Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Cornwall in the First World War

During this month, each weekday I'm posting a photograph showing Cornwall's First World War. This week the theme is Cornwall's first military air bases.

By 1917, to provide aerial patrols off north Cornwall’s coast the Admiralty was looking for a place to build an air station, but could find nowhere suitable for its preferred water-based aircraft.  Consequently a search was made for a suitable field to serve as a base for landplanes.

Just west of Padstow at the hamlet of Crugmeer, near the cliff top, a 50-acre site was requisitioned and a bumpy landing-strip marked out.  Exposed to high winds, it wasn’t ideal but the best the Admiralty could find in the area.

Several canvas aircraft hangars were put up, with wooden buildings and bell tents as shelter for officers and other ranks respectively.  Later some brick-built huts were built, their roofs formed from curved corrugated iron. In March 1918 the new base was commissioned as RNAS Padstow/Crugmeer. Small de Havilland DH.6 two-seat biplanes began to arrive and Padstow’s complement grew to around 180 men.

On 31 May 1918, the airfield’s No.500 and No.501 Flights began patrols; roughly a dozen aircraft were stationed there. One or two BE2c biplanes also appeared, a two-seater design stemming from pre-war days.

In May too a DH.9 flight formed at Padstow. The DH.9 was a better-built, more reliable aeroplane than the old DH.6; in mid-June the new unit was christened No.494 Flight. From August 1918 the Flight fell under No.250 Squadron RAF, at first led by Major R E Orton, but later by Major F Warren Merriam AFC who pre-war had made his name in Falmouth as a motor-car enthusiast.

This aerial view of RNAS Padstow/Crugmeer airfield was taken over the summer of 1918. The three canvas hangars were later joined by a fourth. To their left are lines of bell tents for the men, while 11 DH.6 biplanes rest on the grass; bottom right is the motor transport area.  To the left of the station are farm buildings which are still there today.

My book, 'Cornwall In The First World War', is published by Truran. With 112 pages and 100 images, you'll find it in bookshops across the Duchy. It's also available through Amazon: http://amzn.to/19JbtZm

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