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2012 UK Airshows : REVIEW

RFC 100th Anniversary Fly-in, Stow Maries

2012 marks the 100th Anniversary of Royal Flying Corps and the year will see a number of events to mark the centenary of the corps and a number of the early squadrons. However one of the first venues to host a celebration was also perhaps the most unique; the preserved RFC aerodrome at Stow Maries in Essex.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography copyright of the author.

Situated to the north of South Woodham Ferres in the southern part of Essex there is a unique reminder of the early days of British military aviation – Stow Maries. The aerodrome was commissioned in response to the growing threat to London by the Zeppelin airships and the Gotha Bombers of the Imperial German Air Forces.

Flying commenced at Stow Maries when 37 (Home Defence) Squadron arrived in September 1916. The squadron was devided into flights with ‘B’ flight taking up Stow Maries. The remaining flights were based at Woodham Mortimer (HQ Flight), Goldhangar (‘C’ Flight) and Rochford (‘A’ flight). Rochford retained an aviation role ever since is now known better as London Southend Airport!

Operational flying began after a period of training in May 1917 and unit flew both day and night patrols. 37’s first ‘kill’ came on the 17th June when 2nd Lieutenant LP Watkins downed Zeppelin L48 at Theberton, Suffolk. This actually was the last Zeppelin to be downed over the UK in the First World War.

Stow Maries soon became a Royal Air Force station when the service was formed on the 1st April 1918 and the various flights soon started to be moved to Stow Maries as the station was developed with more accommodation buildings. By late 1918 the station was home to 219 men and 16 aircraft. The station remained active following Armistice Day and the final flight (‘C’) was brought to Stow Maries in February bringing together over 300 personnel and 24 aircraft. With peace however soon came closure at 37 Squadron moved to RAF Biggin Hill and the station was closed.

What is amazing about Stow Maries is that the buildings have been preserved though they have seen many uses including accommodation.

Today the buildings and the site have been sympathetically preserved to house a museum and perhaps one of the finest memorials to the men of the RFC who became some of the first airborne defenders of the nation’s capital.

xThe May Bank Holiday weekend saw the aerodrome host it’s RFC 100th Anniversary Fly-in event. It was somewhat ironic that on the drive up to Stow Maries that the RAF and Royal Navy could be seen flying exercises to prepare themselves to defend London’s airspace for this summer’s Olympics Games. Sadly we didn’t have the summer weather and that did prevent a lot of aircraft from making it to Stow Maries. However it has to be said that Stow Maries is one of the most interesting places I’ve visited in a long time with some very interesting exhibits alongside the preserved buildings and memorial. There was also an incredible collection of large scale Radio Controlled Models from the Dawn Patrol team which provided regular displays throughout the day. Many of them looked so good in the air, they could easily be mistaken for the real thing. There were also ground demonstrations of First World War Army life and of their equipment.

Stow Maries certainly provided a very different day out covering an often forgotten period of UK air defence and military life. It is a certain a place worthy of visit at any time of the year.

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