helped her get in touch with others who worked at the camp.
Alice wrote the following for us: "My father used to talk about his REME wartime service including time at an army camp near Bury and about having worked on building early computers. As his description was not of computers as I knew them I took his reminiscences with a pinch of salt and then discovered a few years ago through the internet (where else?!) that these predictor machines - called electromechanical analogue computers - really did exist.
As part of my research for my novel, wanting to ground the story in historical fact, I obtained my father's army service records and found that he transferred to "Bury" on 20th August 1943 and was later attached to the "School of Electric Lighting" (situated at Lowercroft Camp) where he remained until November 1944. My researches indicated that the School of Electric Lighting related to searchlights and that it was originally at Gosport but owing to the prevalence of the bombing of southern ports was subsequently moved to Bury.
However, my father had previously attended AA (anti-aircraft) Command at North Berwick and had definitely talked about computers bringing down moving enemy targets, which got me wondering whether the searchlight work was a cover for the work that he was doing and which he said was top secret at the time. In April 2016 I walked the ground there, going through imaginary sentry posts at the bend in Lowercroft Road and at the end of the lane at Walshaw. I wonder whether Lowercroft Camp has ever featured in a novel before!"
To buy a copy of Alice's novel, please click on these links (RIGHT for Kindle edition)
(LEFT for paperback edition)
She also has a website, where she talks a little more about the camp and what went on there.
These pages, all text and photographs, unless stated, are the copyright of The Brothers B. No reproduction is allowed in any form without prior written permission
Update October 2017
Earlier this year we interviewed Roy Turner who still lives close to Lowercroft and during the war was a young boy living near the camp.
His interview and photos of the boundaries of the camp can be seen on our new page HERE