Latitude 54°17'03"N   Longitude 03°23'11"W

ACQUISITION Transferred from Ministry of Supply.




COMMISSIONED 17 November 1943 accounts 'on books of NIGHTJAR'

Independent command from 01 January 1944


PAID OFF 13 September 1946


CLOSED  Returned to Ministry of Supply 31  October 1946


COMMANDING OFFICER Commander J. W. Hawkins (ret) 16 Nov 43
FUNCTION Transit camp for Naval Pilots from the Service Flying Training Schools in Canada.


ADDRESS R.N. Air Establishment

Bootle Station




LOCALITY  Bootle Station lies ½ mile N,


LANDMARKS  L.M.S. Railway line  lies 400 yds W. of the western boundary of the camp.

R.A.F. Station Millom lies 7 miles S.


ROAD AND RAIL ACCESS Bootle Station, L.M.S. Railway, lies 1 mile NW of the camp. Access to Barrow-in Furness S., and Whitehaven and Carlisle. N.


Not known




Officers: 18
Chiefs, P.O.s and ratings: Unknown.
W.R.N.S. Officers: 5
W.R.N.S.  Chiefs, P.O.s and ratings: Unknown.
Pilots under training: 400



The site known as Wellbank Hostel, was built in 1941-42 on land requisitioned by the Ministry of Supply ½ mile south of Bootle Station, Cumberland to house 500 workers engaged in the construction of the Royal Ordnance Factory at Hycemoor. The Hostel was transferred to the Admiralty in November 1943 and work began to adapt the site as a transit camp where new Fleet Air Arm Pilots were to assemble on their return to the UK after completing their preliminary flying training in the Service Flying Training Schools in Canada.


R.N. Hostel Wellbank was commissioned on November 17th 1943 as H.M.S. MACAW, Commander J. W. Hawkins (ret) in command. Initially the ship's accounts were carried by the Naval Air Station at Inskip, H.M.S. NIGHTJAR, before becoming an independent command on New Year's Day 1944.


Trainee pilots left the UK for Canada as Leading Naval Airmen, having completed their preliminary, non-flying training at H.M.S. ST. VINCENT, Gosport. On arrival back in the UK those qualified as pilots reported to HMS Macaw were they attended the Admiralty Interview Board, which comprised a panel of senior naval officers, to decide their suitability to become an officer in Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (Air Branch), those under 19½ would become a Temporary Acting Midshipman RNVR, over 19½ a Temporary Acting Sub Lieutenant RNVR. Those not deemed as having 'officer potential' remained Rating Pilots, being promoted to Petty Officer Pilot. The first batch of newly qualified pilots arrived at the end of January 1944 and 55 received commissions on February 7th.Within a matter of months the hostel was filled to its capacity of around 400 'Pilots in Training'


The newly commissioned officers were then sent on two weeks leave during which time they would attend a Naval Tailors and be fitted for uniforms. On return to HMS MACAW any deficiencies in thief flying equipment and other kit were made up from stores held on site in preparation for appointment to their next stage of flying training in the UK.

The Western edges of the camp were damaged by an explosion at about 22:17 on March 22nd 1945 when a rail freight wagon, part of a southbound munitions train caught fire. The wagon, one of 7 being hauled, contained 52 depth charges and was spotted as being on fire by the Signal Box at Bootle Station. The train crew stopped the train about 770 yards past Bootle Station to investigate, roughly in-line with Wellbank Hostel. Despite efforts to isolate the wagon and seek help the charges exploded, killing the engine Driver and injuring the Fireman and Guard. A crater 105' long, 50' deep and 60' at its widest was left, the blast blew out windows and caused light damage to HMS MACAW some 400 yards away.


Newly qualified Pilots continued to arrived at HMS MACAW for many months after the end of the war, the Hostel was not closed until September 13th 1946 when HMS MACAW was paid off. A small retard party remained to clean up the Hostel site before it was returned to the Ministry of Supply on October 31st 1946.



Click here for a list of Primary sources

Additional sources:

Ministry of War Transport secret report into the explosion at Bootle Station on 22 March 1945


Admiralty Fleet Orders:

5/44 H.M.S. "Macaw" - Location of Accounts

3259/44 Qualifying Courses for Pilot, Observer, and Telegraphist Air Gunner Reports
on Training


Confidential Admiralty Fleet Orders:

2576/43 R.N, Hostel Wellbank, Cumberland Commissioning










View Larger Map




Aerial view of Wellbank Hostel c. January 1944. The NE corner of the camp, and the main gate are nearest the camera. Source Photobucket.


view (North) from Fire Pool. Delphinium Block for the Ship's Company is on the left. Birch Block (Transit Officers) on right. Garages in the distance. Source Photobucket





 © 2013 Tony Drury

Comments (1)

DAVID CRANER (Bexhill-on-sea, UK) says...
looking for info
9th November 2016 12:49pm
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