Tydd St Mary Landing Ground

Background

Fifty four air raids were made in England by gigantic 700ft hydrogen filled zeppelin airships of the German Navy in the Great War of 1914-1918. Eleven of these air raids made incursions into fenland airspace where they faced Royal Flying Corps aeroplanes from No.38 and No.51 Squadrons, operating from grass fields at Surfleet Fen and Tydd St Mary, Lincolnshire (Goodrum 2010). The fens and midlands witnessed a great deal more conflict then is generally appreciated (Goodrum 2005, 40). January 31st 1916, nine naval zeppelins were en-route to bomb the industrial factories in Liverpool but due to bad weather and navigational errors they flew too far south (Goodrum 2005, 30) ending up in East Anglia. That evening fenland skies throbbed to the sound of aircraft engines, uncertainly and blindly dropping bombs (Goodrum 2005, 31). A total of sixty-one people were killed that night, the horror of war from the air was suddenly brought home. This raid was considered a significant turning point in the regions and nations awareness of war and indeed the strength of air power. As a direct consequence of this horrific night, 51 Squadron was formed with its headquarters based at Thetford and additional flights based on airfields at Mattishall, Harling Road, Marham, Narborough and Tydd St Mary(Goodrum 2005, 32).

Over the decades following the Great War, the structural remains of the landing ground at Tydd St Mary fell into disrepair and as a consequence no longer exist. Nevertheless, photographs exist taken during the 1980's of the former Royal Flying Corps Flight Office and sheds. During the 1990's photographic recording and building survey was undertaken of the remaining standing structures. After the conflict the landing ground was returned to farming land where over the year's objects relating to the farms short time as a landing ground have emerged. These include fragments of concrete, mortar and brick, dedicative of the 1900s buildings. In addition to building fabric, a dud aviation bomb used for training purposes and a Royal Flying Corps uniform button have been recovered from the flight office/shed prior to its demolition.

Systematic Field Survey and Metal Detector Survey

The 31st August 2014, one hundred years since the outbreak of the Great War, 'West Norfolk and Kings Lynn Archaeological Society' combined forces with '42F Kings Lynn Air Training Corps' and members of the 'Norfolk Metal Detector Group' and conducted an archaeological survey at the Great War landing ground at 'Tydd St Mary', Lincolnshire. Tydd St Mary was opened in the summer of 1916, where it continued in use until May 1919 when it returned to farm land. Volunteers and Cadets surveyed the landing ground through the systematic practice of field walking and metal detection, measured on 12 x 20 x 20 meter squares. The aim was to see if any evidence of the WWI landing ground could be located. The day was a success; among the finds were pieces of mortar, brick frags, bullet cases, flare caps (perhaps those used during a Zeppelin attack) and several buttons from military uniforms, all indicative of this frontline base! West Norfolk and South Holland felt the weight of this new form of war fare aeroplanes based at Tydd St Mary played a small but important role in victory, nevertheless, despite the sacrifice a mere 25 years later these provincial skies would once again become a battlefield…

Reference

Goodrum, A. 2005. No Place for Chivalry: RAF night fighters defend the East of England against the German air force in Two World Wars. London: Grub Street.

Goodrum, A. 2010. Dying to Fly: the human cost of military flying - East Midlands. Stroud: History Press.