The Foxearth and District Local History Society

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Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome, near Maldon. Monday 12th August 2019



On Monday 12th August, 19 members of the Foxearth History Society had a fascinating day-trip to the Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome, near Maldon. 

The aerodrome has the largest known surviving group of Royal Flying Corps buildings on a WWI aerodrome anywhere in the country. See www.stowmaries.org.uk

First opened in 1916, the aerodrome saw the birth of Air Defence in response to the first raids by Zeppelins on London and the southeast. It played a key role during the first London Blitz the following year,  and continued in its role until Spring 1919,before it thereafter reverted to agriculture. 

A newly formed Trust was able to purchase the land and surviving buildings in 2012, with the plan to save and restore dilapidated buildings, and reopen the site to the public. A small army of volunteers set to work, with stabilization and reconstruction work being the first tasks. 

It is remarkable to see what has been achieved in such a short time: a visitor centre and museum opened, the restored Airmen's Mess now provides lunches and teas and holds private events, and two hangar buildings display seven WWI period replica aircraft (some give flying displays). There are 22 buildings still surviving, that will take millions of pounds to fully restore, so fundraising for the future is another priority. 

We were given a tour by a very knowledgable guide. She explained the aerodrome’s buildings and layout, and its role in fighting the German Zeppelins and planes that bombed SE England (including Sudbury) in WWI. 

We heard stories of the young pilots who flew their flimsy planes, on winter nights, up to 15,000 feet without oxygen - they were often too cold to move on their return to the ground, and had to be carried back to their quarters to recover. And of course some did not survive. Of the ten from 31 squadron who died, two were shot down by a Zeppelin, but eight perished in flying accidents: a mid-air collision, faulty maintenance, but often simply a lack of flying experience before being sent to war… 

Stow Maries was never attacked in WWI, though in WWII a German aircraft mistakenly bombed the former hanger buildings (then used as cattle sheds), and a number of animals were unintentionally butchered. 

After a hearty lunch in the Airmans’ Mess, our group spent some time in the museum. This has been well laid out with everything from post cards, original artefacts and audio-visual displays – it really gave a good understanding of the air war and the “First London Blitz”. Even those who felt they knew about this period learnt a lot more. Unfortunately our arrival had been delayed by closure of the only route the local council allow to be signposted, and the minibus Satnav did not offer much help! So many of the group plan to revisit another time – it is well worth it. 



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