Postal History Hunt for Stow Maries Aerodrome
Stow Maries Aerodrome was a training base for the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) - the forerunner to today's Royal Air Force (RAF) - which operated between 1916 and 1919. It is believed more than 200 aerodromes were built around Britain during World War I but Stow Maries, of the ten examples that still exist, is the only one where the original buildings have survived largely intact. The aerodrome buildings were thought until recently to be derelict farm buildings until aviation enthusiasts made the discovery. At least 24 of the original Royal Flying Corps operational buildings remain on the Stow Maries site. These include the original officers' mess, the other ranks' mess, a blacksmith's workshop and ambulance station. Perhaps more indicitive of the notable risks involved during the days of early aviation, a morgue was also on the site.
The old aerodrome is located a few miles east of Chelmsford and a little north of South Woodham Ferrers. The site of the original aerodrome has been purchased from private hands thanks to support from English Heritage, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Essex County Council and Maldon District Council.
The location will prove important for specialist aerophilatelists who will now begin the hunt for pieces of postal history linked to Stow Maries. In many ways the hunt for Stow Maries postal history is a treasure hunt. It's likely that a postcard or cover bearing a common stamp and unremarkable postmark from the King George V and Great War era is being traded cheaply due to little interest. However, if it is possibe to prove the correspondence came from someone - ideally an instructor or student flyer - at Stow Maries interest will multiply along with the value.
Searchers will focus their attention on any items used while the aerodrome operated (September 1916 - 1919) which was postmarked in nearby town Post Offices (e.g. Chelmsford). With luck some village Post Office cancels for locations such as Woodham Ferrers will help narrow the search. The village of Stow Maries was situated on the, now closed, Woodham Ferrers to Maldon branch railway line when the aerodrome was open. This suggests Maldon postmarks might become an important focus.
Ultimately it may be down to the correspondence within envelopes or the messages on postcards that will determine whether the sender was based or being trained at Stow Maries. This specialised auction search is an example of how the internet can help uncover items based on specific known facts. The search checks eBay for old envelopes, letters and postcards coming from Essex in the years the Stow Maries Aerodrome was open.
Although such items wouldn't fit within my own collecting interests, I intend to keep my eyes open for anything that could be donated to the planned museum at Stow Maries. I also hope this article might prompt a few postcard, postal hstory and ephemera dealers to check their stocks.
Plans by the Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome Trust are to now embark on restoration of the aerodrome back to how it was during its operational days and a museum will be created to commemorate the men who flew at the site and conduct workshops to teach the historical skills and methods of maintaining and constructing the era's aircraft.Visit the Stow Maries Aerodrome Website
Read more about the Stow Maries Aerodrome at the BBC website.
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