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History Section - New Forest Aviation School 1919-12

The New Forest Flying School at East Boldre 1910-1912

Did you know that in 2010 we celebrated the centenary of the airfield built in East Boldre in 1910. And in 2018 the village hall will be 100 years old. The airfield was built to accommodate a flying school that was the second to be opened in Great Britain and the fifth flying school in the world. If you want to know more about the history of our airfields, take a look at Alan Brown’s excellent hand written and hand illustrated books on the twelve wartime airfields built in the New Forest.

On May 26-30 2010, East Boldre Village Hall played a central role in celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of the East Boldre Flying School, which opened in May, 1910 when you could learn to fly for just £80. It was started by William McArdle, who learnt to fly at the Pau Bleriot School in France, and J. Armstrong-Drexel, an American from a wealthy banking family who learnt to fly at East Boldre (No. 14 British Certificate).

William McArdle, born 1875, had set up an early motor car business in Bournmouth but in 1909, “Motor Mac” became very interested in flying. He sold his business and went to France to learn to fly. There he met J. Armstrong-Drexel.

These two pioneers sought permission from the Office of Woods to build an airfield at East Boldre but it was refused. Despite this, they built two sheds, one for a hangar and one for a workshop, and they hired some local lads to clear a strip of heathland for the runway. It was the second flying school to be opened in the UK, (the first being at Leysdown on the Isle of Sheppey).

On Sunday 1 May, 1910, a large crowd of people came to East Boldre to watch a flying display by McArdle and Armstrong-Drexel, who were flying two Bleriot monoplanes. Soon their fleet increased to six Bleriots and during 1910 they gave flying displays at Wallisdown (Whitsun), Southbourn (July), Blackpool (July/August), Lanark, Scotland (August), Leopardstown (August), and then by boat to New York and Philadelphia (November).

While they were away, Harry Delcombe managed the flying school and George Gould looked after the aircraft maintenance and repairs. Pupils at the school included two army officers and many civilians.

The flying school closed two years later in 1912 and the airfield reverted to quiet grazing land but in 1914, one of the sheds on the airfield was taken over by the Royal Flying Corps (forerunner of the RAF) and by 1915 the demand for pilots on the Western Front was so great that the training school, called RFC Beaulieu was built on the area. Three iron hangars, several huts and the YMCA Concert Hall, which is now the village hall, were built in the village between 1915 and 1919, and during 1918, four more large hangars, a powerhouse, workshops and accommodation for airmen, airwomen and officers were built on the Beaulieu to Lymington road. Three squadrons were formed at RFC Beaulieu before being moved to France. No. 84 Squadron still exists and still considers itself to be a Beaulieu Squadron.

After the end of WW1, in 1919, the camp was closed and most of the buildings were removed. During WW2, in 1942, a three runway airfield was built on the opposite side of the Beaulieu to Lymington road. After the war, on 1 January 1945, the Airborne Forces Experimental Establishment came to the large airfield and used the old airfield as an parachute dropping zone until September 1950.

Original Research by Alan Brown

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