Re: Interwar Emergency Landing Grounds around London & the Southeast
Thanks Simon, that excellent. I appreciate you transcribe that for me.
FWIW, the link is the December 2017 newsletter of the 'Friends of Streatham Common', which states:
Landing On Streatham Common
Just imagine our common becoming a landing strip. Farfetched you might think. Yet out of the blue during the late 1920s it was officially announced that Streatham Common was to be designated as an aircraft landing ground. This was soon made clear when official notice boards began appearing around the common. These carried the stark warning that the ground behind may be used as an ‘Emergency Landing Ground’.
All this began on the 10th May 1927. Not a day of any particular note, but two years after the formation by the Air Ministry of a new command, the Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB). This new command was created to defend the country against aerial attack, and was initially placed under the command of Air Vice Marshall, Sir John Salmond. In early 1927, the commanding officer of the ADGB made a formal request to the London County Council, the body responsible for a number of large open spaces dotted around London. The request was for certain facilities to be made available for the emergency landing of aircraft upon their open spaces.
This had become necessary as the Royal Air Force was developing its tactics for aerial combat and defence, which entailed the carrying out of various air exercises over England, particularly in the South East. As to be expected during these early years of flight, there was the likelihood of aircraft engine failure over built-up areas such as London. This would see the possibility of aircraft making forced landings. It was therefore essential that the Air Force had designated landing places, particularly in London, as mentioned in the ADGB request.
In response, the London County Council soon agreed that notice boards would be erected on Streatham Common to indicate the boundary of the designated landing area. On these it would state that the ground is liable to be used by air defence aircraft during the hours of darkness, and that when the flares are lit, it would be very dangerous for the public to proceed beyond the notice boards. ADGB would make all the arrangements and supply personnel during air exercises, and that the council would be duly notified.
Exercises apart, it was not unknown for aircraft to make emergency landings on open spaces and Streatham Common was no exception. The drama of a plane landing on the common unfolded in early November 1933 when Pilot Officer Finlay, on returning from the Royal Air Force base at Hawkinge, Kent to the air base at Northolt, Middlesex, experienced engine trouble on approaching the Streatham area. Left with little choice he had to make an emergency landing, and seeing the green open space ahead made his descent towards Streatham Common. As Finlay recounted, the common was ‘sprinkled with people’ which terrified him as he brought his plane down, during which he had to ‘swerve’ to avoid hitting a woman pushing a pram. Fortunately he landed unhurt, although his propeller had caught the ground flipping the plane over and damaging the wings and the undercarriage.
Perhaps more like a Biggles adventure is the story of a pilot who landed his Gypsy Moth on Clapham Common, and who had the nerve to taxi his plane to a nearby garage to refuel before calmly taking off. Another flying adventure took place in 1936, when a banner-towing Avro biplane landed, without the banner, in the grounds of an asylum by Wandsworth Common. Not to be outdone, nearby Tooting Bec Common can claim a further soft landing, when the pilot of another Avro carried out a dead stick landing after losing all power.
Returning to Streatham Common, one flying enthusiast decided to pace out the landing strip, which probably stretched across the lower part of the common on a north-south axis, and made the length some 400 yards. Yet, despite all the planning and anticipation, there appears to be no record of any landing taking place on the common during any of the aerial exercises by the Royal Air Force over London. Perhaps it was not as suitable as the flatter and larger commons of Clapham, Tooting Bec, Wandsworth and Mitcham.
The ADGB scheme was rather flawed from the start because it required that the local authority be given sufficient time to light flares across the common in anticipation of an emergency landing. This and the improved designs of fighter and bomber aircraft, plus the construction of purposebuilt airfields around London, such as Biggin Hill and Kenley, signalled the end of the scheme. In 1936 the ADGB command was replaced by the familiar names of Bomber Command and Fighter Command.
From 1936 the warning boards dotted around the common gradually disappeared. Once out of sight the ‘airstrip’ became only a memory to those who knew and frequented the common. Little did people know at the time that such signage was to be a forerunner of things to come. When war came in September 1939, Streatham Common again found itself serving the national interest and subject to the vagaries of war. For one pilot the common was a godsend when he had to make an emergency landing here during the hectic weeks of the Battle of Britain in 1940. Meanwhile, allotments had appeared on the upper slopes and a balloon battery occupied some of the lower area, along with air shelters sited nearby. Breaking the openness of the common rows of prefabricated houses were built along two sides of the common, and it was not to be until the late 1950s, that the free movement of users over all the common was fully regained.
41 (F) Squadron RAF at War and Peace, April 1916-March 1946