Yankee Doodle Dollar!

In the first of a series of special articles, Warrington History Society looks back at the impact Burtonwood’s gigantic American Airbase had on the town between 1942 and 1993. First up, we travel back to 1957 to reproduce a report on the multi-million pound contribution the base was having on the local economy. The report, slightly edited for ease of reading, first appeared in the ‘Burtonwood Beacon’ newspaper in Autumn 1957.

This week Burtonwood’s money men tallied up its dollar expenditures for the fiscal year 1957 and arrived at an interesting sum: between 1 July 1956 and 30 June 1957 it spent a whopping $21,012,944 million dollars (or £7.5 million sterling) in the local community, a sizeable increase over its 1956 spending.

An American serviceman shopping in Warrington

An American serviceman shopping in Warrington in 1957. Around 6,000 US personnel were based at Burtonwood in 1957, some with family members, giving a massive  boost to the local economy.

A major portion of the grand tally was the massive $13.08m (£4.67m) which streamed into the local gold stream via pay checks and conversions. Of this, $6.89m (£2.47m) was converted into pounds by American men and women and spent locally, and $6.19m (£2.21m) was given to the Air Ministry for payment of wages to UK civilians. These figures were monies paid out to both regular Maintenance/Operations personnel, and employees in co-appropriated fund agencies: clubs, youth center, dependents’ school, PTA, etc.

The second highest figure on the long list was the huge $3.02m (£1.08m) spent on major repairs and minor construction— the general maintenance necessary to keep Burtonwood airbase operational such as the building, recondition, repair and maintenance of thousands of offices, work sites and living quarters on the base.

Supplies accounted for $1.87m (£668K) — money spent locally to purchase “any thing other than equipment.” Petroleum, oils and lubricants made up a major portion of the Maintenance/Operations Supply fund, which was mainly comprised of expendable items.

Maintenance men work on a Boeing WB-50 bomber at Burtonwood's Mary Ann site in 1957.

Maintenance men work on a Boeing WB-50 bomber at Burtonwood’s Mary Ann site in 1957.

Utilities burned up $1.45m (£516K) —bills for electricity, water, coal, coke, garbage and trash disposal, and like items.

Contractual Services cost $560K (£200K). These monies were used for the repair of equipment, road haulages, laundry, janitorial services, bus contracts, etc.

Rentals were paid out to the tune of $490K (£176K) —for the rental of cold storage facilities at Aintree, near Liverpool, off-base office spaces at Liverpool and Southampton, certain on-base quarters in Site 6, and others.

Equipment, mainly locally purchased office desks, typewriters, furnishings, etc., totalled $230K (£83K), Rates & Property Taxes cost NAMAE $120K (£46K) and Communications (telephones and rentals) cost $190K (£68K).

And finally, car enthusiasts purchased $230K (£82K) worth of British automobiles through AFEX (money transfer) here. These figures do not include the large number of automobiles purchased through other sources.

American Servicemen cashing cheques in Warrington

In 1957 Burtonwood personnel converted $6.89m dollars into £2.47m pounds. Most was converted over the desk or through checking accounts.

The giant total amount was funnelled out through Burtonwood mainly in salaries, which were converted into rent monies, food, petrol, clothing, entertainment, and general living expenses.

But the tremendous sum didn’t quite break the camel’s back. At the last count Burtonwood’s net assets (or as one person explained ‘what we own less what we owe’) was figured out to be a trim $242.56m (£86.6 million)!

UPDATE: 60 years on and according to the inflation calculator at moneysorter.co.uk the value of £1 in 1957 would be £16.85 today. If we apply this rate of inflation to some of the figures quoted (see table below) the scale of the financial impact Burtonwood Base had on the local economy becomes even clearer:-

Fiscal fact 2017 Value
Burtonwood Airbase’s total contribution to the local economy in 1956/57 £126.53m
Money converted into GBP by Burtonwood’s US service personnel in 1956/57 £41.49m
Wages paid to UK civilians by Burtonwood Airbase in 1956/57 £37.27m
Burtonwood Airbase’s net assets in 1957 £1.45 billion
Another shot of a Boeing WB-50. This particular model was used by the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron based at Burtonwood.

Another shot of a Boeing WB-50 only this time in colour. This particular plane was used by the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron based at Burtonwood. All of the images on this page were reproduced with the permission of Aldon Ferguson, president of the Burtonwood Association.

The Burtonwood Association
The aim of the Burtonwood Association is to uphold the memory of the men, women and activities that occurred at RAF Burtonwood and to record them for future generations. It is also responsible for running the RAF Burtonwood Heritage Centre at Gullivers World. To find out more click here.

Warrington History Society
Warrington History Society was formed in 1964 to encourage an interest in all aspects of Warrington’s history and archaeology. To find out more click here.