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Martlesham Heath airfield marks 100th anniversary with year of special events

PUBLISHED: 16:01 01 February 2017 | UPDATED: 16:01 01 February 2017

Packing all their bags on board as they travel from Martlesham to the USA in 1969

Packing all their bags on board as they travel from Martlesham to the USA in 1969

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The historic Martlesham Heath airfield which played a key part in both world wars and was the scene of pioneering flight safety, has celebrated its 100th anniversary.

Planes in action for the last flights at Martlesham airfield in 1979Planes in action for the last flights at Martlesham airfield in 1979

Last month a team of enthusiastic supporters marked the 100th anniversary of the airfield being established with a special cake cutting at the Control Tower Museum – with big plans for a spectacular summer celebration already underway.

Peter Davies, chairman of MH100 which is co-ordinating the celebrations, said the airfield was an important part of Martlesham’s identity and the centenary provided an opportunity to remind people of its history.

He added: “We don’t want to carp on about the past glories but it’s important to remember it and all the history of the airfield.

“I have lived here for 37 years and you get the feel of this place as you walk around that there was so much that went on here.”

Testing out a plane versus a car at Martlesham airfield in 1964Testing out a plane versus a car at Martlesham airfield in 1964

The airfield was set up on January 16 1917 by the Royal Flying Corps, with the specific aim of being an experimental establishment.

Among the work carried out was testing of iconic aircraft such as the spitfire and hurricane, radar experiments and establishing blind landing techniques which are still used to this day by pilots across the globe.

Celebration organisers said much of the airfield’s history was not documented as it’s position as an experimental airfield meant most work was carried out under the Official Secrets Act, but historians have collated accounts of US Eagle Squadron pilots having used the base, as well as famous figures like Douglas Bader’s time there.

Unconfirmed stories suggest that Winston Churchill even visited the strip.

Martlesham Heath Aviation Society chairman Martyn Cook (left) and MH100 chairman Peter Davies (right) cut the celebration cake for the airfield's 100th anniversaryMartlesham Heath Aviation Society chairman Martyn Cook (left) and MH100 chairman Peter Davies (right) cut the celebration cake for the airfield's 100th anniversary

The last flight left the airfield in 1979.

Since then, much of the airfield’s history has been hidden deep within the trees in the heath, with the runways and barracks still visible for those who wander through the heath.

The main control tower now hosts the aviation museum, which features memorabilia from the site and has collated stories, pictures and experiences of those who worked and flew from the base.

A special celebration weekend has been organised for July 8 and 9 in Martlesham Heath’s main green, which will feature planes such as the spitfire and hurricane on display, live music, veterans celebration and a multimedia display charting stories and experiences from people based at the airfield.

A German reconnaissance photograph from World War Two of Martlesham Airfield. The main Ipswich to Woodbridge Road is across the top left of the picture.A German reconnaissance photograph from World War Two of Martlesham Airfield. The main Ipswich to Woodbridge Road is across the top left of the picture.

The project’s history is even being marked as far afield as New York, where historians are exploring the accounts of volunteer US pilots (known as Eagle Squadrons) who took part in the war effort at the airfield only to return home and be shunned by the public as their efforts were not considered honourable.

Mr Davies said: “It’s a pretty incredible airfield here and a lot of the things that went on here was under the Official Secrets Act so there wasn’t a lot of records,” adding that without the work and sacrifice of servicemen and women who died a lot of things taken for granted such as effectiveness of planes during the Battle of Britain and the ability to land in adverse weather may not have been possible.

He added: “We want to try and celebrate in style and get the local people to come out and be aware of the fact it’s a celebration event.

“We have linked with the University of Suffolk and they are now one of the partners to try and create a legacy after this so people can return to and revisit the history of this site.”

The Control Tower at Martlesham Heath.The Control Tower at Martlesham Heath.

The July event will help raise funds for Help for Heroes and the RAF Benevolent Fund, as well as supporting local causes Home-Start and Lapwing.

The history of the airfield has been described by centenary organisers as one of “innovation, research and development,” and despite the airfield no longer being in use that those is still marked today thanks to the presence of BT Adastral Park.

Even the housing in the ‘new’ village was innovative, according to the MH100 team.

Mr Davies added: “We hope the next 100 years will be as diverse as the last 100 years.”

The Control Tower at Martlesham Heath.The Control Tower at Martlesham Heath.

Further details for the celebration event are to be announced over the coming weeks, with update available to see online at www.mh100.org.uk.

For anyone who can contribute photos, letters, records or memories of the airfield’s history, visit the Martlesham Heath 100 website or post items to The Old Control Tower, Deben Avenue, Martlesham, IP5 3QR.

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