Pembroke Dock

Steeped in military and naval heritage, Pembroke Dock did not exist before 1814. It came into being purely as a result of the decision to locate a naval dockyard on land owned by the Meyrick family of Bush.

Shipwrights and carpenters, blacksmiths and riggers flocked to the new yard from villages on the Haven and from other dockyard towns, notably Plymouth. They and their families needed to be housed, and Pembroke Dock rapidly grew in classic grid-iron style, the pattern of streets still very much apparent today.

RAF Pembroke Dock

The Royal Air Force’s arrival in 1930 brought hope to a community still reeling from the closure of the Royal Dockyard four years eariler. The sheltered Haven waters were ideal for the operation of flying-boats and the newly-formed No 120 Squadron flew here in June 1931. Their Supermarine Southamptons – and later Short Rangoons and Singapore IIIs – were an ever-present part of Pembroke Dock daily life in the 1930s. During WWII Pembroke Dock became on of the most important stations in waging the Battle of the Atlantic and the ceaseless war against the German U-boat.

RAF Pembroke Dock in 1943 showing the Dockyard railway extension

At one time in 1943 no fewer than 99 flying-boats – Sunderlands and Catalinas – were at Pembroke Dock, making this the largest operational station in the world. Men of many nations flew from the Haven, their patrols taking them far out into the Atlantic, deep into the Bay of Biscay, above the Western approaches and – as part of the D-Day operations – protecting the sea lanes leading to the Normandy Invasion beach-heads.

Backing up the front line activity of the squadrons was a substantial maintenance base, a large marine craft section with many and varied craft, and a sizeable WAAF contingent.

Post-war, Pembroke Dock continued as an RAF station (201 and 230 Squadrons) until the Sunderlands were retired from home waters in 1957.

RAF Pembroke Dock eventually comprised several sites. Site No.1 was the former Naval Dockyard where many of the former dockyard buildings were taken over; Site No. 2 was where the Pembroke Dock cricket ground now stands; Site No. 3 was nearby in Britannia; Site No. 4 and Site No. 5 were both at Lamphey, and the war-time Sick Quarters were at Holyland.

Site No. 1 (SM 962037)

Hangars and other buildings in the Dockyard carefully camouflaged to look like terraces of houses during WWII

Today the two unique flying boat hangars still dominate the former RAF station, but the slipway used to bring flying boats ashore was demolished to make way for the new port facilities. The 1930s Officers’ Mess – reputedly one of the finest in Coastal Command – was knocked down in the 1980s, as were the 1930s barrack blocks, but the former Sergeants’ Mess – located just inside the main gate – was converted into a hotel.

The two main hangars are rare B Types and are both listed. There were only three hangars of this type built in Britain, though others were built in Gibraltar and Singapore. The eastern hangar (1934) has been restored and similar work has just been completed on the western one (dating from c 1938). Each could accommodate three Sunderlands. A single T2-type hangar, erected in 1943 near the pickling pond, has since been re-clad.

Site No. 2 (SM 971028)

Surviving buildings include the wireless telegraphy block which is now used as a cricket clubhouse, and an air raid shelter.

Site No. 3 (SM 968026)

This was used as an accommodation site and has since been swallowed up by housing developments.

There are several reminders of the RAF connection with ‘PD’ apart from the buildings in the former Dockyard. There are plaques on a wall of St John’s Church (close to the war memorial) and on the inside and outside of the Pater Hall. The Pembroke Dock Library has, on loan, the replica RAF Pembroke Dock Memorial Window which was unveiled and dedicated during the last of five Flying-Boat Reunions in 1995.

Bush Camp (SM 972032)

Bush Camp playing field was originally the sports field for a hutted military encampment dating from the First World War and re-occupied during World War II when a barrage balloon was moored on the field. The last of the huts remained until fairly recently as a sports pavilion.

Married quarters

Various married quarters still exist in the town, now used as private accommodation. At the top of Tregenna’s Hill, the red brick Royal Artillery Married Quarters date from 1902. Behind the Defensible Barracks are Army Married Quarters dating from the 1930s, while Military Road is partly made up of postwar RAF Married Quarters.

Near the Dockyard Gate are Sunderland Avenue (RAF), circa 1950; Catalina Avenue (RAF NCOs) circa 1934; Melville Terrace (RAF NCOs) circa 1935 and Southampton Row (RAF Officers) circa 1935.

Bomb damage

Pembroke Dock suffered terrible bomb damage during the war, particularly during the air-raids of May 1941, and gaps in the terraced streets still indicate where the bombs fell. Particularly badly hit was the Criterion corner on London Road, where the Pier Hotel was destroyed by a parachute mine. Other areas to bear the brunt were Laws Street, the lower part of Gwyther Street, Bush Street, Queens Square and the Market Street/ Princes Street area. Immediately after the war, a large estate of prefabricated houses was built at Bufferland to house those made homeless by the bombing, while King Street was eventually rebuilt anew.
A remarkable number of Flying Boats can be seen in this aerial photo, as well as a couple of bomb craters on the Barrack Hill

A remarkable number of Flying Boats can be seen in this aerial photo, as well as a couple of bomb craters on the Barrack Hill

Barrack Hill (SM 957033 )

A remarkable number of Flying Boats can be seen in this aerial photo, as well as a couple of bomb craters on the Barrack Hill

Until fairly recently, a central cable loop set in a concrete block situated near the bus stop marked a barrage balloon site. The main block was encircled by eight concrete tethering blocks, but they have all been removed.

Further reading:

History of Pembroke Dock by Mrs S Peters;

The History of Pembroke Dock by Phil Carradice;

Pembroke People by Richard Rose;

Inferno by Vernon Scott;

Pembrokeshire Under Fire by Bill Richards;

In Harm’s Way by Vernon Scott;

An Experience Shared 1939 – 1945 by Vernon Scott;

The Pevsner Guide to the Buildings of Pembrokeshire by Lloyd, Orbach and Scourfield;

P D Days by various authors;

Flying Boat Haven and Sunderland Flying Boat Queen by John Evans.

Site No. 1 (SM 962037)

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Site No. 2 (SM 971028)

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Site No. 3 (SM 968026)

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Bush Camp (SM 972032)

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Barrack Hill (SM 957033)

51.691180, -4.9572619