Long-gone Marsham airfield, home of early aviators, is to be marked with a memorial
Copyright: Archant 2017
They were the early days of aviation, when brave young men took to the skies in flimsy machines and fought for freedom on a wing and prayer.
And now, an often overlooked chapter in our region’s airborne history is to be remembered with a new memorial plaque.
The monument, behind All Saints Church in Marsham, near Aylsham, marks a relief landing grounding that was used by the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War.
Lesley Willcocks, a village resident and parish councillor who led the project, said she was delighted that the airfield, known as ‘The Whites’ in 1915 and 1916, would finally get the recognition it deserved.
She said: “I think those pioneers really did pave the way for the Royal Air Force as we know it.
“They were only here for a couple of years practicing their landings and things like that. Then they went off to the front line, where their life expectancy was very short.
“But if it wasn’t for their bravery back then, we wouldn’t have the air force we have today.”
Mrs Willcocks said the field was used by 18 Squadron, whose pilots flew Vickers FB 5 Gunbus fighters, which were issued to them at Mousehold Heath.
Marsham later became a home defence night landing ground for 51 (HD) Squadron.
This squadron was formed at Thetford in May, 1916, and was equipped with Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2s, another biplane.
The responsibilities of the squadron were home defence and training pilots for night flying.
Mrs Willcocks said the night landing ground would have been manned by a handful of airmen, lodging in tents, with a minimum of ground equipment. Marsham was closed in October, 1916, and its role was taken up by Saxthorpe.
The plaque cost about £1,200 and was paid for by donations from residents and businesses.
Mrs Willcocks said: “I’d seen one unveiled in Haveringland, so we thought, why not have one in Marsham? Something went on here so it needs to be commemorated.”
The plaque will be officially unveiled at a ceremony on March 22 at 2.30pm by Veterans Norfolk chairman Group Captain Stewart Blackburn, and there are plans to have a flypast by a Tiger Moth biplane.
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