NOSTALGIA: Legendary flying ace Amy Johnson and the Wilmington aerodrome

A girdle around the globe ... Amy Johnson. The pioneering aviatrix was the first female pilot to fly alone from Britain to Australia
A girdle around the globe ... Amy Johnson. The pioneering aviatrix was the first female pilot to fly alone from Britain to Australia

What has been found overall about the Wilmington civilian aerodrome off the A27 through local newspaper reports is that flying there would have been spasmodic during the week rather like any small airfield, writes Polegate resident Peter Longstaff-Tyrell in the latest instalment of his look at those magnificient men – and women – in their flying machines in 1930s.

A special Air Day gathering and displays were held there.

There was not to be a main event for 1934 at Wilmington but on July 7 1935 Sir Alan Cobham staged his Astra Air Show.

Older members of the public among my neighbours recall that large hessian screens would be placed around fields close to the main roads to prevent the public from having a free view of the parked aircraft.

Once they were airborne of course, it was a different matter.

Attendance at these air displays was a very fashionable social event for many people.

Eastbourne council was once again approached regarding its abortive civil airport policy and took up an option on the site by committing £100 annually with a seven year option.

In 1935 the airfield licence and its rights passed from MW Allenby to T G Stubley and H A Love.

Harry Love had been a World War One squadron leader who owned a farm on the Isle of Sheppey, where a neighbour was Geoffrey de Havilland.

His weekend passion was flying and he built a detached house in Arlington Meadow, the second house inland from the A27, in Milton Lane across the highway from the airfield entrance.

The Eastbourne Gazette of June 1987 includes a photo of Mrs Mary Lobe who learnt to fly at Wilmington and still lived at Milton Gate House which her husband had built for them as a home.

The pair of businessmen commenced flying school functions at the airfield.

Eastbourne Flying Club was launched on December 13 1935 at Wilmington as the popular airfield accommodated public interest levels at the time.

Leslie Hore-Belisha MP, the minister of transport who lived nearby at Holywell under Beachy Head at times, was among those who learnt to fly at Wilmington and he went on to become president of the enterprising organisation there.

The Duchess of Windsor with her Tiger Moth bi-plane was among the celebrities to frequent the Wilmington pastures regularly along with the now legendary Amy Johnson and Jim Mollinson.

On Tuesday February 26 1934 Captain Short presented an address at Stewart’s Restaurant to Eastbourne Round Table No 32.

His theme was to introduce in to the minds of the town council the provision for flying men and the new era of flying allied to municipal requirements.

An Eastbourne Gazette article of January 1936 was headlined: Municipal Aerodrome hopes are dead – Council decline to select site for the future.

The land owner, influential Col Gwynne of the Folkington Manor Estate was informed by Eastbourne council leader Alderman Miss Hudson that council members declined to support a proposal from Eastbourne Town Council in facour of town planning consent for an aerodrome in the event of future needs.

Some private flying was already being undertaken there.

Author Peter will continue his look at flying locally as well as the British Empire Air Display in August 1936 at Wilmington.

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