FREISTON AIRFIELD IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR

Freiston Aifield

Photo by Barnes collection

Sopwith Snipe in 1918

Lincolnshire is known as Bomber County, and Freiston was at the forefront of this in World War I.  (The land now used for North Sea Camp) 

In 1914 to the west of Sleaford (Cranwell), farmland that was part of the Earl of Bristol’s estate was purchased by the Admiralty for the purpose of constructing an aerodrome for their airships and balloons.  The project was completed in 1916 and was opened as a Royal Naval Air Service.  After an aerial survey of the South Lincolnshire coastline, a suitable site for a bombing and gunnery range for the new RNAS Flying School at Cranwell was selected on the mud flats to the south of the village of Freiston.  In the early summer of 1916, several targets were set up, at least one of them being an old and unserviceable aircraft.

Trainee pilots flew across from Cranwell and used the range for part of their training, but with a journey time of about forty minutes each way, depending on the weather, it was not long before a 90 acre tract of farmland was requisitioned for a landing strip.  As the flying training programme expanded, the landing ground at Freiston was enlarged and the RNAS School of Aerial Fighting and Bomb Dropping was established as a satellite unit of Cranwell from where pilots spent part of their training period at Freiston.

A complement of aeroplanes was based at the school and comprised Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2s, Avro 504s, Sopwith Camels, and later on Sopwith Dolphins as well as a flight of Bristol Scouts and used for anti-Zeppelin duties, which attempted to intercept Zeppelins in transit over Boston on several occasions. 

In 1918 Freiston was again enlarged and became 4 Fighting School with the task of training pilots for ‘fighting scout’ squadrons.

After graduating at Cranwell as aeroplane pilots, officers as a general rule were appointed to Freiston for about fourteen days practical work in gunnery and bomb dropping.   Mr A H Mather JP of Boston, whose parents kept the White Hart Hotel there, recalled many evenings in their private parlour where officers from Cranwell and Freiston would relax round the piano.  The officers sometimes went further afield - the delights of Nottingham and Lincoln were other favourites

Flights over Skegness of the Freiston detachment became a daily exiting feature.  One noted aviator from Cranwell used to perform aerobatics over Boston and finish his performance by dropping a box of chocolates on the end of a miniature parachute to be taken to a certain schoolmistress in the town.

Cranwell had become a key station for flying training by the time of the Armistice in 1918.  It had grown so rapidly that HM King George V could write in his diary ‘We motored to Cranwell which has now become the largest aerodrome in the world’.

The aerodrome was finally closed in the spring of 1919; soon after closing, a severe gale blew down several of the aerodrome buildings, which were subsequently sold off with the rest of the surplus establishment equipment at a public auction.  The only remains of the former aerodrome to be seen today are the foundations of the Headquarters building. 

 

1918

Photo by Barnes collection

Freiston Churchyard

In Freiston churchyard there are three Commonwealth War Graves commemorating three Canadians, all Second Lieutenants, who lost their lives whilst flying the Sopwith Camel.  There were many other accidents taking place at Freiston, among them was Flight-Sub-Lieutenant  J T Sims who is buried in the churchyard in a grave alongside the three Canadians but it is marked by a private memorial stone.

Compiled by J W & J Barnes with information also taken from
Blake, R & others (The Airfields of Lincolnshire since 1912)
Haslam, EB (The history of Royal Air Force Cranwell)
Chris Howard & Alastair Goodrum (The Freiston Aviators)

(Last updated February 2009)