A hundred years ago in May 1910, two pioneers, William McArdle and John Armstrong-Drexel made history by building an airfield at East Boldre. It was home to the New Forest Flying School, the second flying school in the UK and later it became an RFC, then RAF base during WW1. It was the first of twelve wartime airfields to be built in the New Forest.
We decided that we should put East Boldre back on the map by celebrating the centenary of this event. The celebrations were a resounding success and every event was very well attended. As part of the celebrations we have assembled a permanent gallery of 63 historical photographs in the village hall. We also had Alan Brown’s exhibition of the history of East Boldre and Beaulieu airfields, held a tea party for the senior citizens, an art competition for the local primary schools, had four illustrated talks, an evening of entertainment, an exhibition of artwork by local artists and to cap it all, a flying display of WW1 aircraft.
Fifty-one senior guests attended the Senior Citizens Tea Party on Wednesday and had a preview of the gallery. Many of the guests were able to give us a lot more historical information about the pictures and it inspired some of them to bring in their old photographs and memories. Alan Brown unveiled the plaque on the front of the hall which was supplied by the New Forest National Park Authority and depicts the East Boldre Airfield as it was during WW1.
The Prize Giving for the Inter-Schools Art Competition was packed with expectant children, proud parents and beaming grandparents. The South Baddesley School Choir delighted the audience with their songs before the prize giving. We had twenty-seven prizes to award then the winners went outside to be photographed next to Lord Montagu's 1914 Rolls-Royce.
Every child walked away with a winner's certificate and a prize, and the children who produced the best piece of artwork from each of the three local primary schools was awarded an engraved trophy. There was an additional trophy for the overall winner. The event was filmed by BBC South Today but unfortunately, this was not included in the coverage that was broadcast on Saturday.
The Grand Opening Ceremony was well attended. Lord Montagu, despite his frailty, gave an opening speech then went into the main entrance with Alan Brown to open officially our permanent gallery of historical photographs by unveiling a plaque. In keeping with Alan Brown's exhibition style, we thought that we would not cover the commemorative plaque with a curtain but instead, we used a plastic Union Flag fixed to a cardboard sheet with transparent sticky-back plastic, exactly as Alan would have made it for his exhibition. We knew that Lord Montagu could not reach the covering from his wheelchair so Alan revealed the plaque for him. It took him a moment to take in the fact that the plaque read, 'THE ALAN BROWN GALLERY - MAY 2010'. I hope you agree that this is a fitting tribute to a remarkable man. Alan, of course, was very modest about it but Margaret, his wife, was overwhelmed.
The evening continued with Alan's fascinating slideshow about the history of aviation at East Boldre and an illustrated talk given by our local historian, Tony Johnson.
Saturday's events included a talk by John Smith on the WW2 Special Operations Executive and its Finishing School in Beaulieu. Every seat was taken. Doug Gregory DFC gave a side-splitting talk entitled ‘Aero Addict’ about his WW2 experiences and how he built his replica WW1 SE5A bi-plane, which he flew in our flying display on Sunday. Saturday evening started with another enthralling talk entitled ‘In the Air. On the Air’ from John Smith about entertainment and radio broadcasts during the war years. This was followed by The New Forest Plonkers and The Queens Park Singers who entertained a packed house. Everyone sang along with the Vera Lynn songs and some songs more typical of the Plonkers.
Following a short story on BBC South Today, Sunday saw the biggest crowds in East Boldre since the first air show on May 1st 1910. The only complaints were that the hall was too packed to fit more people inside. Unfortunately, after a successful morning rehearsal at Old Sarum Airfield, the wind speed picked up to 5 knots above the safe wind speed for WW1 bi-planes to take-off and land. Doug's aircraft was tipped over by the wind while he was taxiing and three of the display team decided to bow out. But Doug and Des Biggs, who are both well into their late eighties, were not going to let a bit of wind spoil our entertainment. Just ten minutes late they looped several loops over East Boldre, roared past high and low, streaming smoke and rattling their machine guns before flying across Hatchet Pond to land safely back at Old Sarum in Dorset. This display was reported in the Daily Telegraph.
I met Doug's wife, Liz in the crowd and I told her that it was a fantastic show and we were very grateful to them for defying the wind. Her only wry comment was that 'Doug was old enough to know better'. I suggested to her that he didn't win the DFC for 'knowing better'.
Everyone had a tremendous time at the centenary events and the celebrations were closed by Rev. Ryc Smith with a short service to remind us that the airfield was a military airfield and brave young men lost their lives here in East Boldre.
The whole event ran like clockwork thanks to some splendid teamwork by the Centenary Committee and to the professionalism and expertise of John Smith. But most important of all, it was a delight to see many local residents at every single event throughout the celebrations. I am please to say that it is not over yet. The Alan Brown Gallery will be a permanent fixture in the Village Hall and we plan to create an historical archive in the hall which we hope everyone in the community will contribute to.
There were no admission charges but we sold a lot of raffle tickets and received several donations. With the help of Cllr. Paul Vickers and the generous financial help of the New Forest District Council and the East Boldre Parish Council, at the end of the event we had raised enough money to cover our expenses and to pay for the photo gallery.
Thank you to everyone who made this event the success it was.
If you would like to learn more about the Beaulieu and East Boldre Airfields you can read more at the Volunteer Rangers’ website or you can buy Alan Brown’s books exclusively from this website.