HISTORY was made for the second time in 100 years on the banks of the River Crouch when a memorial was unveiled to Britain’s first ever airfield.
The public got its first view of the new inscribed granite monument exactly 100 years to the day from the official birth of the South Fambridge “aero colony”, on February 20, 1909.
The ceremony was accompanied by a Spitfire flypast and display in honour of Fambridge’s pioneer aviators, and especially the aerodrome’s founder and owner, Noel Pemberton-Billing.
The memorial was unveiled by Kenneth Bannerman, director general of the Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust. The trust has been responsible for funding both the memorial and the Spitfire flypast.
Mr Bannerman, 40, a wealthy Glasgow businessman, recalled how, as a youngster, he had embarked on a unique odyssey, visiting every one of Britain’s 1,700 historic airfields.
He said: “I can’t recall exactly the date when I first came to this out-of-the-way village.
“But South Fambridge has left an imprint on my mind ever since.”
Mr Bannerman was especially keen to pay tribute to Pemberton-Billing. He added: “He is a forgotten genius and hero to whom we all owe a tremendous amount.”
The Spitfire’s flypast was a tribute to Pemberton-Billing’s key role in the birth of the aircraft. As well as setting up Fambridge airfield, he was the founder of Supermarine, the company that made and designed the Spitfire.
The Grace Spitfire, the 1944 plane at the Fambridge display, was flown by Essex pilot Carolyn Grace, herself a sort of aviation pioneer. Mrs Grace is the world’s only woman Spitfire pilot.
Mr Bannerman said the importance of the Fambridge site “cannot be overestimated”. He said: “It was here Noel Pemberton-Billing effectively invented the concept of the airfield. People laughed at him when he was alive, but today I am happy to say he has the last laugh.”
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