Wednesday, 15 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.

To allow wider airship patrols off Cornwall and south-west England, the Admiralty built several small mooring-out stations in and around the Duchy, bases with only essential facilities. All reported to the main Cornish airship base at Mullion, and were commissioned over the spring and summer of 1918. One appeared south of Bude on Cornwall’s north-east coast, another outside Plymouth at Laira. Further out-stations were formed at Toller (Bridport, Dorset) and Upton (Poole, Dorset). A site was considered for Scilly at Holy Vale, St Mary’s, but wasn’t built.

Royal Naval Air Station Bude flew Coastal and SSZ craft. The base was sited two miles south of Marhamchurch and south-east of Langford Wood, roughly equidistant between Langford Hill and Langford Bridge. To help with its construction Mullion personnel travelled up from the Lizard.  A clearing was made in a wooded area, creating a natural windbreak for the airships. 

Bude’s officers were billeted at nearby Langford Barton House, while the ratings lived on site in dank bell tents and a few huts; all told, around 200 people. Hydrogen for the airships, contained in high-pressure cylinders, was brought from Mullion’s manufacturing plant.

Generally Bude’s airships watched over the St George’s and Bristol Channels, and west toward the Irish Sea. On station, moored in the open air they were anchored at three points, tied to iron mooring rings set in heavy concrete balls. Like Mullion, Bude was isolated but for off-duty personnel a favourite distraction was the Bullers Arms at nearby Marhamchurch village.

Bude’s patrols were usually routine; apart from its usual beat though, airship SSZ.42 flew an unexpected humanitarian mission. One Sunday the craft was called out to escort two steamers up the Bristol Channel. But on the way, a brief diversionary flight was made allowing wireless operator Stephen Henry Bromhead to drop a message into his sweetheart’s Marhamchurch garden, telling her he’d be late for their date.

Here we see a rare visitor to lonely Bude: airship C*10 hovers over the site during the summer of 1918.  Below, Flight Commander T P York Moore, who by then commanded Cornwall-based Coastal Class airship C.9, sends a signal by semaphore flag.

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:

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