Tales of Lympne: First and Last

Pilot Jean De La Cierva in his Cierva C8 autogyro, 1928 | Photo: Mirrorpix

Submitted to the Folkestone Herald

This month, John Simpson recounts some of Lympne’s “firsts” in aviation history.

And it’s the end of an era since, from September, Lympne Airfield History Society meetings will no longer take place at Lympne Castle.

The world’s first air ambulance

In 1936 the British Red Cross chose Lympne as the official launch airfield for the very first air ambulance.

Amy Johnson was invited to come to Lympne to help christen the General Aircraft Monospar named Florence Nightingale. She was lying on a stretcher and was brought into the plane’s fuselage.

It was the very first aircraft to be built as a full air ambulance and first aid station. It had a simple stretcher loading procedure, which allowed the patient to be placed on the plane without any tilting.

A doctor and nurse and all their equipment and instruments, including an oxygen tent, could be carried and attended to the patient’s needs throughout the flight.

Other Lympne premieres

In 1919 Lympne was one of the first Customs and Excise appointed airfield airfields in the UK capable of customs clearance. The others were Hadleigh in Suffolk, Hounslow Heath in Middlesex and New Holland in Lincolnshire.

At Lympne there was no customs officer present so a telephone call had to be made to the port of Folkestone. Many flyers who attempted to break records in the 1920s and 30s, flying to and from Lympne, used the airfield for this reason as well as its geographical location on the south coast.

The first Frenchman to cross the English Channel and back in one day, flew from Saint Inglevert to Lympne, then returned on May 6, 1923.

The pilot was Georges Barbot in a Dewoitine-made plane with a Clerget engine, taking two hours and 25 minutes. The French newspaper Le Matin has set up a prize of 2500 francs.

The first airmail service was flown by motor glider from Lympne to Hastingleigh on 13 October 1923.

A specially stamped souvenir envelope was airmailed to nearby Hastingleigh, marked ‘Carried by motor glider from Lympne to Hastingleigh’. The charge was franked in 1 and 1/2d on the envelope.

The first gyroplane to cross the English Channel also flew from Lympne to Saint Inglevert on 18 September 1928. The pilot was Jean De La Cierva in a Cierva C8.

The first glider to cross the English Channel flew from Lympne to Saint Inglevert in the Pas de Calais on June 19, 1931. Mr Lissant Beardmore took ninety 90 minutes and was towed at 14,000 feet by a motorized plane piloted by a Mr. Lewis, to create the proper height for the Channel crossing.

The first car to be transported across the English Channel from Lympne to Le Touquet was made on June 13, 1948, when an Armstrong Siddeley Lancaster car belonging to Air Commodore ‘Taffy’ Powell was loaded into a Bristol 170 Freighter G-AGVC owned by Silver City Airways.

The pilot was Captain Ian Cochrane, with engineer Leo ‘Spud’ Murphy and a radio operator. This would become a very successful cross-Channel business venture traveling the 47 miles, carrying two cars at a time, and later three, in the following Superfreighter.

Silver City transferred this operation from Lympne to Lydd Ferryfield in November 1954.

About 35 people attended the May 3 meeting when John Simpson told the story of Lympne legend Bill Davis, who tragically lost his life in Lympne along with three others in March 1938.

The story of that crash is now the subject of an upcoming TV documentary directed by Piers Hernu, the great-nephew of two of the other victims.

On July 5, Rob Beale will tell the story of Westenhanger Aerodrome, which opened in 1909 and predates Lympne Aerodrome. It was also used during World War II.

The July meeting will be the last at Lympne Castle and, at the time of writing, the club are considering where they will meet from September.

For more information about Lympne Airfield History Society call 01303 265078 or email [email protected]

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