In praise of the corrugated iron hut………
Tags: 1871, 1916, 1930, 1943, 29th Company, 81st Airdrome Squadron, AAF Station 471, airfields, Army Air Corps, army barracks, Bannerdown Gliding Club, braced framework, building, building programme, corrugated iron, curved, Davisville, Davisville Naval Construction Battalion Center, displaced persons, DSO, England, farm animals, farm equipment, First World War, former airfield, framework, Gliders, Great Vintage Flying Weekend, GSA Gliding Club, Herbert Hawkes, Keevil, Keevil Airfield, Major Peter Norman Nissen, naval bases, New England, new locations, Nissen hut, North Kingstown, PoW, Quonset hut, Quonset Point, RAF, RAF Lyneham, Rhode Island, Romney hut, Royal Air Force, Royal Engineers, Second World War, sheets of curved corrugated iron, small scale production, US Army Air Corps, Wiltshire
It all started with an officer in the 29th Company, Royal Engineers. Major Peter Norman Nissen (1871-1930), needed a fast, easy-to-erect building which would offer storage and living space in the field. Since this was 1916, the need was great indeed, and production of the hut, made from curved sheets of corrugated iron was approved immediately. A single hut took 54 sheets of curved corrugated iron, 10 ft 6 ins high and 2 ft 2 ins wide, and a specially braced framework. By the end of the First World War, around 100, 000 units had been manufactured.
Athough small scale production continued between the wars, it was only the outbreak of World War Two that caused a massive expansion of the building programme. Although the huts could be taken apart, and moved to new locations as required, many formed the backbone of ‘permanent’ buildings on airfields, army barracks, and naval bases worldwide. There were various versions of the hut built, including the Romney Hut (British) and the Quonset Hut (US). The Quonset Hut was named after Quonset Point, where the Davisville Naval Construction Battalion Center was located (Davisville being a part of North Kingstown, Rhode Island).
These huts are located on Keevil Airfield, Wiltshire, and look to be modified Quonset huts, as these were considerably larger than the British versons, and I have seen a photograph of similar huts at Keevil in 1943. This is possible as Keevil was, at one time, Army Air Force Station 471, home to several US Army Air Corps units. These included the 81st Airdrome Squadron, providing communications and other support to AAC flying units. Herbert Hawkes, who served with the 81st described the conditions at Keevil in 1943 as, ‘mud’!
The huts now serve a variety of uses, the one on the left of the photograph being used by Bannerdown Gliding Club, an RAF GSA Gliding Club, affliated to nearby RAF Lyneham.
Postwar, huts of all three types continued in use in the UK, and in other countries. They housed farm animals and equipment, many when former airfields reverted to agricultural use; they were used to house PoWs, as well as ‘displaced persons’, and, above all, they continued their military careers on bases both large and small. As for Major Nissen, he received a small payment for his efforts, but the Distinguished Service Order from a grateful nation.
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