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Report - Tonfanau Military Camp, Tonfanau (nr Tywyn) - February 2015

The Lone Ranger

Safety is paramount!
Staff member
Moderator
#1
Tonfanau Military Camp – Tonfanau (nr Tywyn)

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I passed this clutter of derelict buildings, concrete footprints of long gone buildings and tracks and wondered what it was. A quick Google and I found the site had a lot of history over the years, plus many who were based here have fond memories of time spent at the camp.

There is a vast amount of history, memories and photos of the camp here http://www.aajlr.org/index.html a lot of time and effort has been put in by Ken Hart, hopefully he doesn’t mind a bit of plagiarism of the history and a few photos. It’s one of those places which even though there’s not too much left now made an enjoyable stroll and thoroughly enjoyed reading about the camp afterwards.

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History

Tonfanau is an old military camp, just half a mile from Tywyn, used during the Second World War as an anti-aircraft training facility; a row of gunning placements pointing out to sea still runs along the shore.

It is claimed that the Royal Artillery were camped in the Tonfanau area during the First World War but it was not until around 1937 that a tented camp was struck followed by brick structures in 1939.

The Royal Artillery used the camp to train Anti-Aircraft gunners all through the war and continued to do so afterwards. In 1948 it became the home of 55 Light Anti-Aircraft Training Regiment who stayed until they were disbanded in 1958.

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The trainees were supplied with targets by the nearby RAF Tywyn who riskily towed disposable gliders (the targets) using Hawker Henleys. There is one story of a Henley towing a target for the camp when the Royal Artillery were operating a new radar system and the gunners did not bother waiting for the second blip before letting fly. As rounds exploded around him, the pilot hastily radioed down to the Army saying “that they were towing the target; not pushing itâ€. Not surprisingly, the preferred aircraft for artillery training was the remote-controlled Queen Bee which was an unmanned version of the Tiger Moth.

The All Arms Junior Leaders' Regiment

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In 1959 there was a need to train more boys so the camp became the base for the newly formed All Arms Junior Leaders' Regiment until it too was disbanded in 1966.
In early 1967 in marched the happy band of 22 Light Air Defence Regiment, Royal Artillery who must have been overjoyed with Wales after leaving Malaya. They managed to slip away to Germany in 1969 and the camp was officially closed in 1971.

Originally it trained boys as future senior non-commissioned officers from five arms of the army but this was later expanded to eight. The year was split into 3 terms with a fresh intake of boys each term. The first term of each boys service was completely dedicated to turning these 15 and 16 year olds into disciplined soldiers.

From the second term the prime emphasis was on education as all senior NCO's were required to obtain the Army Certificate of Education.

Alternate days were spent on Military Training which included Drill, Weapons Training, Driver Training, Map Reading and casually strolling over the gently rolling Brecon Beacons in wonderful Welsh weather fully equipped in thin denims, a poncho and carrying a webbing back pack. The boys final term included specialist training according to the arm or corps he intended to serve in as a senior soldier.

Mixed in with all this there was sport, adventure training, outward bound courses and intercompany competitions including the Rhyl cup. Every boy also took part in the 'Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme' and to this end most evenings were spent doing a large number of hobbies. The rest of the time was spent cleaning the barracks or doing your personal kit whilst huddled round a coal burning pot-bellied stove in a futile attempt to keep warm.

Refugee Camp

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(The only photo I could find of the refugee camp)

In the autumn of 1972 Uganda's President Idi Amin expelled the Asians from his country and as many of them had British passports it was to Britain they came to; a remote corner of North Wales became a safe haven for more than a thousand Ugandan Asians.

At a time when there were very few Asians living in Wales, a small community was created in an empty military base at Tonfanau almost overnight. The camp was quickly refurbished and 700 of the refugees were bedded down there by the end of the year and a further 800 were to follow. Of the 29000 Ugandan refugees 5000 ended up in the Towyn area.

But on the dark, windy, wet night when the refugees arrived - something changed. It didn’t matter what had come before. Clearly these were families in crisis, traumatised, tired, hungry and in a totally alien environment. And the people of Wales stepped up to the challenge.
It was a phenomenal moment for the neighbouring communities of Tonfanau who came together to help a fraction of those families in crisis.

At the time, the volunteers from North Wales didn’t have too much of a clue what had happened to these Asian families. Their information was piecemeal, augmented by rumour and hearsay. And there seemed to be a few voices in the area who did not welcome the new arrivals. In England, there were red and green zones - to prevent new Asians moving into areas where it was felt there were already too many members of that ethnic minority.
Quietly, gently life-time friendships were created in Tonfanau, small acts of kindness helped people begin again, while sharing of cultures, enriched the experiences of all. Memories were forged which have never been forgotten.

Race Circuit

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These days part of the site is used as a race circuit for motor bikes; with about 4 events a year, the circuit being 1 mile in length and a width of 22’ 6â€. The only intact buildings are used for these events.

My Stroll

I couldn’t ask for anything more for a Sunday stroll – sunshine, sea, sheep and even some stunning views. Initially I headed to what looked like the more intact buildings East of the station.

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This turned out to be where the Tonfanau Race Circuit is based, the buildings are still very basic inside, probably not changed much since it was a military camp. A few photos through the windows and a stroll around the exteriors admiring the sheep.

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The larger buildings are used for storage for the racing events and caravan storage these days.

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That was more or less all to the East of the railway station. I should have gone for a stroll around the race track, but one bit of tarmac if very much like another.

I then headed West to the remainder of the camp situated next to the coast, being Wales there were plenty of sheep for company. These were the first buildings I saw when I passed the day before.

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Pretty much they have all fallen down or all that remains are concrete footprints of the foundations giving testament to the size of the camp in its heyday. The most intact building here is probably only still standing due to the shear volume of sheep shit propping it up internally!

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Here’s the remains of the foundations of the artillery guns.

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Any open holes were unfortunately filled with rubble, who knows if it lead anywhere interesting?

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About a half a mile North of this are the remains of the 25 yard firing range, again the buildings have now collapsed, but the protective wall remains.

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It was good to find some of the bullets dug up by the helpful rabbits and the pound coin ;)

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Well that’s it, may not be the most epic of strolls, but an interesting stroll with a fair amount of history attached to it.

Cheers,

TLR.​
 

pauln

too old to be reckless
28DL Full Member
#9
Good job. Found it, researched it, explored it.
 

Ordnance

Moderator
Moderator
#10
Any open holes were unfortunately filled with rubble, who knows if it lead anywhere interesting?

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A lot of these old camps had boiler houses, and either over ground pylons with steam pipes of sub-surface service ways, and the above image suggests such a service access point. Many of the pipes were in small culverts below the camp walkways, where the slabs could be removed for access.
 

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