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History society members take a walk back in time at Sawbridgeworth's wartime airfield





A team from the town's history society took a walking exploration of one of Sawbridgeworth's most fascinating historical gems.

Members of Sawbridgeworth Local History Society, led by Elizabeth Waugh, tramped through nettles and rubble looking at what was once a 43-acre site with three runways, defence emplacements and battle headquarters.

History society founder Theo van de Bilt told the Indie seven members of East Herts Aviation Society and others lent a depth of understanding to maps that "imposed the past on the present". He added that paintings by Eric Ravilious, the war artist attached to the site in 1942, were referred to as a record in colour of the time.

Sawbridgeworth Local History Society members took a walk back in time at the town's old airfield (59832236)
Sawbridgeworth Local History Society members took a walk back in time at the town's old airfield (59832236)

"There was a free and convivial exchange of information on a day when the bright blue big sky and puffy clouds might have been painted on by Ravilious," said Theo, adding: "Thanks go to landowner David Morris for access."

A Zoom talk in 2021 by Elizabeth Waugh revealed the airfield was first used during the First World War, known as Matham’s Wood, and from 1916 to 1918 it became a night landing ground for 39 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps, which was defending London against high-altitude German bombers and airships.

After 1918, the landing strips were removed and the area returned to farmland, but from 1937 the airfield, then known as Matham’s Wood Advanced Landing Ground, was reinstated and upgraded and became a training facility. From 1940 it was extended to having three runways, eventually housing 1,000 personnel. The name RAF Sawbridgeworth came into being when Wing Commander Geddes began using that title to head his correspondence in 1940.

Sawbridgeworth Local History Society members took a walk back in time at the town's old airfield (59832240)
Sawbridgeworth Local History Society members took a walk back in time at the town's old airfield (59832240)

The next local history society talk, on October 27, will be by Nik Pringle on the two murders that changed the course of policing in Hertfordshire.



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