RCAF Station Croft was the home of 431 Iroquois and 434 Bluenose squadron commencing in December of 1943 and as such was the home of the Collver crew during 1944.

Nestled six miles from the Yorkshire town of Darlington and to the west of the London & North Eastern Railway line, Croft was a satellite station to nearby Middleton-St. George, the two collectively were known as 64 base.

Satellite stations were generally temporary or wartime bases that were constructed in the vicinity of a permanent airfield. This concept allowed for bases to be constructed much quicker than permanent stations. Satellite station would have fewer accompaniments such as repair and maintenance depots and various administrative facilities etc. but would be able to access such amenities at the permanent station if needed. Although the satellite stations were quite rustic in their early stages and often lacked basic amenities, eventually the concept worked well and was a success for Bomber Command.

(Left the Iroquois Logo which was painted on the Squadron HQ at Croft)

 Croft was constructed in 1940 and underwent a series of modifications to the runways and general facilities over the next few years, it was continuously upgraded as the war carried on. It opened for operations in the summer of 1941 and was home to 78 RAF squadron for a short time until they left for better accommodations. It should be noted that Croft was the most northern airfield of all of Bomber Command’s bases, as a result crews based there often had upwards of an hour longer flight time to and from the target, all of Canada’s 6 Group bomber squadron’s were stationed in Northern Yorkshire.

Following 78 squadron’s departure, two RCAF squadrons became tenants, 419 and 427 squadron in October of 1942. They departed Croft in May of 1943 and 1664 Heavy Conversion Unit was formed in their place to train Canadian crews on the four engine Halifax bomber. Six months later, the airfield’s final tenants of the war, 431 and 434 squadrons moved into Croft.
The base itself could house population of approximately 3000 personnel and had three runways. The main runway, 09/27 was 6000 feet long and the alternate runways, 03/21 and 15/33 were 4200 feet in length.

 Additionally, there were 36 hardstandings or dispersals for aircraft and three hangars. Significant area of the base was dedicated to bomb storage and dumps, a post office, recreation centre, an armament and parachute section, housing and services for WAAFs,  a massive         72000 gallon aviation fuel tank, barracks and administrative buildings, maintenance facilities and the control tower.

A 431 Squadron Lancaster at its Dispersal at Croft.

Life at Croft
One can only imagine what Croft must have been like during its peak of operation. A maze of hardstands with aircraft awaiting their crews, armourers and maintenance crews working around the clock with countless vehicles speeding by at a hectic pace. At the time there was no shortage fatal traffic accidents at Croft as a result, great caution needed to exercised, particularly at night.
 In turn a number of ground personnel also tragically lost their lives in accidents ranging from loading ordinance to conducting maintenance and training flights. The tempo of air operations was high at Croft and often times ground crews had to hastily repair and prepare aircraft for operations on short notice. It was also not uncommon for aircraft to be "bombed up" only to be "de-bombed" due to a change in armament requirements.

 Damaged aircraft from other squadrons conducting emergency landings were also common, sadly, too many were also killed in this manner. It should be noted that personnel killed in accidents were not considered war casualties.

 In spite of the normal treacherous activities of aircrew and other personnel there were plenty of recreational activities at Croft such as inter-squadron baseball and soccer games to dances and theatre productions. Croft even had its own ice hockey team which at one point boasted three NHL hall of famers. The fabled Kraut Line of the Boston Bruins, Milt Schmidt, Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer all put their NHL careers on hold to join the RCAF and all made their way through Croft.
 For those that were not inclined towards athletics, there were also a couple of "watering holes' not too far away where crews could blow off some steam and socialize. One such pub was the Croft Spa Hotel, according to P/O Wally Poynter of 431 Squadron, it was close enough to the airfield that the tannoy could be heard. The Croft Spa Hotel was home to many base activities during the war, ranging from WAAF dances to even a couple of weddings. Another such pub was The Comet which is along with Croft Spa is still in existence today.

The Croft Spa Hotel The Comet Pub.

 No doubt the proximity of these establishments were invaluable in keeping up the moral of the airmen., most of whom would have been in their very early 20's at the time. Their continued existence today is a fitting tribute to the scores of young men they served during the war.

 After the war Croft was used periodically for training purposes and as a civilian aerodrome but eventually fell into a state of disrepair . The recent conversion of the abandoned airfield to a race track is also a nice touch, the local racing club uses the 431 Iroquois squadron badge as their club logo and there is annual event entitled "Race of the Canadians" commemorating the airmen stationed at Croft during the war. For and aerial view of what Croft looks like today, click here.

 Croft Station played a role in just about every major bombing campaign of the war, the sacrifices made by the men, women and civilians that gave their lives, put their lives on hold or comforted the strangers that had arrived in their hometowns en masse can never be understated.

A Halifax departs Croft on D-Day June 6, 1944