Page Updated:- Sunday, 07 March, 2021.

Published 23 August 2001


First flight
LOCAL aviation historian and author Roy Humphreys greatly admired his Aunt Beattie who first came to public attention when she won a local dance competition.

He says he was too young to appreciate her extraordinary beauty but he recalled her streak of determination, as demonstrated when she one day insisted, "much to Uncle Arthur's vehement protestations at breakfast, that she would fly that day."

The accommodation at St Mary's Bay Holiday Camp, formerly the Royal Flying Corps domestic camp site, was welcoming enough, recalls Roy, in a bare, uncomplicated sense, but the sheets always seemed to smell of tobacco!

"Summer holidays on this part of the Kent coast suffer from either a full glaring sun or a dense fog reluctant to shift its cloying embrace for hours on end.

"The whole landscape usually had its head and sometimes its knees in the mists."

At dawn this particular morning the North Downs had vanished in low cloud and "the deserted beach was an ugly mass of standing waves.

"A middle-aged man dressed in a shabby military style raincoat stood beside his old war-surplus Avro 504 biplane in the steady drizzle. He stared, almost unbelievably, at a family walking towards him over Jesson-Littlestone airfield" - it was July 1931.

As the group drew nearer to Chapman, says Roy, his countenance changed to a beam of delight. He wiped castor oil from the wind-
shield and quickly stuffed the cotton waste into his dungaree pocket.

Yesterday's flights had netted One pound 10 shillings (150p) - certainly not enough to keep the wolf from the door, but, on the whole his was a pleasant pastime.

The five shilling (25p) flight hardly covered the cost of petrol and oil, let alone engine maintenance, insurance and the licence fee. But, Roy tells me, many counted themselves lucky to have any job at the time, when there were 2.71 million unemployed.

"The pound was devalued by 10% and this public 'pay cut' led to riots in London and a brief mutiny in the Navy."

Even as Chapman greeted his visitors the mists parted like curtains to reveal the Jesson-Littlestone airfield.

Flying school

"It was here in 1917," says Roy, "that the War office decided to enlarge training facilities at nearby Pelmarsh, where No. 12 (Observer's) School - almost opposite the old Grand Redoubt Fort, had become congested with pupils under instruction.

"The new hutted complex at Jesson Farm, St Mary's Bay, just off the A259, was due for completion by December 1918."

It had a guardroom, post office, church, regimental club, water tower and electric generator, sprawled over 30 acres of reclaimed marsh land liable to flooding.

It was estimated over 400 officers, 1,000 rank and file and 300 NCOs, plus 400 women would be accommodated in huts. Suggested output from the base was 400 trained men.
who eventually flew Avro 504s, Sopwith two seaters, Armstrong Whitworth 90s and Bristol Fighters.

As each course reached its zenith pupils, with their new brevet sewn onto their jacket, were given a great send-off at a concert.

"Chapman shouted 'Switches on - Contact' and a local youth pulled down on the wooden propeller. The rotary Gnome engine gave a cough but they tried several times before it reluctantly spluttered into life with a puff of blue smoke.

"Aunt Beattie gave a girlish giggle as she hoisted her frock and climbed into the cockpit, tucking silk-clad knees under her chin."

But the youthful Roy Humphreys was more
interested in why the plane's tail skid was tied up with string! A few minutes later the biplane was bouncing over the grass and was airborne. Chapman, an experienced pilot, had flown at Jesson in 1918. Later he had bought a small ex-RFC hut in Jesson Lane.

With an excited but apprehensive passenger in the front he restricted his height to about 1,000 ft, giving her a chance to view the unique Marsh churches before landing.

"Aunt Beattie's flushed face, either a result of her exhilarating experience or the Marilyn Monroe frock-billowing draught through the floor was an ironic commentary on human endeavour and her escape from mundane banality," comments her nephew.
THIS week's Memories feature is based on an article written by Roy Humphreys, of Hawkinge, a keen writer on aviation history. It is based on an old diary he found which mentions his Aunt Beattie. He contacted me over his difficulty in obtaining a suitable illustration of Littlestone or Jesson airfield which was once an emergency landing ground for nearby Lympne Airport. Here 70 years ago short flights used to be on offer for a modest five shillings (25p) from a strip where a little biplane would land on a carpet of ox-eye daisies and buttercups and taxi towards a wooden office, close to the light railway platform, flying a tattered windsock.

Attempted murder case scandal at Dymchurch

| THERE was rare drama at Dymchurch.

A brickmaker was charged with the attempted murder of Alice Young. The case was held over for a week to see how the girl's health progressed. The Herald made much of the fact that a member of the Town Council ran his own “newspaper sheet" and persistently reported in his "paper" some of the private proceedings of council committees, which the established newspapers were debarred from attending, let alone report. The matter came to a head when another councillor gave notice he too would leak information to any interested journalist if this was allowed to continue. Under the headline of "Honour to a Khaki Hero over the Hills" the Herald reported how proud the community of Acrise, Arpinge and Paddlesworth was of Trooper John Hogben. He served 16 months at the front in the Boer War and they made a collection and presented him with a gold half-hunter watch inscribed ''Presented to John Hogben, 33rd Imperial Yeomanry, by neighbours in recognition of his patriotic services in the South African War, 1900-1."

Venetian Fete attracts a record 30,000 crowd

*1 QC1 AN ESTIMATED 30.000 strong crowd •L73J> watched the brilliant spectacle of the biggest ever Hythe Venetian Fete on the Royal Military Canal. A spec ill Ic.ituru was the barges accommodating representatives of the old port's sister Ports, Ancient Towns and Limbs of the Cinque Ports, all in their colourful regalia with mace bearers and manv m.itnr* from East Kent. At least 27 buses were involved in taking visitors to and from the event. In one mishap, which caused concern, the principal figure on G. & A. Clark (the nurserymen) tableau, ''An Old English Garden” Miss Betty Warren. 20, of Dover, wearing a colourful floral crinoline, took an invulunt>iry dip in the Canal as the float listed badly just as it went by the judges. But she was unhurt. The float earned a highly commended award, nevertheless. Dover Road School staff and pupils were saddened by the sudden death on holiday of the headmaster William Blackburn, who was 58. The highly successful event gave a major boost to Hythe Old People's Welfare Fund. Rough seas caused three postponements of the International cross-Channel swim race but a rocord 18 swimmers completed the swim from Cap Gris Nez, Grimsby girl Brenda Fisher beating the women's record.
VIPs back fund-raising for bigger fishermen’s bethel

ft Qrt/J VISCOUNTESS Folkestone accompanied by J.9^0Lord Folkestone, opened a two-day Folkestone Fishermen s Institute bazaar at the Town Hall in aid of an extension to the Fishermen's Bethel at The Stade. The old bi thrl was only what was described as a small coffee bar. The plan was to extend into an adjoining property so that it could be used for reading refreshments, billiards, smoking and there were to be bathrooms. St.iilholdurs included Mr Major, who, before retirement, was 20 years coxswain of the Folkestone lifeboat. Music came from the Men's Brotherhood orchestra. The Duke of York, Colonel-in-Chir.f of the 11th Hussars spent the weekend at Shorncliffe to keep a number of engagements, Including a visit to the polo ground at Folkestone to watch an 11th Hussars polo match, and also rode to Shorncliffe garrison Church for a church parade. The Herald told of the day Chancellor Lloyd George, who was staying at Beachborough. near Folkestone, joined in a badger dig, along with his son and daughter. “The Chancellor and his family grew more and more excited until the Master in a twinkling, tailed the nearest badger," it said. It is with some disgust that I wonder what exactly was meant by the presentation to Mrs Lloyd George, of the poor badger.
Rowers bring back trophy from Eastbourne regatta

>f Ck7C FOLKESTONE Rowing Club's senior pair was JL7 * Owell placed to win at Eastbourne Regatta until they were Involved in a collision under the pier with a boat load of holidaymakers, yet still they managed to take second place. There efforts and a spirited run by the senior four, who came from behind, in a field of 14. to win their event, helped the visiting club to grab some of the honours, bringing home the aggregate cup. Also among the top honours were the junior four, who came up from fifth place to win their race four two lengths, and junior sculler Chris Berry, who led his race from start to finish. The Revd Charles Ridsdale's St Peter's Church flock collected 100 to send him on a long holiday to restore his health after the persecution he suffered over "ritual pr jcticus" which are sometimes referred to in Anglican circlos as "high church." St Peter's first vitjr. In- continued as vicar until 1923. Organisers of a charity fund to raise money for a St John Ambulance Brigade mobile first aid unit had a shock when they were presented with a rates bill for over 250. It came after they sold goods from a shop in Sandgate Road. The organisers' leader said she had run charity shops before but it was the first time rates had been charged. The council's hands were tied by the law. but the amount of the bill would be reviewed in view of the fact only part of the premises were use

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