Friday, August 13, 2010

Delmar's WWII Aircraft Spotter Tower

Barbara O’Neal, sometime ago, told me about the World War Two Aircraft Spotter tower over on Delaware Avenue. Now most people who have been in town since the 1960’s will think first of the Civil Defense Aircraft Spotter shack that was behind the VFW. This, however, is different.

Once war had been declared and submarines begin sinking ships off the shores of Delaware people became alarmed that perhaps the United States could be attacked from air. All across the country aircraft spotter schools were set up and spotter towers appeared. Some were simply in church steeples, other were of the fire tower type, sitting on four legs with a small shack at the top. Delmar answered the call with a spotter post located on the grounds of the Delaware school, at the rear of the building. This post must have been near the Workman’s store as it is mentioned in at least one newspaper article. The School post proved to be unsatisfactory for sighting planes traveling east, due to it’s nearness to the building.

In July of 1943 a new post was built. This one was located at the intersection of Delaware Avenue and Sixth Street. It was a tower type with a 12 by 15 room located on 15 ft legs. What I found unique in reading articles about it, was it was not built with government money. In 1943 there was a different mindset and instead of waiting for a grant or the government to build the tower it was built with contributions from the citizens of Delmar.

The Delmar Aircraft Spotters reported to The First Fighter Command, US Army. An aircraft spotting post was a pivotal part of America's homefront defense efforts during the war years, but it took a load of volunteers to man them 24 hours a day. The Aircraft spotter course was taught locally in Delmar and one group of graduates in 1943 were the following people; Mrs. Mamie Bradley, Mr. and Mrs. Lou McFarland, Mr. John Wright, Mr. Roy Owens, Mr. Franklin Cooper, Mr. Ed Ward Owens, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wright, Mr. and Mrs. George Wright, Robert Beach, Mr. and Mrs. Otho Beach and Mr. Johnathan Wheatley

An aircraft spotter would do a three hour shift. It was their function to locate, identify and report any and all aircraft approaching the area. Once they climbed the 15 feet to the tower building they logged-in to the Spotter's log book and relieved the former watch. They would record any planes they saw, attempt to identify those planes and telephone that information into the Army. There was also a system of colors that indicated air raid conditions that they recorded in the log book. White was all clear, Blue was an air raid, and Red indicated an air raid was imminent. The only tools they had were a telephone, a pair of binoculars, and at night a flashlight for light (War Time blackouts). Their main hope was that someone would show up to relieve them after their three hours shift. Since this was a volunteer group it didn’t always happen. T P Hawkins, over in Georgetown, after eleven hours recorded his disappointment in not being relieved in the log book. Courtesy of the Delaware archives. Click to enlarge

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