By kind permission of John King, Author
It was almost certainly in response to the Gotha raids that an Emergency Landing Ground (ELG) for the use of a Home Defence squadron of the Royal Flying Corps was opened at Grove Park that summer. It was actually located across the Bromley boundary, although it was generally known as the Grove Park Aerodrome. It consisted of 51 acres on the top of Powster’s Hill which rose above the Searchlight station, and lay about half a mile to the south of the railway station and west of Burnt Ash Lane. A nursery separated the landing area from the main road. The area was later covered by a small reservoir, Westminster School’s playing fields and houses.
The Emergency Landing Ground was prepared by soldiers of the Canadian Forestry Corps, who had arrived in Britain the previous year with a remit of clearing areas of forest and woodland in order to produce timber as the traditional overseas supplies had been disrupted by the war. The Canadians did a lot of valuable work for the RFC by clearing sites for new aerodromes of which Grove Park was just one. Certainly the clearance of the trees on Powster’s Hill provided a useful supply of logs for local residents, although sometimes one of the young Fawcitt boys who lived in the Mews behind Baring Hall Hotel would be told to ‘clear off’ when the Canadians were about to blow up a tree at the roots.
The ELG became operational on 1 July 1917. It included two wooden sheds which accommodated aviation fuel and two or three aircraftmen who were necessary to re-start the engine of any aircraft landing there by swinging the prop. No aircraft was based at Grove Park which was a satellite of Sutton’s Farm near Hornchurch in Essex, the home of 39 Squadron — one of the busiest home defence units. The aircraft which landed at Grove Park were mainly Bristol Fighters, Avro 504s and Sopwith Camels but occasionally there were RE8s and once a Pusher FE2B.
There were occasional ‘emergency’ landings but more often they were ‘cross-country’ or perhaps just social. Sometimes the ELG was used by raw pilots for routine ‘circuits and bumps’ away from the critical eyes of instructors or squadron leaders. The military authorities designated Grove Park as a Class 2 Landing Ground (Unlit).
The next raid on London by Gothas was on Saturday 7 July. It was almost certainly this raid that was witnessed by the young Steve Clark of Butterfield Dairy. From Southbrook Road he witnessed what he thought at first were birds until he was told they were Gothas, thirty to forty of them. He later recalled the time was about 11 30 by which time they were probably returning after disgorging their bombs on the East End where over fifty people were killed. The number of Gothas was probably only about twenty at this stage, but it was difficult to make an accurate count as machines of the RFC and Royal Naval Air Service were challenging them, albeit unsuccessfully. Whether Big Bertha had any influence on the progress of the Gothas is not clear, but Steve later recalled that when it went off, it scattered the Gothas like flies.
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