Monday, 23 April 2018

Reconstructing the First World War Aerodrome at Croydon / Beddington in Detail: the ambulance station

Pilots (and other crew) were very likely to have accidents in training, as we have blogged previously. Fire was one of the most likely and lethal outcomes of an air crash as well as broken limbs. It was essential to have an ambulance and medical equipment at an airfield. Roger Potten has recreated the ambulance station at Croydon / Beddington.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Reconstructing the First World War Aerodrome at Croydon / Beddington in Detail: Bombing Observation Tower

One of the new training procedures brought in was target practice for pilots to bomb designated locations. In the field these would mainly be trenches, army camps or Zeppelin bases. Roger Potten has reconstructed the bombing observation tower that was used in this training - one side of the airfield seems to have been effectively used for target practice.

Compare this with Montgomery Martin's photograph below:

Monday, 16 April 2018

Reconstructing the First World War Aerodrome at Croydon / Beddington in Detail: Hangers, HQ and Camels

Following on from our previous post on Roger Potten's reconstructions of the aerodrome between 1916-1919, these images illustrate the hangers (and therefore detail aspects of the training) on the site. The light and the grass make the reconstructions seem even more real. The images are constantly being added to as Roger finds more details from visiting other places, such as Stow Maries.

View from the Hanger

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Building Beddington / Croydon Aerodrome in 1918

The last post detailed the activities of volunteer Roger Potten in mapping out the aerodrome and airfield from 1917 to 1920. Drawing on photographs and what maps he could find, Roger has illustrated the rapid growth of the aerodrome after it became the base for the Training Squadron. Roger has also carefully reconstructed the buildings by date. These shots of the aerodrome reconstruct it from 1918 and give a sense of the scale of it

A view showing Plugh Lane and the farm to the right.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Mapping the Aerodrome in the First World War

Roger Potten is one of our highly skilled archive volunteers who has been working on rebuilding the first Croydon Airport (1919-1927) on a platform called Sketch Up. This software enables the building of architecture to create sophisticated 3 dimensional reconstructions with intricate detail and texture.
First airport tower, 1923

When the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded Historic Croydon Airport Trust a grant to investigate the first world war origins of what became Croydon Airport, Roger turned his attention to 1916-1918. He began building up a reconstruction what started as an airstrip overshadowed by the farm on Plough Lane in 1916 to a large RAF training aerodrome, complete with bombing practice range, by 1918. In doing this Roger has found the photographs of Herbert Montgomery Martin, previously blogged, invaluable for building up an accurate picture of the layout of the airfield and aerodrome and the intricate details needed for the added texture. This blog shares the maps that Roger has pieced together of the airfield and aerodrome from 1917-1919.

By summer 1918 the training airfield had grown dramatically and surrounds the farm with a camp now on the farm side of Plough Lane. The Training Squadron was still growing.

Shortly after the war ended, the RAF (newly formed on 1 April 1918) was still using the airfield and aerodrome for training purposes and for taking civilians and politicians to Paris for the Versailles war treaty negotiations. The farm is now entirely overshadowed and Plough Lane is clearly a barrier in the aerodrome.

By 1920, the aerodrome was designated for civilian transportation and became an airport, i.e. having a customs and excises for duty on imported and exported goods.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Killed by a propeller: Sad accident to Air Mechanic

Lorraine has found a reference to an air mechanic, not on our Roll of Honour (air men who died at or around Croydon aerodrome during the war). Although the article does not detail that the accident took place at Croydon / Beddington, the location of the Crescent War Hospital in Thornton Heath makes it unlikely to be elsewhere. From the Croydon Advertiser and Surrey County Reporter, Sat. 29 March 1918:

A keen air mechanic, Henry Colin Lane, aged 29, met with his death through his keenness to ascertain if the engine of an aeroplane which he had just set in motion was running properly.

Ground crew at Beddington / Croydon in 1918.
H M Martin Photograph.
The story was told to the Croydon Coroner and jury at an inquest at the Union Offices on Tuesday afternoon, when Jack Liennewiel, a fitter in the RFC, described what occurred.  Deceased was assisting another air mechanic to start the propeller of a machine. There was another machine with the engine working about fifteen feet away.  After assisting to start the propeller deceased walked sideways into the propeller of the other machine, his attention being entirely devoted to the machine he had just started.  The propeller struck him on the head, knocking him down.  The engines were at once stopped and he was removed to the medical officer and then sent in an ambulance to the Crescent War Hospital.  Witness thought deceased did not realise that the other machine was in action, as he could not hear it owing to the noise of the machine he had just started. 

Flight Sergt. Alexander Vaile gave a similar description of the accident.

Capt. Edgar Willett RAMC, attached to the Crescent War Hospital, said that when deceased was brought to the Hospital he was able to tell him his name.  Witness had him at once taken to the operating theatre and there found that he had a large scalp wound and four smaller one, and his arm was also injured.  Witness could not find at the time any fracture of the skull. The wounds were cleaned and dressed and he was got to bed.  He was in a serious condition, and more serious at eleven o’clock, but witness did not think he had any injury he could not recover from.  About a quarter of and hour later, however, he suddenly collapsed and died.  A post-mortem examination the next day showed that there was no injury to his head from which he could not have recovered, but the liver was ruptured, and from this he could not possibly have recovered.  The propeller had also struck his side and broken some of his ribs and also caused a small rupture of one lung.

Sister Florence Lyal Wilson, the night superintendent at the Crescent War Hospital, said that deceased was never left.  He was seen by Capt. Selby, RAMC, at ten o’clock and again by Capt. Willett, at ten to eleven.

The jury found that death was the result of an accident.

(died 22nd March 1918)

Monday, 12 March 2018

Air Raid Warning Systems in Croydon: From non-existence to technical wizardry

Records in the Museum of Croydon record the gradual implementation of an air raid defence system and even - though not until summer 1917 - public air raid warnings. Our project volunteer Norman has recorded the growth of these defences, which consisted of Observation Posts, Special Constables, the airfield itself and a growth in the use of light and sound technology to track and monitor aircraft.

Observation Posts in Croydon
View from the Town Hall Croydon in 1938.
  • Town Hall Tower
  • Water Tower
  • Gillett & Johnston's Tower
  • Nottingham Road
Observer duties included observing and reporting on hostile flying machines, exposed lights, fires etc. Reported by telephone to Observation Room, Croydon; Metropolitan Observation Service, Horseguards (forerunner of Observer (later Royal) Corps); Regular Police and Fire Service.

Special Constabulary station and posts
Police Station, Fell Road; Trojan Works, Vicarage Road, Waddon; Christ Church Schools, Clyde Road; Addiscombe Railway Station; Wesleyan Hall, Bartlett Street, South Croydon.

The Special Constabulary were appointed at start of war, they carried out normal policing duties (traffic accidents, carts without lights, drunken soldiers, small boys stealing bicycle) but their principal activities were war-related.

They also manned Observation Posts, reporting hostile aircraft (Zeppelins and Gothas) and breaches of blackout (mostly careless or false alarm by nervous citizens) but always alert to “spies” signalling to Zeppelins.  They guarded key installations though there are no records of their being armed.  They also assisted in rescuing or recovering bombing victims. Specials also controlled mobile first aid parties including St John and Red Cross, Voluntary Aid Detachment (nurses) and a Motor Branch.
When raids were believed to be imminent, Specials were summoned by telephone, personal visit or boards in cinemas and clubs. During the Great War, Croydon Specials paraded for air raid duties on 63 occasions and were on stand-by a further 15 times. An average parade for air raids would comprise 250-300 men (only men).

Air Raid Warnings
by Walter Bayes. Imperial War Museum. Art.IWM ART 935
From June 1917 the police gave raid warnings by firing maroons. Boy Scouts played Morse G-C on bugles for all clear. A red light displayed from Town Hall clock tower during Alert and white for All Clear. In addition the Town Hall basement was sand-bagged as air raid shelter.

A mobile A.A. Based at White Hill Caterham comprising 2 lorries each with 2 machine-guns; one lorry with 24” acetylene searchlight; service wagon for cooking, sleeping and stores

Air defence: Tram with searchlight installed upper deck
Searchlights seen flashing as signal to recall night fighters

Fire Alarms were installed on on street corners before advent of home and street telephone call boxes.

Each Observation Post was eventually equipped with a telescope with illuminated sights and the base was marked with compass degrees. A sighting would be reported by telephone (or runner) to the Chief Inspector of the Regular Police. His station was equipped with a large-scale map and by receiving bearings from two or more Observation Posts, the location of any incident could be plotted with cords on the map by triangulation [see exhibit in Control Tower]. An example of this was when an incendiary bomb caused a fire on railway truck four miles away, the location of which was plotted by central control within four minutes. Also Zeppelin crashes to north of London observed and accurately plotted. Sighting reports were forwarded to London Air Defence Area headquarters in Horseguards.

Nottingham Road Observation Post was also fitted with “sound detectors” (giant horns) to track enemy aircraft.

Water Tower Observation Post had automatic equipment to record bearing and azimuth of targets and weather reports.

Norman Brice