Flying High with the Horti

I was delighted to be the instigator of Pat Carty’s visit to Long Marston on 21st April. Though all I did was pass on his email address following the articles about Pat that we produced for our website.

The organisation for the event was carried out by Chris Hodges and his colleagues at the Horti Village Society; all those attending much appreciated the smooth efficiency of the operation, particularly the refreshments provided free of charge at the interval by Horti members.

The marketing of the event was particularly successful. It resulted in the turnout being over a hundred people who packed into Victory Hall, with some standing at the back. When Pat came here before for a similar visit in the mid-nineties, there were less than half that number. The marketing was ably supported by my colleague Oliver Partridge.

Why were so many of us anxious to hear from Pat? It is because of his remarkable research into our local airfield and the activities that took place there, as summarised in his book ‘Secret Squadrons of the Eighth’. However, the success of his presentation was due to more than that; it was to do with his informal presenting style, easy going personality and self-deprecating humour. It was also due to the fact that Pat is nothing like you might expect, no boring academic researcher but instead a former AA man who is interested in aviation and became, by his own admission, obsessed with his hobby of researching the wartime goings on near our villages.

Pat’s interest in the area started when he researched wartime air accidents, and found that there were more than 150 in the vicinity, many of which were connected to our local Airfield.

Soon after he started his presentation, he explained something that has been bugging us Long Marston loyalists for some time. Why did they call it Cheddington or Marsworth Airfield when we have an equal claim? The answer was satisfying; Long Marston was the first choice name but it kept getting confused with Long Marston in Warwickshire. Pride satisfied!

Photo Credit: Nick Atthegrange from the Stewkley, Wing & Cublington History Facebook Group

It is difficult to summarise the wealth of information that came from Pat’s presentation so this report is confined to new knowledge, insights that went beyond what we have previously covered in our articles. These were the highlights:

  • The US Airforce was only offered use of the Airfield after the surrounding area proved too dangerous for the RAF trainees who flew there before
  • Pat referred to some ‘things they don’t talk about’; for instance, we learnt that the bomb on Long Marston School came accidentally from a British plane; we had heard about this previously but only as an unlikely rumour
  • Another thing ‘not talked about’ was the separation of black US Servicemen into different camps
  • We also learnt about various celebrities who visited the camp, like actor James Cagney, and General Patten. Also, Elliott Roosevelt, son of the President, was based there.
  • We heard about the many foreign politicians living in exile nearby, for instance General De Gaulle at Ashridge Hospital, and the Czech Prime Minister staying in Wingrave
  • German fighter aircraft, painted in RAF markings, were flown into the Airfield, to increase pilots’ awareness of enemy aircraft.
  • They really did feed pilots a diet of carrots to help their eyesight during night flying
  • The leaflets dropped from planes included instructions to local people on how to make and use explosives.
  • There were also messages to German troops, telling them to surrender (with pornographic pictures on the other side to encourage interest!)
  • Pat was very complimentary about two local men who helped with his research; Harvey Hodgkiss and Arthur Reed. Apparently Arthur had an interesting story about seeing a plane land on the night of the Great Train Robbery which did stretch his credibility!

Towards the end of his presentation, Pat moved on to talk about post war happenings. He mentioned the connections with RAF Halton Hospital where two well-known celebrities of the time – Brian Rix and Cliff Michelmore – worked at Marsworth for a short period in the Airfield’s Halton Hospital detachment.

There was also mention of a national newspaper being issued with a ‘D Notice’ by the Authorities, after Pat asked them to probe further following a TV programme – World in Action’ – which alleged that the CIA’s largest arms dump was at Cheddington.

Pat finished by talking about the reunion and memorial event in 1982, when his remarkable ability to persuade people to help resulted in a fitting tribute to the men who served there. He organised a flypast of some fifteen aircraft, which included a Phantom Jet Fighter which caused Long Marston School to think that an earthquake had arrived; there was also a WWII Piper Cub which flew at low level, dropping leaflets onto the memorial with the names of those who had died.

All the feedback on the night and subsequently has confirmed that Pat Carty’s visit was a major success. As Chris Hodges mentioned in his justified vote of thanks afterwards, Pat was entertaining us free of charge. Pat immediately expressed some doubt about this, a final example of his great sense of humour. We all laughed except Chris whose leg had been pulled once again!

By Alan Warner

One Comment “Flying High with the Horti”

  • Mike Buckle

    says:

    Cheddington was first airfield

    Cheddington WW1 Airfield

    In 1917, the 39 (Home Defence)Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps were used a military landing ground at Cheddington. The location was West of the Grand Union Canal, in the area South of Cheddington, SouthWest of Great Seabrook and West of Pitstone. In other words either very close to if not part of the later WW2 Airfield. It was used as ‘Day’ and ‘Night’ landing ground it seems, but only from March to October in 1917 for some reasons.

    The aircrafts were the B.E.2 and B.E.12 types, (B.E. stood for Blériot Experimental)

    The Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2 was a British single-engine tractor two-seat biplane which was in service with the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) from 1912 until the end of World War I. Being an early design, the first models used wing warping. Ailerons were used on later models.

    About 3,200 were built. Initially used as front-line reconnaissance aircraft and light bombers; variants of the type were also used as night fighters. Like many warplanes since, the B.E.2 was retained in front line service after it had become obsolete, for want of a suitable replacement. After its belated withdrawal it finally served as a trainer, communications aircraft and on anti-submarine coastal patrol duties.

    The B.E.2 was not suited to air-to-air combat but it had a relatively low accident rate, and its notorious stability actually proved helpful in its artillery observation and aerial photography duties.

    As early as 1915, the B.E.2c entered service as a pioneer night fighter, being used in attempts to intercept and destroy the German Zeppelin airship raiders. The interceptor version of the B.E.2c was flown as a single-seater with an auxiliary fuel tank on the centre of gravity, in the position of the observer’s seat. After an initial lack of success while using darts and small incendiary bombs to attack airships from above, a Lewis gun was mounted to fire a mixture of explosive and incendiary ammunition upwards, at an angle of 45°, to attack the airship from below.

    The new tactic proved very effective. On the night of 2–3 September 1916, a B.E.2c downed the SL 11, the first German airship to be shot down over Britain after over a year of night raids. This won the pilot, Captain William Leefe Robinson, a Victoria Cross and cash prizes totalling £3,500 put up by a number of individuals.

    This was not an isolated victory: five more German airships were destroyed by Home Defence B.E.2c interceptors between October and December 1916.

    The B.E.12 was essentially a B.E.2c with the front (observer’s) cockpit replaced by a large fuel tank, and the 90 hp RAF 1 engine of the standard B.E.2c replaced by the new 150 hp. Aviation historians once considered the type a failed attempt to create a fighter aircraft based on the B.E.2 – that was improvised and rushed into service to meet the Fokker threat, it was considered a good idea, but by the time it entered service it was something of a compromise.

    Mike Buckle

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