DALTON Airfield was once home to Second World War bombers, who used the former meadowland as a safe haven from the hostilities.

The station, a satellite for nearby RAF Topcliffe, was a Bomber Command base.

It provided residence for the pilots and crew of 102 Squadron, who flew Whitleys and operated at Dalton in late 1941 and early 1942 before moving back to Topcliffe.

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Dalton also offered brief sanctuary for the 420 Squadron, a Canadian bomber group that attacked targets in Italy, and the 428 Squadron, which was formed at the North Yorkshire airstrip in November 1942.

The latter used the site to plan Wellington raids on Lorient, in France, in early 1943, before shifting to Middleton St George, near Darlington.

Today, however, the scene is very different.

Aerial images show its runways, their vast expanse used in the 1950s to stockpile old bombs, scarred into the earth, cutting through the greenery in a criss-crossing pattern.

However, the wider airfield, which was effectively disbanded by the middle of 1945, is unrecognisable.

Industrial units nod to the hangars of yesteryear, but the area is now dominated by businesses’, their homes flanked by farmland and illuminating fields of bright yellow rapeseed.

Intrinsic to the scene is family-owned Inspired Pet Nutrition (IPN), which makes feeds for dogs, cats, rabbits and small animals.

Where the squadrons once planned sorties, IPN is planning expansion, and, just like the RAF, it is doing so with real determination.

Airmen in 102 Squadron left Dalton under the Tentate Et Perficite maxim, which translates as attempt and achieve.

‘Healthy from nose to tail’ and ‘Quality food from Yorkshire’ may not carry the same rousing emotions of the RAF’s line, but for IPN, they support the same goal.

Last week, bosses unveiled a new strategy in their quest to triumph by officially opening a £7m distribution centre they say will improve its ability to deal with customer orders and potentially create up to 50 jobs.

The business is the UK’s largest independent producer of dry pet food, supplying animal meals and treats under its Wagg brand.

The marque includes feeds for pet and working dogs, and has been augmented by a foray into moist meaty chunks, which it says caters for the most fussy of animals.

It is also gaining an increased foothold in the cat market with its Purr-branded biscuits, while Harringtons, its premium wet and dry food offering, which includes dog meals fused with green tea, green-lipped mussels and rosehip, is continuing to lure new customers.

All varieties proudly carry the Union flag, just as the Royal Air Force ensign, and are a reflection of its roots.

Founded to service the farming community by James Revis Page in 1923, the organisation, then known as Page Feeds, used a mill in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, to supply farmers.

Bill Page, James Revis’ son, alongside brother, David, helped built the business, and had the vision to take it into the domestic animal sector when the agricultural recession struck in the 1970s and 1980s.

By the 1980s, it was manufacturing pet food, and by the 1990s, it had moved to Dalton, near Thirsk, to concentrate on its new venture, changing its name to Wagg.

Turnover now stands at about £60m and it makes about 100,000 tonnes of food every year, with total dog feed touching about 90,000 tonnes, across its branded and own label goods.

Products are available in 16 countries, including France, Germany and Spain, while in the UK, Morrisons, Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s all sell IPN’s products.

For Bill, who spoke at the 100,000sq ft warehouse opening, when Morrisons’ chief executive, Dave Potts, cut the ceremonial ribbon, the progress has been about one thing: quality.

He said: “We need to be best in class; there is no other option.

“There is a lot of talk about investment and for us it is essential.

“The warehouse is here to give us good service and is going to run the business, which is in very good hands.

“It has been a journey, but it has been well worthwhile.

“Our staff have been fantastic (throughout that time); we started with five in 1990 and without them this would not have been possible.

“The last 12 months have been a bit hectic, but we have got good brands in Wagg and Harringtons and have others coming forward too.”

Today, under its new IPN moniker, the company aims to capitalise on its status as the UK’s largest dry dog food manufacturer.

That endeavour, says Tom Page, sales and marketing director, will come through focusing further on the nutritional aspects of its business to give pets more of what they want and supermarkets more of what they can sell.

The company has a well-respected position in the marketplace and says it is the only UK pet food maker to have attained a bronze Investors in the Environment award for its green credentials, which include a combined heat and power plant, which generates electricity from natural gas.

However, Mr Page said to stand still and rely on its reputation would go against all its principles, confirming a smaller base in Flintshire, Wales, which supplements Dalton by making pet treats, will continue ramping up work to develop new brands.

Standing in IPN’s new distribution hub as pallets, including rabbit and guinea pig feeds are lined up ready for delivery, Mr Page said the £7m site follows a £20m investment into its Dalton mills and precedes a further £3m earmarked for additional production improvement.

He said the centre, which also includes offices, can house at least 11,500 pallets, allowing it to process orders faster, providing scope to recruit up to 50 workers over the next five years to add to its 130-strong workforce.

He said: “This allows us 100 per cent accuracy on what we want to do and what we are doing.

“It means we can be faster too; if we can serve customers quicker we will sell more, because they will be happy to deal with us.

“We could have continued thinking we can do things hand-to-mouth, but we thought ‘no, we are going to do things properly.’

“We can also fit more people in if we need them too; over the next three to five years I would be surprised if this place doesn’t employ 30 to 50 more people.

“We really want to do well and it’s good to do something in this area.

“Being a family business, we can make quick decision if we need to; we know what we are doing and customers know they are going to get a decision.

“The market is quite difficult and retailers are finding life hard, but we are well placed and facilities like the warehouse give us an added edge.

“Now, being IPN, we are not just known as Wagg; we have a number of different brands and can go in different directions.”

Richard Page, managing director, reiterated the value of IPN’s new corporate identity and how the warehouse switch will yield great benefits.

The airfield may not house RAF crews anymore, but 102 Squadron’s attempt and achieve motto is living on.

He added: “Wagg is the volume market leader and Harringtons continues to be one of the fastest-growing brands in dried dog food, and we will have some exciting product launches this summer with Harringtons.

“A separate identity will give a clearer focus on the brands as we aim to produce the highest-quality pet foods at a competitive price through constant improvement in manufacturing and innovation.”