To the north of the B3054 lies the remains of the WWII airfield of RAF Beaulieu, but to the south you can still find evidence of a WWI aerodrome at East Boldre, the original RAF Beaulieu.
On Sunday 1 May, 1910, a large crowd of people came to East Boldre to watch a flying display by William McArdle and J. Armstrong-Drexel, who were flying two Bleriot monoplanes.
Despite refusal from the Office of Woods, they had 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; creating the second flying school to be opened in the UK, (the first being at Leysdown on the Isle of Sheppey). There a some photographs in circulation from this period of the early planes resting on local chimney stacks.
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). 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 Officer’s Mess (which is now the village hall), were built in the village during 1915. By 1917, 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. 84 Squadron still exists and still considers itself to be a Beaulieu Squadron.
Until 27 July 1918 the function of the site was a Training Squadron Station. After this date its function was listed as a Training Depot Station and School, RAF; specifically, No. 29 Training Depot Station. The camp was closed in 1919 and most of the buildings were removed.
Few photographs are in circulation of the WWI airfield. However a recent donations to the East Boldre Village Hall Society of WWI period photos shed new light on this airbase. You can read more about the history of the Flying school and RFC Beaulieu in the Local History section of the East Boldre website.
Two new collections that can be seen on New Forest Knowledge:
- Arthur George Simmons – Two photo albums date from 1917 to around 1920 and hold some personal family photos as well as images for such places as East Boldre (RAF Beaulieu) airfield, Lymington, the No.1 New Zealand Hospital in Brockenhurst, the aerodrome at West Blatchington and a number of crashed aircraft to name just a few.
- Corporal Gordon Tucker – A mechanic at Beaulieu, Hounslow and Wye Aerodromes between 1916 and 1919.
- Corporal Gordon’s full diary transcript can be read here: Memories of the Royal Flying Corps years and early days of the Royal Air Force – Corporal Gordon Tucker
Karl Gosling a gaming student at Bournemouth University has been working to model some of East Boldre Airfield, find out more about his work and results here: Modelling East Boldre Airfield – Beaulieu Training Depot Station
Alongside the officer’s mess which survives as the East Boldre Village Hall you can also find other echoes of the areas flying past including the: Beaulieu Letters