Stories from Danby's secret camp

It's hard to believe there was once a secret RAF base high above Danby with its radar towers and anti-craft guns.

Now the site is home to a towering beacon erected in 2008 by the Danby Beacon Trust athough one has stood there for over 400 years when the country was living under the threat of invasion from France.

Grass covered lumps and bumps are the only clue as to the various buildings which were once there at the camp, which was home to around 120 men and women.

The site at Danby was manned from 1939 to 1954 and played a key part in the war effort. It was responsible for guiding Flight Lieutenant Peter Townsend when he intercepted and shot down the first enemy aircraft at Bannial Flatt during the Second World War.

In a letter, the late Peter Townsend talked about the vital part Danby radar station played. He praised the crews of all RAF radar stations who helped to protect the British Isles from enemy invasion

Freddie Smith, now 88, worked at the camp at RAF Danby Beacon from January 1944 to 1945. He told the Whitby Gazette those times were some of the happiest in his life – he met his wife Mary there while she was working in the WAAF.

And he regularly makes the trip back to the North York Moors every three or four weeks with his family to reminisce.

"I love the place," he said,"The scenery is unbelievable. The people who live here don't always see it. I have happy memories here."

After the station closed in 1957 the array of wooden and metal radar towers – some 350ft high – were sold for scrap or chopped up for fire wood.

Mr Smith recalled how he would have to climb up the masts to do maintenance and a WAAF always insisted on going up with him.

"With the wind blowing it used to shake, it was frightening," he said.

Sadly none of those men and women who worked at the camp when the Heinkel III bomber fell to earth on 3 February 1940 are alive today.

Mr Smith said: "We all knew about it," he said adding they never fully understood the role they were doing at the site during their time there.

"I didn't have any idea at all. It was a very very advanced thing. I think everyday there was something new." Due to its remote location there wasn't always a lot to do at the base nestled between thousands of acres of heather and the North Sea.

But Mr Smith came up with ingenious idea to create a cinema in a disused army hut for those working on the base and villagers too.

"I had all the equipment for the cinema," he said. "I was approached by an officer and we showed any films that were out. The civilians were allowed in. People would walk up from the village."

For years nothing remained except some flooded bunkers until Eric Hampson, who served at Danby in the 1950s,

He began tracing airforce staff who served on the site and met Mr Smith from Wakefield who had arranged the 1993 and 1995 reunions.

They finally met and came up with the idea of donating a time capsule file of memories to the North York Moors National Park Authority. Its contents will be scanned and added to its own archive before going on display at the moors centre in Danby this summer.

Sue Richmond's late father Jim Wilsden worked at RAF Danby Beacon from 1950 to 1952 and attended the ceremony to mark the handing over of the donation on Wednesday.

She told the Whitby Gazette: "We didn't realise how much it meant to him at the time until he died. He was a Bevin Boy and his mother hadn't wanted him to sign up because his two brothers had been killed in action.

"It's lovely to see where he worked."