In the very early years of flying, Winton had two nearby airfields – one for a short period was actuallyknown as “Royal Flying Corps, Winton”.
The first aerodrome operated in the years 1915-1917 at Talbot Village, on ground now occupied by Bournemouth University. It was run by the Bournemouth Aviation Company and largely used to train pilots.
May 1919 – The Handley Page over Winton (Still from RFC Marketing)
The son of a former Bournemouth mayor, Second Lieutenant Edward Rebbek was killed there when his aircraft plunged into the ground. Another biplane nearly crashed into the centre of Bournemouth after taking off from the aerodrome and then suffering engine failure as it looped over the Square.
In 1917 the airfield was moved to a new 88 acre location at Ensbury Park which covered an area bounded to the south and east by Hillview Road and Redhill Drive. Pilots continued to be trained there and it was requisitioned by the Royal Flying Corps. When the Royal Air Force was formed in 1918 the base became known as RAF Winton.
Pilots were not only trained in the emerging art of aerial warfare. They were also told about the amazing new wireless communication devices at a new RAF Wireless Telephony School on the site. The dangerous nature of flying at the time was highlighted by a number of “prangs”. One highly decorated pilot took off and circled low while waving to his girlfriend on the ground below. His plane hit a tree and he was killed.
Lt.Col William Sholto-Douglas later in his career
Flying over the racecourse
In 1919 the RAF moved out its wireless school and the aerodrome became civilian. The inaugural peacetime flight from the aerodrome was in May 1919 when an ex-RFC Handley Page bomber arrived with a Lt.Col William Sholto-Douglas at the controls. Freshly demobbed, the highly decorated pilot had duelled with Goering over the battlefields of France but was now a Handley Page test pilot.A couple of years later Sholto-Douglas was to rejoin the RAF and rise to head of Fighter Command shortly after the Battle of Britain.He went on to be knighted, promoted to Air Marshal, and made Commander in Chief and Military Governor of the British Occupation Zone in Germany.
Regular passenger services were established with London, and there were a number of airshows that drew enormous crowds with displays of aerobatics and cheap “joy rides”. Among the attractions was Alan Cobham’s Flying Circus
But it was racing on the ground and in the air that made the headlines during the 1920’s. A grandstand and circuits were constructed for both greyhound and horse racing meetings. 1926 saw the first thrilling spectacle of air racing in which aircraft tore at high speed along a course marked by pylons. The meeting at Easter 1927 was the largest of its kind ever to have been held in Britain. The sound of screaming aircraft engines soon prompted protest.
An angry farmer was arrested and taken to court after letting loose both barrels of his shotgun at a low flying biplane. Examination revealed scores of pellet holes in the aircraft’s wing and the court heard that the plane had zoomed over at about fifty feet above the farmhouse.
Celebrated artist Augustus John appeared in court to support him. John was a personal friend and lived a few miles away at Alderney Manor. His testimony obviously had some weight – the farmer was found not guilty. But maybe the noise of aircraft was one of the reasons that a short time later John moved to a new home at Fordingbridge.
More peaceable, but no less outraged, the “Bournemouth and District United Vigilance Council” staged protests against flying on Sundays and other religious holidays such as Easter. Not surprisingly, the air-races brought a string of accidents. These culminated in the Whitsun weekend of June 1927 which saw the deaths of three pilots.
One aircraft crashed during take off. Two more crashed in flames after colliding as they roared around a marker pylon. All air-racing was stopped after that meeting. The company that owned the site went into liquidation and by 1932 the racecourse/aerodrome was being redeveloped for housing. Today there is no trace of the spectacle and excitement that gripped thousands in the roaring twenties.
Seconds later, this aircraft will suffer the final fatal crash in the airfields short history.
Ironically the original airfield at Talbot Village briefly got a new lease of life during the Second World War. In May and June 1944 it was used as a base for the small single-engined Piper Cubs of the US Army Liason unit. After D-Day they left to provide reconnaissance and liaison support for the Allied armies advancing into Europe.
The air race course.
* Pictures courtesy of Flight Collection and Bournemouth Library