An aviation historian has hit out at plans to demolish a former RAF building used during the Battle of the Atlantic in order to make way for a sewage treatment facility.
Norman Thorpe, who runs the Shackleton Aviation Museum in Co Londonderry, believes the former ‘Operations Block’, found at a former World War Two military base in Ballykelly, should be preserved.
He told the News Letter the former ops block is the only surviving one of its kind, out of 22 which existed throughout Northern Ireland during the fight against the Nazis.
Mr Thorpe explained: “During World War Two that was the main operations block to organise aircraft to go out during the Battle of the Atlantic. They targeted the U-boats in what was the longest battle of the war, right through from when it started in 1939 to 1945.
“The U-Boats were intended to strangle the whole of Great Britain. They were sinking anything that came into Britain. The idea was to starve the country into submission.”
He continued: “So what they had to do was find some way of attacking the U-Boats and one of the first bases to be used was in Limavady, with University Squadron 502. They were working on Ballykelly at that time and it came into operation a year later. It opened with three squadrons of Liberator aircraft.”
Mr Thorpe said the families of former airmen have been in touch to support his calls for the building to be preserved.
“From an historical point of view it is a very important building,” he said.
“We have a petition out now on Facebook and we’ve had people from as far away as New Zealand and Australia who had family who were stationed in squadrons there looking to keep the building.
“A lot of the airmen who were killed were actually buried in the local area, so there is a lot of significance locally. The danger now is that if this goes, we are going to lose that vital bit of tourism.”
Northern Ireland Water, however, said it has “no knowledge” of the historic significance of the building but said it was “more than willing” to meet “any interested party to discuss the proposals”.
A spokesperson said: “Within the area of land NI Water has purchased at the former Shackleton Barracks MOD site, there are some old buildings whose origins may stretch back to World War
“NI Water has no knowledge of these buildings being listed and has no knowledge of them being of historical significance. The buildings can be observed to have been heavily modified and extended over the years and now incorporate PVC windows, roofs and rain water goods. It was anticipated that these will be demolished to facilitate the construction of a Wetland Treatment facility. NI Water is more than willing to meet with any interested party to discuss the proposals.”