Site of Tonfanau army camp, near Tywyn

Site of Tonfanau army camp, near Tywyn

View of Tonfanau army campA huge army camp once occupied land west of the railway at Tonfanau. It could accommodate almost as many people as the population of nearby Tywyn! Its final use was for refugees from Uganda. The photos of the camp shown here are courtesy of the Michael Rickard archives.

Tonfanau camp was established in 1937 in anticipation of the Second World War. Anti-aircraft gunners trained here, firing at targets towed by planes from Morfa airfield, or RAF Towyn. The artillery gunners were supported by detachments of at least eight other regiments and corps, including the Royal Engineers, Military Police, officer cadets and women of the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

The camp was remote enough to justify investment in 260 accommodation blocks (mostly of brick), a hospital, two electricity substations, three 600-seater dining rooms and a 1,000-seater theatre. There were 10 acres of sports grounds for football, cricket, hockey, running and tennis. Up to 1,500 servicemen and women could be accommodated. Servicing the camp provided work for local people and businesses.

After the Nazis occupied France in 1940, Britain was braced for an attempted invasion, possibly via the Welsh coast. For the next two years, Tonfanau camp was ready to switch from training to frontline defence if required.

Old photo of gunners at Tonfanau campAfter the war, young men on National Service were posted to Tonfanau for anti-aircraft training. The Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment came to Tonfanau in 1948, in response to growing tensions in Asia which led to the Korean War in 1950. It was based here until 1958. Air reservists were also trained at Tonfanau and Morfa. The firing range closed in 1958 as part of a major reduction in anti-aircraft gun units.

In 1959 training started at Tonfanau of boys aged 15 to 17.5 years in the All Arms Junior Leaders’ Regiment. It prepared them to become non-commissioned officers.

The military authorities closed the camp in 1965. The camp reopened in 1972 to host 1,500 refugees after dictator Idi Amin expelled the established Asian population from Uganda. As they arrived at the station in their hundreds, local schoolchildren and army cadets carried their luggage and ushered them to the camp canteen for a meal of curried liver and vegetables.

Remnants of the camp include concrete building bases, the ruins of two communal buildings and two hangars for anti-aircraft guns now used for farm storage.

With thanks to Quentin Deakin, of Tywyn & District History Society, and the Michael Rickard archives

Postcode: LL36 8LP    View Location Map

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