Stow Maries WWI aerodrome saved by £1.5m grant

image captionStow Maries was the base for the newly-formed 37 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps
image captionMore than 24 original Grade II listed Royal Flying Corps buildings remain on the airfield
image captionThe airfield was built as a direct response to increased German Zeppelin raids on London

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.

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.

media captionProject director Russell Savory shows Robert Hall around the site

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