Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome

Ivor Dallinger and HRH The Duke of Gloucester KG GCVO look at a painting of the airfield in 1917

Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome (SMGWA) is a historical and community treasure, now emerging from its decades-long rest. Located less than 12 miles from Chelmsford, nestled deep in the rural fields of Maldon District, it is of international significance, with a truly inspirational background.

Thanks to Essex Heritage Trust, it is now even better placed to tell the rich and emotional story of its former inhabitants – 37 (Home Defence) Squadron, Royal Flying Corps (RFC).

RFC (later RAF) Stow Maries was commissioned on 15th September 1916. At that time, it consisted of a tented encampment and a large mown field. Over the next three years, as part of a consolidated building plan executed by the Royal Engineers, it grew to be a substantial aerodrome, tasked with the Home Defence of Essex and Greater London during the first Battle of Britain. It was initially the home of just ‘B’ flight, but soon housed the entirety of 37 (Home Defence) Sqn, RFC – up to 40 aircraft and over 300 men and women. After the war, the RAF closed the base and left. After over 80 years of use as an agricultural space, this collection of original buildings is the last remaining, most complete RFC base in Europe, possibly the world.

In 2017, thanks to a major grant of £10,000 from the Trust, SMGWA’s award-winning Curatorial team – comprised solely of volunteers – were able to launch their latest permanent exhibition. Housed in the original offices of ‘B’ flight, the exhibition tells the stories of the men and women that lived, worked – and in some cases – died at this atmospheric site.

The exhibition was opened in May 2017 by the Duke of Gloucester, who stayed for a number of hours on the site. The exhibition has since welcomed thousands as part of their tour or visit to this vital project.

Comprising 3 public galleries packed with objects, images and information, the exhibition paints a detailed and absorbing picture of the uplifting, but grim times 37 Sqn endured. ‘The mix of sound, vision and cased objects’ is very engaging’ says CEO of SMGWA, Ian Flint. ‘We’ve found it a very emotional experience watching the exhibition build’. 

This wonderfully successful exhibition is the second of 5 planned for the site – which continues to grow and show its calibre on the national stage, showcasing what the County of Essex has to offer for historians and culture buffs alike.