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Forces War Records Blog

FIRST WORLD WAR AERODROME SAVED FROM CLOSURE

Blogger: GemSen During World War I, Stow Maries, in Essex, was an airbase for the fledgling Royal Flying Corps — built in response to increased attacks by German Zepplin airships and Gotha fixed wing bombers. Astonishingly, out of 250 aerodromes built during WWI, Stow Maries, which closed in 1919, is one of ten that still exist and is the only one to have been kept in near-perfect condition. It had to be saved. And thankfully it will be —due to a £1.5 million National Heritage Memorial Fund grant and a campaign by a group of volunteers who rediscovered the closed airfield in 2009.
 
Since its closure, the aerodrome became overgrown and forgotten about until a group of enthusiasts rediscovered it and began a campaign to save it. There was a risk that the Grade II listed building could have been sold for redevelopment. There are more than 24 original Grade II listed Royal Flying Corps operation buildings remaining, including the original officers' mess, other ranks' mess, blacksmith's, ambulance station and morgue. The Royal Flying Corps  The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was created in May 1912 and was the air arm of the British Army during the First World War, until it merged with the Royal Naval Air Service on 1 April 1918 to form the Royal Air Force. The Royal Flying Corps helped direct artillery gunfire, take photographs for intelligence analysis — becoming the essential eyes of the British Army. This gradually led RFC pilots into aerial battles and dogfights with German pilots and later in the war included the strafing of enemy infantry and emplacements, the bombing of German military airfields and later the strategic bombing of German industrial and transportation facilities. The RFC was also responsible for the observation balloons on the Western front.  For the first half of the war, as with the land armies deployed, the French air force vastly outnumbered the RFC, and did more of the fighting. Despite the primitive aircraft, aggressive leadership by RFC commander Hugh Trenchard and the adoption of a continually offensive stance operationally in efforts to pin the enemy back led to many brave fighting exploits and high casualties. There were over 700 casualties in 1916 — and the the rate got worse until the RFC's lowest point in April 1917 ; dubbed 'Bloody April'. By the end of the war the casualties from the RFC/RNAS/RAF for 1914–18 totalled 9,378 killed or missing, with 7,245 wounded. Some 900,000 flying hours on operations were logged, and 6,942 tons of bombs dropped. The RFC claimed some 7,054 German aircraft and balloons either destroyed, sent 'down out of control' or 'driven down'. Despite the casualties, it did however provide the Army General Staff with vital and up-to-date intelligence on German positions and numbers through continual photographic and observational reconnaissance though the entire war. Eleven RFC members received the Victoria Cross during the First World War. At first the RFC did not believe in publicising the victory totals and exploits of their Aces, but eventually public interest and the newspapers' demand for heroes lead to this policy being abandoned. Feats of aces such as Captain Albert Ball helped raise morale in the service as well as on the 'home front'. On 17 August 1917, South African General Jan Smuts presented a report to the War Council on the future of air power and recommended a new air service be formed that would be on a level with the Army and Royal Navy. The formation of the new service would, moreover, make the under-utilised men and machines of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). On 1 April 1918, the RFC and the RNAS were combined to form a new service, the Royal Air Force (RAF). By the start of 1919 the RAF had 4,000 combat aircraft and 114,000 personnel in some 150 squadrons. For a short time after the formation of the RAF, pre-RAF ranks such as Lieutenant, Captain and Major continued to exist, a practice which officially ended on 15 September 1919. For this reason and something to bear in mind if you are doing some genealogy research is that some early RAF memorials and gravestones show ranks which no longer exist in the modern RAF. Restoring the old airfield Built in 1916, Stow Maries was a base for the new 37 squadron, Royal Flying Corps and their early biplanes — helping to defend London from German bombing raids. The plan is to now to restore many of the buildings to their wartime condition, and to open a museum commemorating the men who flew here. It will also apparently host workshops, teaching the old skills of aircraft construction. "There's much spoken about the land warfare and how terrible that was... but there's not so much known about the aviators who were writing the books on how to fly for when WWII came along,” Russell Savory, from the Friends of Stow Maries Aerodrome, told the BBC. Mr Savory's ambition is for the museum to be one that "smells and works and is not just a display." The chairman of the trust, Jeremy Lucas, said he hoped the next five years would see "a sustained commemoration" of "extraordinary human exploits and stories". He said: "By opening up this site, the public and particularly young people will gain a greater understanding of how as a nation we overcame it." The site was bought from a private vendor with backing from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Essex County Council, Maldon District Council and English Heritage. "Such a sacrifice was paid by those guys and I think it's my duty with this little aerodrome to keep that recorded," Mr Savory added. Sources: BBC & Wiki Why not log on to Forces War Records and search our vast collection of records to find out more about your own ancestors  – there could be a war hero in your family just waiting to be discovered and remembered… On the site you will also find more information on Royal Flying Corps & Royal Air Force Research.
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