Stow Maries WWI aerodrome saved by £1.5m grant

Pilots Cooke, Hollington, Murray, Coote, Godfrey, Stokes and Shephard at Stowe Maries in 1917 Stow Maries was the base for the newly-formed 37 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps
Airside at Stow Maries More than 24 original Grade II listed Royal Flying Corps buildings remain on the airfield
Aerial view of Stow Maries The airfield was built as a direct response to increased German Zeppelin raids on London

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An aerodrome thought to be the last intact World War I airfield in Europe is to be restored thanks to a campaign by volunteers and a £1.5m grant.

Stow Maries in Essex, built in 1916, was a base for the new 37 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, who helped defend London from German bombing raids.

It closed in 1919 and remained overgrown until 2009 when it was rediscovered by a group of enthusiasts.

Now the National Heritage Memorial Fund grant means its future is secured.

Of the 250 aerodromes built during World War I, Stow Maries is the only one to have remained in near-perfect condition of the 10 that still exist.

Brigade staff inspecting plane
  • Stow Maries was home to 37 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, led by 19-year-old Captain Claude Ridley
  • The last Zeppelin shot down during the war was by the 37th Squadron in June 1917
  • The first mid-air collision of the war was recorded at Stow Maries in 1917
  • In 1918, it was the first British airfield to accept US squadrons

It was built as a direct response to increased attacks by German Zeppelin airships and later Gotha fixed-wing bombers on British mainland.

There are more than 24 original Grade II listed Royal Flying Corps operation buildings remaining, including the original officers' mess, other ranks' mess, blacksmith's, ambulance station and morgue.

The site had been in danger of being sold for redevelopment.

The Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome Trust will now restore the airfield to its wartime condition and open a museum commemorating the men who flew here.

It will also host workshops, teaching the old skills of aircraft construction.

Russell Savory, from the Friends of Stow Maries Aerodrome, said: "There's much spoken about the land warfare and how terrible that was... but there's not so much known about the aviators who were writing the books on how to fly for when WWII came along.

"Such a sacrifice was paid by those guys and I think it's my duty with this little aerodrome to keep that recorded."

Mr Savory's ambition is for the museum to be one that "smells and works and [is] not just a display."

The chairman of the trust, Jeremy Lucas, said he hoped the next five years would see "a sustained commemoration" of "extraordinary human exploits and stories".

He said: "By opening up this site, the public and particularly young people will gain a greater understanding of how as a nation we overcame it."

The site was bought from a private vendor with backing from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Essex County Council, Maldon District Council and English Heritage.

Project director Russell Savory shows Robert Hall around the site

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