Portion of the cover of a John Stroud book and the magazine with the memories articleJohn Stroud's Hatfield memories

Reproduced below is an article that first appeared in the December 1975 edition of Air Pictorial – a monthly aviation publication (later incorporated into Aviation News). It was written by John Stroud, a childhood Hatfield resident who became a lifelong aviation expert.

Click here for the John Stroud aviation feature


A big Thank You to Paul Hamblin, group editor in chief of Key Publishing, which owned Air Pictorial and publishes a number of aviation books and magazines, including Aviation News and FlyPast, for permission to reproduce the article.

Please note: the article is reproduced in full and in the style it was written. However, photographs in the original article are not included as copyright ownership is not clear in all cases. Text in square brackets and the box has been added for clarification / further information.


Hatfield memories

My interest in aviation was first aroused in about 1927 or 1928 – not by Lindbergh's flight, although I remember metal models of the "Spirit of St Louis" being on sale, but as a result of seeing a friend's copy of Meccano Magazine and the extremely good paper kits produced by William Appleby in the old Airship Development Company's shed just north of Newcastle. At that time I was living near Tooting Bec Common and the beacon at Croydon could be seen just outside our front gate.

Chance plays such a major part in life in spite of all the accent on planning, and I was to embark on a career in aviation by chance in the form of my parents' decision to move to Hatfield, where we arrived in the early summer of 1929. At that time there was no aerodrome at Hatfield but aircraft were seen frequently overhead.

One blustery day a dark blue Cirrus Moth was giving joyrides from a farm very close to the present Hawker Siddeley factory [originally de Havilland, and ultimately British Aerospace], another Cirrus Moth also visited a farm nearby, and to strengthen my interest there was of course that year the Schneider Trophy contest. There were the first flights of the big rigid airships R 100 and R 101 and I saw both of them pass over on their first flights to London. By the time the R 100 flew over I must have become known for my aviation interest because the whole school was turned out to see it and the headmaster asked me to explain why there was a line hanging from it.

The big event, although it seemed small at the time, was the landing of a Puss Moth on a farm one dull evening during the winter of 1929-30. This was in fact the arrival of Clem Pike when de Havilland was searching for a site for an aerodrome to relieve and ultimately replace Stag Lane. The farmer's name was, I believe, Hill and his land became the original 150-acre Hatfield aerodrome.


D.H. move in

My next visit to the site must have been in about May or June 1930. The steel work was going up for the first hangars which backed on to the Barnet By-pass and I had a close up view of the silver Gipsy Moth G-AASL landing off a tight curving approach. I think that one of the de Havilland School of Flying red and silver Moths was there too.

The original aerodrome was divided into two parts. The landing area was the northern part and it was separated from the southern area, which sloped downwards from the hangars, by a ditch containing a stream. Initially, the ditch was filled in at its western end but it was some time before this obstacle was finally removed and I once saw a Moth sitting with its wheels in the stream while its lower wings formed a bridge. The first buildings were a five-bay hangar, a "club-house", and offices and, later, on an island site, a small office building with a fuel pump at each corner.

The entrance to the aerodrome was via a narrow lane which ran from the Barnet By-pass and along the eastern boundary to reach the farm. Beside the lane and opposite the aerodrome gate were a couple of cottages, one of which was occupied by the D.H. policeman – Tom Sayers, I believe. Beside the lane and beyond the "club-house" was a sheep fenced public enclosure in which I spent many hours when my efforts to get right in failed.

From June 1930 the School was functioning at Hatfield with a fleet of Gipsy Moths for civil and general pupils and D.H.9Js for R.A.F Reserve annual refresher courses. The Moths were G-AACU, G-AAEO, G-AAFS, G-AAKM, G-AAYG and G-AAYJ. G-ABCH, G-ABHN and G-ABNE came later. The 9Js, which had red fuselages, wheels and struts, and goldish wings and tails, were G-EAAC, G-EBEZ, G-EBFQ, G-EBGT, G-EBTN and G-AASC. G-ABPG was a later addition, built by students of the D.H. Technical School. The others were D.H.9s which had been modified and fitted with Jaguar engines taken from Imperial Airways' first batch of Argosies. I can still remember the sound of those Jaguars and in particular the sound of G-EBTN which made a singing noise all of its own. G-EAAC was of special interest, having been the Aircraft Transport and Travel D.H.9 K109 (H9277) which Jerry Shaw flew from Hendon to Le Bourget on 15th July 1919, with the first charter passenger when international civil flights were allowed in connection with the Peace Celebrations. On occasions A.S.T.'s D.H.9Js G-AARR, 'RS and 'RT paid visits to Hatfield – my impression is that they were painted grey at that time. A.S.T.'s Atlases G-ABHV, 'HX and 'OO were also visitors.

One day I stopped one of the pilots as he left the aerodrome and asked him: "When you put the stick to the left which aileron goes up?" [an aileron is the moving part of the wing, on the side closest to the tail] He couldn't tell me but suggested that next day I should see for myself. So for the first time I actually sat in an aeroplane and tried the controls – it was the Moth G-AACU.

The chief flying instructor in those days was F/Lt R. W. (Bob) Reeve, and his staff comprised G. M. Cox, E. Fulford, R. L. Palmer and Clem Pike. Rivers Oldmeadow was ground instructor. Most of the staff, especially Reeve, were very kind to me and after a while gave me fairly free access to the aerodrome and hangars. Oldmeadow even gave me a ride in his big green Bentley at the time when Bentleys and motor racing were synonymous.


Beware exhaust

The Moths and D.H.9Js were normally lined up facing into the wind and none had brakes. I used to be allowed to put the chocks in (remember the knot is on the outside if you ever want to get them out again) [chocks were basically large triangular blocks of wood, which would be wedged under the wheels], remove them and hang on to the wingtips to swing the aircraft out of line – hanging on to a Jaguar-engined D.H.9 is no easy task for a boy of eleven or twelve! I used to help push the aircraft in and out the hangars and on one great day I was allowed to ride back from the fuel pumps in the rear cockpit of a 9J – I have no record but would like to think it was G-EAAC. As far as I can remember, only one other boy at school was interested in flying (such an interest was then regarded as a form of madness). He was Dick Walby and he had a rather substantial undercarriage. One day he rode back from the pumps in a DH.9J and to get out swung both legs over the side and and right on to the exhaust pipe – he was wearing shorts, and if he reads this I am sure it will bring back happy memories!

In those early Hatfield days many of the visiting aircraft were club Moths – Cirrus and Gipsy [refers to the types of engine] – including those of the London Aeroplane Club (yellow and silver), Midland Aero Club (green and silver), Cinque Ports Flying Club (white with zig-zag fuselage bands of brown and blue) and Herts and Essex Aero Club (brown and orange). The Brooklands School of Flying's dark blue and red Moths used to appear, also the orange and black Moths and Desoutters of National Flying Services. I remember all gold Moths belonging to Shell and the green, red and gold Sports Avians G-ABIB and G-ABIM of Shell-Mex. I saw a vast collection of Moths including Amy Johnson's "Jason", G-AAAH, which flew over shortly before her Australia flight.

During those Hatfield years I kept few notes of dates and events but did begin compiling a register (you couldn't go out and buy one in those days even if you did have the money). So I have notes on aircraft seen and frequently their colours, but in most cases no record of when I saw them. But there was a great variety.

A day I do remember was in April 1931 when the Royal Iraq Air Force took off from Hatfield. I do mean the air force, the whole of it, because it comprised five immaculate silver Gipsy Moths and one Puss Moth, all wearing the new red, white, green and black air force markings. The Puss Moth was for the use of H.M. King Faisal. Three Siskins of No.41 Squadron came to Hatfield for the occasion and, after the departure of the Iraqis, tried to make their own. The first Siskin taxied across the recently filled-in ditch and promptly got bogged. A team with shovels and other forms of aid was at work by the time the second aircraft reached the site and it too got bogged. The third Siskin took a different route and got airborne.

Late in 1931 or very early in 1932 I saw the departure of the Egyptian Air Force's first Moths and I remember two Puss Moths destined for Yugoslavia; they were UN-PAY and UN-PAX.

There was also air activity which had nothing to do with Hatfield. On nine occasions I saw the R 101, including its last flight when it passed overhead in heavy rain and battling against the wind – it was very noisy and its vibration made the doors in the house rattle long before it came into sight. I also saw the R 100 on a couple of its flights and the "Graf Zeppelin" twice.


Permanently inverted

Participants in the R.A.F. Hendon displays were to be seen including, I remember, a large formation of Fairey IIIFs and Foxes. On a later occasion there were the C.F.S. [Central Flying School] Avro Tutors with their red-striped upper wings, the leader being upside down the whole time they were in sight. Avro 504s and Bristol Fighters were common and during the Air Exercises there was that lovely sound of the Lions in the Virginias and Hyderabads. Among the overfliers I remember was one of the early Cierva Autogiros – I think one of the C.8s. One day a Bulldog beat up our school ['beat up' in aviation terms is to make a low – or series of – passes overhead] and the Gloster S.S.18 flew over our playing field. Parachute-training Vimys were common and all the [Handley Page] Hannibals and Heracles appeared in the distance as they made their test flights from Radlett. On occasions Major Savage's S.E.5s skywrote "Persil" and other such words across a clear blue sky. On a visit to St Albans one day I actually saw the old Handley Page W.8b G-EBBI "Prince Henry".

Part of a film called "The Flying Fool" was made at Hatfield and one night during these preceedings I saw from bedroom window a Handley Page Hinaldi land by the light of its Holt wingtip flares. Virginias used to drop in sometimes so that their crews could use the swimming pool, after which they draped their swimming things and towels around the rear gun position to dry.

Rare Hatfield visitors (once as far as I know) were the Hawk Moth G-AAUZ (I was luckily told it was coming) and the one and only Swallow Moth. No-one was allowed near the Swallow Moth, it was secret, so secret that D.H.'s never took a photograph of it. There was a visit by a group of French Morane-Saulnier Moths and a Fiat monoplane, and once Mrs Victor Bruce's silver and red checked Miles Satyr G-ABVG came in to spend the night. The US Naval Attache kept his Puss Moth at Hatfield and in a corner of the hangars Rivers Oldmeadow had the skeleton of a Wolsley-powered S.E.5. The Granger Archaeopteryx tailless monoplane visited Hatfield at least twice and I once saw the de Havilland-built Cierva C.24 in the circuit [route used by pilots to lose height and line up with the runway when coming in to land].

At times the flying was intensive and went on until last light, and after I had started work it was very pleasant to go to the aerodrome and sit on a pile of chocks and do the timekeeping after a very hot day in London.

There were accidents, some funny, one quite serious and one fatal. Once someone succeeded in pulling the engine out of a 9J when he hit a roller. Less amusing was when, on the 16th October 1932, I saw D.H.9J G-EBGT spin into the ground and I well remember the silence after it hit and the dust and crows rising from the scene. A fatal accident on 18th June 1931 involved the deaths of Miss Sicele O'Brien and Mrs. E. G. Gallien in the Bluebird III G-AABF which crashed just after take-off and burned out. I still have the only piece of fabric to survive, that from the port elevator, and once had a cylinder from its 80-h.p Genet engine – both, I must add, taken after it was on the scrap heap behind the hangars.

I well remember the arrival of the first brand-new Tiger Moth for the School and also the last day on which the 9Js were in use. They all seemed to be in the air together and their pilots flew them as they had probably never been flown before; it was an exciting occasion but nothing got broken. Also well remembered was the Hart G-ABMR which was a regular visitor and I think it was from this that I saw John Tranum make a practice jump before his delayed-drop record.

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