100 years of aviation

 

Over the weekend of 28th - 31st May 2010, the village of East Boldre in the New Forest National Park  celebrated the centenary of the airfield built there in 1910. Many members of 84 Squadron Association took part in these historic celebrations.

The airfield, the first of twelve New Forest airfields, was built to accommodate a flying school that was the second to be opened in Great Britain, (the first being at Leysdown on the Isle of Sheppey), and only the fifth flying school in the world.  The school was opened in May, 1910 by William McArdle, who learnt to fly at the Pau Bleriot School in France, and J. Armstrong-Drexel, an American from a wealthy banking family who learnt to fly at East Boldre (No. 14 British Certificate).

William McArdle, born 1875, had set up an early motor car business in Bournemouth but in 1909, "Motor Mac" became very interested in flying. He sold his business and went to France to learn to fly. There he met J. Armstrong-Drexel.

These two pioneers sought permission from the Office of Woods to build an airfield at East Boldre but were refused.  Despite this, they built two sheds, one for a hangar and one for a workshop, and they hired some local lads to clear a strip of heathland for the runway.

On Sunday 1 May, 1910, a large crowd of people came to East Boldre to watch a flying display by McArdle and Drexel, who were flying two Bleriot monoplanes. Soon their fleet had increased to six Bleriots and during 1910 they gave flying displays across the UK and in New York and Philadelphia.

The flying school closed two years later in 1912 and the airfield reverted to quiet grazing land but in 1914, one of the sheds on the airfield was taken over by the Royal Flying Corps (forerunner of the RAF) and by 1915 the demand for pilots on the Western Front was so great that a training school, RFC Beaulieu was built on the area. Three iron hangars, several huts and the Officer's Mess, which is now the village hall, were built in the village during 1915 and, by 1917, four more large hangars, a powerhouse, workshops and accommodation for airmen, airwomen and officers were built on the Beaulieu to Lymington road. Three squadrons were formed at RFC Beaulieu before being moved to France.

84 Squadron is the only original squadron still in existence and is still proud to call itself a “Beaulieu Squadron”.

After the end of WW1, in 1919, the camp was closed and most of the buildings were removed.

During WW2, in 1942, a three runway airfield was built on the opposite side of the road but the current village hall was still used as the Officer's Mess. After the war, on 1 January 1945, the Airborne Forces Experimental Establishment came to the large airfield and used the old airfield as a parachute dropping zone until September 1950.