Three quarters of a mile south-west of the western roundabout on the A96 Forres by-pass is a roadside cafe. From its appearance it once formed part of a well known national chain, but when we visited it was known as the Bervie Chipper. A flagstone path leads from the cafe car park the short distance to a stone cairn. Nearby is the model of an aeroplane in flight and a square plinth carrying a metal information panel. This is the 19 OTU memorial.
"19 OTU" stands for 19 Operational Training Unit. This was the unit which in January 1941 moved from its base at nearby RAF Kinloss to the newly established RAF Forres at Balnageith (and sometimes referred to as RAF Balnageith), on the south side of the A96 immediately to the west of Forres and to the east of the River Findhorn. The site of the airfield is today mainly occupied by growing crops, though there are traces of military buildings and taxiways still surviving in some remote corners of it. The main reminder of RAF Forres is the memorial itself, which stands on the opposite side of the A96 to the original airfield site, looking across the road towards it.
During the Second World War, Britain's Royal Air Force expanded hugely. An immediate result was the need to train large numbers of young men to fly the new aeroplanes being produced by our aircraft factories, or being brought in over the Atlantic. Sadly the training need then continued at a very high level until late in the war in the face of the enormous losses being suffered during the bombing campaign over occupied Europe and Germany. During the war, some 55,000 members of Bomber Command were killed in action and a further 10,000 were shot down and taken prisoner: and all needed replacing.
No 19 Operational Training Unit was established at RAF Kinloss in May 1940 and immediately began its task of taking qualified pilots, navigators and other aircrew and training them to work as complete crews able to undertake operational bombing missions. RAF Forres was set up as a satellite base for RAF Kinloss, and the first 20 Armstrong Whitworth Whitley aircraft arrived on 25 January 1941, together with a smaller number of Avro Ansons. The Whitley was a twin engined heavy bomber that first flew in 1936. By 1941 it was outclassed as a bomber, but was ideally fitted to be a training aircraft.
RAF Forres occupied a well drained site and concrete runways were never built. When Bomber Command losses at last began to fall in the second half of 1944, the need for RAF Forres diminished, and 19 OTU relocated all its operations to RAF Kinloss. RAF Forres closed on 22 October 1944. During its short active life many thousands of airmen had been trained here, and a considerable number had also lost their lives during training: 19 OTU lost over 100 aircraft in training accidents during this period. The commemorative plaque on the memorial mentions that from 1945 to 1947 the site was used as a base by units of the Polish Army.