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World War I – The Beginning

The airport traces its history back to World War I. In response to Zeppelin bombing raids on London and Croydon, the site was selected as part of the Royal Flying Corps Home Defence in December 1915. A parcel of land to the West of Plough Lane, Wallington belonging to Manor Farm was requisitioned under the Defence of the Realm Act. The first aircraft, two B.E. 2C’s, arrived at Royal Flying Corps Station Beddington in January 1916.  As the war continued, additional aircraft were stationed at Beddington including Sopwith Camels, Sopwith Pups, Avro 504’s and Bristol Fighters. These aircraft were involved in a number of defensive sorties against Zeppelin and Gotha bombers raids through 1916 and 1917.

On the 1st April 1918, the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service were merged to form the Royal Air Force. Training duties at Croydon were taken on by No.29 Training Squadron, Royal Air Force. In 1919, HRH Prince Albert, later King George VI, and HRH Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, received flying training at Croydon with No.29 Training Squadron.

Winston Churchill often visited the aerodrome. In his book “Thoughts and Adventures”, he gives an account of his flying lessons at Croydon Aerodrome during 1919. Churchill gives a vivid recollection of one of his final flying lessons that resulted in a brutal crash. Fortunately for Britain and the skills of his very capable Flying Instructor, it was a crash he survived.

Adjacent to the RAF airfield was National Aircraft Factory No.1 and the associated aircraft testing airfield at Waddon. Rapidly constructed in 1918, it was the first of three National Aircraft Factories built to mass produce aircraft for the war effort. It consisted of 58 buildings and covered an enormous 650,000 square feet. The war brought much social change and gave women new opportunities for work. Women were extensively employed at National Aircraft Factory No.1.  

At the end of World War One, the fledgling RAF service established No.1 Group Headquarters at the aerodrome along with the Air Council Inspection Squadron. Both units vacated the premisies in 1920 before the aerodrome was handed over to civilian commercial operations.

The National Aircraft Factory No. 1 became the Aircraft Disposal Company in March 1920.

Credit: gracesguide.co.uk