A BRIEF HISTORY

OF

HORNCHURCH AIRFIELD

World War One

3rd October 1915 - The Royal Flying Corps arrived by truck at Suttons Farm.  Bell tents were erected for accommodation and two canvas hangers are also put up. The pilots were billeted in the local White Hart public house in Hornchurch village, while ground staff were accommodated at one of the local farmhouses.  Initially they were equipped with two BE2c aircraft.

13th October 1915 - Lieutenant John Lessor tried to shoot down the Zeppelin (L.15) but normal bullets did nothing.  He had to resort to dropping explosive darts, the Zeppelin managed to slip away into the mist.

Since the opening of RFC Suttons Farm, for nearly a year, nobody was able to shoot down a Zeppelin.

2nd/3rd September 1916 - Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson, shot down the German Army Airship SL.11 (Schutte-Lanz. 11) with his machine guns using the new explosive rounds.  The airship crashed in Cuffley, Hertfordshire.

BE2c

3rd September 1916 - The SL.11 was the first enemy aircraft to be downed over British soil.  People as far as Staines and Southend could see the airship go down, this made William Leefe Robinson a hero over night.

5th September 1916 - Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson was awarded the Victoria Cross (he was the only Hornchurch pilot to be so honoured whilst serving there).

Lt William Leefe Robinson

23rd/24th September 1916 - Zeppelin L.32 was dropping bombs on Averly, Purfleet and Hornchurch.  One of the bombs appeared to hit the runway at Suttons Farm. Lieutenant Frederick Sowery shot down the Zeppelin as it turned for home.  The Zeppelin crashed near Billericay, Essex.

Lt Frederick Sowrey

1st/2nd October 1916 - Lieutenant Wulstan Tempest shot down Zeppelin L.31, even though his fuel pump had failed and he had to crank the fuel by hand whilst flying the plane and firing his guns.  The Zeppelin came down near Potters Bar.

Lt Wulstan Tempest

June 1917 - The squadrons aircraft - BE2c and BE12 were replaced with faster planes.  The new aircraft included - the Sopwith 1½ Strutter, the Sopwith Pup, the FE2, the F2b Bristol Fighter and the SE5a.

Sopwith 1½ Strutter

Sopwith Pup

FE2

F2b Bristol Fighter

SE5a

June 1917 - The first women in uniform arrived at the airfield.  The ladies of the newly formed Women’s Legion Auxiliary (WLA) are sent to work alongside the men as telephonists, clerical staff and drivers.  Many were billeted at Bretten’s Farm.  The WLA later became the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF).

In 1918 - The squadron received more aircraft.  The Sopwith Camel and the Sopwith Snipe.

Sopwith Camel

Sopwith Snipe

11 Noverber 1918 - War Ends.  By the conclusion of hostilities, there were over 300 men and 24 women based at Suttons Farm supporting three squadrons of aircraft (78 Squadron, 141 Squadron and 189 Night Training Squadron).  A far cry from the three pilots and six ground crew of the late 1915

During the three years the station was active, only two pilots based at RFC Suttons Farm were killed (both in accidents) and an observer/gunner injured in combat.

31st March 1919 - The 189 Night Training Squadron was disbanded.

31st December 1919 - 78 Squadron was disbanded.

31st December 1919 - The requirement for an airfield at Suttons Farm was called into question.  RFC Suttons Farm was closed, the landing ground was then returned back to agricultural use.

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