Royal Air Force Flowerdown Facility, Winchester, UK

RAF Flowerdown, located three miles north-west of Winchester just off the Stockbridge Road, was used for many purposes during WW1 and in the 'inter-war' years. It was however never used as an airfield, with the nearby RAF Worthy Down having more room to accommodate an airfield. Shown below is a satellite image of the Winchester region, with the sites of RAF Flowerdown and RAF Worthy Down shaded in yellow.

Location of RAF Flowerdown and RAF Worthy Down

No. 1(T) Wireless School, Flowerdown (a brief history)

At the start of WW1, training of Royal Flying Corps personnel in the operation and repair of wireless transmitters and receivers was initially the realm of No. 9 (Wireless) Squadron, a squadron formed at St Omer in December 1914 from the HQ Wireless Unit. The squadron’s main aim was to provide instruction in the field and also to fly with other RFC squadrons to provide communication with allied forces on the ground. In April 1915, No. 9 Squadron was disbanded in France and re-formed in England at Brooklands to concentrate its training of RFC personnel at a single location. Before the end of 1915, No. 9 Squadron moved its operation to the Town Hall in South Farnborough, where it became known as the School for Wireless Operators. Twelve months later, in December 1916, The School for Wireless Operators moved once more, this time to the Blenheim Barracks, South Farnborough.

 

The School for Wireless Operators grew rapidly and in March 1917 it ceased to be part of the Recruits Depot and became a Park under the Administrative Wing, with a greatly enlarged air training section. By this time there were a number of other “Wireless Schools” operating in the UK, the (Upper) Regents Street Polytechnic, Marconi House, Earls Court and Clapham, all in London. In October 1917, it was decided to concentrate all wireless training at Farnborough by amalgamating the Farnborough-based school with other training establishments, including the Wireless Officers and Wireless Mechanics Schools from Brooklands and also the Corps Squadron Operators School. The Farnborough training facility was soon ‘bursting at the seams’, occupying the whole of the Blenheim Barracks as well as the South Farnborough Town Hall and it was soon necessary for personnel to be accommodated in tents.

 

With no way of expanding the existing facilities at Farnborough, it was decided to build a new school at Flowerdown, near Winchester. Construction commenced in October 1917 and the school, to be designated the No.1 (Training) Wireless School, was completed in less than twelve months, opening in August 1918. Fourteen wireless-equipped aircraft were brought in to assist with the practical side of wireless training, though these aircraft would be based and operate from the nearby airfield at RAF Worthy Down.

 

The significant increase in courses and Royal Flying Corps men to be trained created a huge shortage of qualified instructors. In order to keep up with demand, many appropriately qualified officers and ‘other ranks’ returning from active duty on the Western Front (many through injuries that precluded them from returning to the Front) were invited to leave their squadrons and become wireless instructors at Flowerdown. My grandfather was employed as a wireless instructor, initially at Farnborough in early February 1918 and then later at Flowerdown until he was demobbed on the 24th January 1919. Though he married my grandmother shortly after he was declared medically unfit to return to France in late January 1918, he was not allowed to have her live with him at Farnborough/Flowerdown and had to obtain weekend passes in order to catch a train home to Basingstoke until he was demobbed in 1919. Incidentally my mother was born in June 1919, conceived on one of my grandfather’s weekend breaks from wireless instructrion!

At 7:15 pm on the evening of 14th August 1918, (either at Farnborough or Flowerdown during the construction process when it still had an emergency landing strip ), my grandfather was in charge of a working party and happened to cross the 'straight' (landing area) without noticing that a BE2e (Serial C6943) was coming in to land. The lower wing struck him in the back and knocked him out. Fortunately he suffered only minor injuries, but my grandmother never allowed him to forget the fact that he had survived serving on the Western Front unscathed but had been injured on home soil due to his carelessness! 

 

As soon as the Farnborough training facility had been moved to Flowerdown in August 1918, the Brooklands workshops were also transferred there, as was the RNAS Wireless School for Operators, with the long-term plan that anyone involved in aerial work would be transferred to Worthy Down by the end of March 1919. Flowerdown and Worthy Down became respectively the centres for ground and air training of Wireless Operators as well as all aircraft involved in wireless training (the existing training flight supplemented by three Handley Page bombers). As the year progressed, more and more instructors left Flowerdown, as most had signed up for the “duration of the war” and were anxious to be released from the Royal Air Force. For a time In 1919, Flowerdown was also used as a demobilisation / repatriation Centre for RAF Officers from Canada, South Africa and other Commonwealth countries. The establishment continued to grow, with additional dugouts constructed for the housing of MK III* crystal receivers completed in June 1919. The aircraft used at that time for training purposes were two-seaters, the Bristol F2B Fighter fitted with Stirling spark transmitters and the Avro 504K.

 

In July 1919, the No. 1(T) Wireless School, Flowerdown was renamed the Electrical and Wireless School.

Map of Hampshire - Taylor 1750