June 2019

Town’s former airfield marked with commemorative plaque

The strategic importance of a former airfield that once occupied the present-day site of Withernsea High School has been recognised thanks to the work of a national charity.

The Airfields of Britain Conversation Trust (ABCT) aims to honour historical sites, particularly those which may not be quite as well-known, by erecting memorials at disused airfields in an effort to raise their profile and help celebrate an important part of British aviation history.

Officially opened in February 1917, Owthorne airfield was initially classed as a Third Class Night Landing Ground. By the time of its closure just over two years later, it had been upgraded to an aerodrome complete with timber and canvas Bessonneau aircraft hangers which housed a fleet of Airco DH.9 aircraft.

Despite its relatively short operational life, the airfield helped to play a part in the winning of World War One by first acting as a Home Defence landing ground for fighters and later as an aerodrome for anti-submarine patrol aircraft.

In June 1919, Owthorne airfield closed when its final Flight (No 506) left for disbandment at Killingholme in North Lincolnshire.

Now, exactly 100 years later, a commemorative plaque has been installed at the school to mark the site’s unique history as part of the ABCT’s scheme to honour Britain’s World War One home defence fighter flight stations and landing grounds.

To date, over 127 such plaques have been installed at various sites around the country with the charity aiming to erect 400 markers by 2030.

Kenneth Bannerman, a trustee and founder of the ABCT charity, commented: ‘Owthorne airfield, along with countless others in Britain at the time, helped to stop the aerial bombing threat and also prevent Germany’s U-boat fleet from potentially forcing Britain in to surrender.

Although Owthorne airfield is not entirely undocumented, information regarding it is scarce. Therefore, our plaque scheme epitomises how crucial it is to record and preserve a less obvious aspect of British history for future generations. Our commemorative plaque will play a big part in this and I am grateful to Withernsea High School for their support in allowing us to mark the strategic importance of this site.’

School Media Coordinator Tim Nuttall commented: ‘I would like to thank Mr Bannerman and the ABCT for helping us to recognise a unique and interesting piece of local history. It is particularly fitting that the plaque should be installed exactly 100 years to the month that the final flight left Owthorne. The plaque is already generating great interest amongst staff and students alike, which highlights the importance of the ABCT’s work in celebrating our past for the benefit of future generations.’  

Over 100 years ago and students of the time also appeared to show an interest in the airfield. Four months before the airfield became officially operational, school records show that great excitement was generated by the landing of a single-seater Army biplane on the field next to the school.

Courtesy of an entry in the 1978 ‘Withernsea and its Schools’ centenary booklet, a record of a plane landing on the field on Tuesday 21st November 1916 captures the moment that the Headteacher, Mr Durrant, reported that staff and students were allowed to inspect the plane closely; ‘without interfering with the men in charge’.

First-hand accounts of the event, also captured in the centenary booklet, recall how Mr Durrant informed the students that it ‘might be their only chance of seeing an aeroplane’ with another recalling how they were all reluctant to leave it! Little did they know that aircraft landings were soon to become a regular occurrence, at least for a little while.

Shortly after the closure of the airfield, records also show the school’s determination to secure some of its land for outdoor games and sports use. This was a successful endeavour, the legacy of which lives on for present day students. 

Related Link:
Owthorne's entry on the ABCT website.

ABOVE: Owthorne airfield remembered at the High School.


ABOVE: In 1918, the airfield occupied the land highlighted in red in the graphic above.

ABOVE: An Airco DH.9 aircraft - the type that was based at the airfield.