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The Community Website for Walmer, near Deal, Kent
 

 
 
Walmer's Past
Hawkshill Freedown and
the World War I Aerodrome
Hawkshill Today
View from Hawkshill Freedown (photo: Harold Wyld)

Hawkshill Freedown is, today, a 13.7-acre public open space set on an elevated area of chalk grassland at the southern end of the parish. It has been designated a Site of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCI), reflecting its national importance for wildlife, particularly wild flowers and butterflies.

Just to the south and west of the Walmer Castle estate, it was purchased by Walmer Parish Council from the Leith Estate in 1999 to ensure its future as an amenity for the benefit of the public and wildlife. As well as offering a large open grassed recreational area, the Freedown provides superb views across open farmland to shipping in the English Channel, the Goodwin Sands and, on a clear day, the French coast. The land is managed by a working group comprising parish councillors and local residents and there are more details about their activities below.

The flat grassy plateau at Hawkshill played a significant role as a World War I aerodrome and there is a Memorial to the pilots who flew from there and were killed fighting in France.

Hawkshill interpretation board (photo: Walmer Parish Council) Dog walkers on the Freedown (photo: Walmer Parish Council) Hawkshill aviators memorial
Hawkshill's public information board Dog walkers on Hawkshill Freedown Memorial the First World War aviators

The World War I Aerodrome

In 1920, Air Commodore C. L. Lambe CMG, DSO gave an account of the establishment of an airfield at Walmer in 1917. He said it had all started with a telephone message from the Admiralty saying that a new aerodrome was needed in close proximity to the Channel as a protection against attacks by German aeroplanes on shipping in the Downs (the normally safe anchorage just off the coast of Deal and Walmer). Two German seaplanes carrying torpedoes had hit a ship at the north of the Downs.

A suitable site for an aerodrome was quickly found at Hawkshill. The next step was to find pilots and it was agreed to select six of the best trained pilots who had been serving in France for many months. The transfer to Walmer was felt to meet both a need to protect the shipping and also provide the airmen with a rest from the very stressful conditions in France.

Air Commodore Lambe went on to explain: "The majority of the pilots who were working with the R.N.A.S. (Royal Naval Air Service) in those days in France - nearly 75 per cent - came from overseas. They were very largely Canadians, but they came also from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and in fact every Colony and Dominion there is. Thanks to the hospitality which was offered by everybody in the vicinity (i.e. Walmer), the aerodrome immediately fulfilled its purpose. The first thing to do was to make it popular, to get the pilots to think that they were coming to a place where they wanted to come. They all wanted to come to Walmer. When they got here they did not want to go on leave, so that in a short time the original six was extended until we were able, by the co-operation of the Admiral at Dover, to bring back a complete squadron, with the men who wanted the rest just as badly, and to give them two months' rest at Walmer. I think everybody who served at Walmer liked it. I am quite certain every pilot did, and it was equally popular with the men."
 

The Airmens' Memorial

There is a Memorial to the 16 airmen who lost their lives while stationed at Walmer Aerodrome at Hawkshill in World War I. Presented by the Countess Beauchamp in 1920, it stands at the edge of the Freedown.

A report of an unveiling and dedication ceremony held on the evening of Saturday, 7 August 1920, appeared in the East Kent Mercury local newspaper, as follows:

"The memorial stands on a site given by Mr F W Leith in a field forming part of Hawk's Hill Farm, in the occupation of Mr C May, which was used for the purposes of the air station during the war. It is in a railed enclosure facing the Downs, over which roadstead the gallant airmen so often flew in the course of their duty to protect the shipping in this vitally important examination anchorage from air attacks by the Germans.

"It was a beautiful August evening, the rays of the setting sun casting their glow on the wooded grounds of Walmer Castle, and on the ripe grain of the cornfields in Walmer's charming Glen, as a representative company assembled for the dedication of the memorial.

"From the Castle grounds a procession made its way across Hawks' Hill to the site of the memorial. A cross-bearer walked first followed by two robed clergy, the Chaplain-in-Chief; Royal Air Force, and the Vicar of Walmer, Rev. N C W Radcliffe, DD.   Earl Beauchamp, in the uniform of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, was with Air-Commodore C L Lambe, CMG, DSO, who unveiled the memorial."

"Flight (Aircraft Engineer and Airships)" magazine, dated August 12, 1920, refers to the event and also records the presence of "... Lord and Lady George Hamilton,  Lady Helen Grosvenor,  Lord Elmley,  the Ladies Lettice,  Sibell, Mary, and Dorothy Lygon, daughters of Lord Beauchamp,  Lady Sargent, and Sir William Pearce MP and Lady Pearce".

The East Kent Mercury report continues:

"On reaching the site the Air Commodore was received with the 'general salute' by a smart guard-of-honour furnished by the 5th Cadet Battalion Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment, under the command of Col C E Bartholomew, OBE., and Capt. Trevarthen, Adjutant. Within the railings of the memorial the clergy, the Lord Warden and Air Commodore Lambe took their stand for the brief but very impressive service.  It was an interesting coincidence that as the words of the lesson, 'and as a ship that passeth over the waves of the water' were being read, a destroyer came into view and passed through the Downs in front of the memorial."

During the ceremony Air Commodore Lambe gave a short history of the aerodrome and had the following message from the Duke of York for Lady Beauchamp: "I am very glad to hear that you are dedicating a memorial for Walmer Aerodrome. Please convey to those of the relatives who may be present my sincere and deep sympathy for the sore loss they have suffered in the deaths of the gallant men who gave their lives for their country and Empire in the Service to which I have the honour to belong. "

The guard-of-honour was called to attention and Air Commodore Lambe removed the Union Flag covering the memorial, with the words: "In the faith of Jesus Christ, I unveil this memorial to the greater glory of God and in memory of those officers of the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Air Force who served at Walmer Aerodrome, and who gave their lives for King and country in the Great War. " The Chaplain-in-Chief dedicated the memorial "in the faith of Jesus Christ to the Glory of God, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen." Wreaths were deposited on the memorial steps by Lady Beauchamp and by Mrs. Little accompanied by her son.

The airmen commemorated by the memorial are:

Flt Cmdr. F C Armstrong, DSC - Missing (believed killed) 25/3/18.
Flt Sub Lt. F E Bayley, DFC - Killed 23/10/18.
Flt Sub Lt. E J K Buckley, Two Foreign - Killed in action 28/9/17.
Flt Comdr. S T Edwards, DSC and bar - Died (Aero accident) 22/11/18.
Lieut. J E Green - Killed 5/11/18.
Flt Lt. E T Hayne, DSC - Killed (Aero accident) 24/4/19.
Lieut. C R R Hickey - Accidentally killed.
Flt Lt. R A S Hill - Missing 12/8/19.
Flt Comdr. R A Little, DSO and bar, USC and bar - Killed in action 27/5/18.
Flt Lt. J G Manuel, DSC - Dead 10/6/18.
A/FIt Comdr. R McDonald - Died 8/5/18.
Flt Lt. L A Sands - Missing 23/3/18.
Flt Lt. A J B Tonks, DFC and bar - Died 14/7/19.
Sqd Comdr. T C Vernon - Died of wounds 15/9/17.
Flt Comdr. R R Winter - Killed in action 3/2/18.
Flt Sub Lt. D R C Wright - Killed 23/12/17.

When unveiled in 1920, the memorial stood in a railed enclosure planted with flowers, resting on two stone steps. It was described "... as of English oak, with thatched roof. Between the two uprights is a glazed panel, on which are inscribed the names of the officers commemorated together with appropriately selected verses and prayers. Above is a red lantern, which Lady Beauchamp has kindly arranged to have lighted on the birthday, where known, and on the anniversary of the death, of each of the officers whose names appear on the memorial. Trees form a leafy background to the memorial enclosure. A coloured figure is painted on each upright of the memorial, on either side of the inscribed panel, one figure representing 'Waiting' and the other 'Watching'."

On the side of the panel facing the sea is an inscription, surmounted by the crest of the R.N.A.S.: "We pray you remember in the Lord these gallant airmen, who gave their lives in France, and who were stationed at this aerodrome - April 1917-October 1918". Also on the panel is the following verse:

"Think, 0 Lord, in mercy On the souls of those
Who in faith gone from us Now in death repose.
Here 'mid stress and conflict, Toils can never cease;
There, the warfare ended, Bid them rest in peace.
"

The 1920 East Kent Mercury report records that the memorial "was designed and executed by the Warham Guild, Marget Street, London, and the base, fencing and fixing were carried out by Messrs. G H Denne and Son of Queen Street, Deal".

Note: Sadly, time and weather have taken their toll on the Memorial and, although there have been works in recent years to maintain it, some of the features mentioned above are no longer present.
In November 2005 members of the South Foreland Rotary Club helped Walmer Parish Council to clean up, replant and repaint the Aviators' Memorial on Hawkshill Freedown.
 
Hawkshill's Vital Role in World War II

Hawkshill Down housed a vital radar facility during World War II. Cyril Highman of Newport, Gwent, South Wales was posted there in 1943 and you can read his recollections of that time on WalmerWeb's Times Remembered page.

 

Hawkshill Working Group and Events

Hawkshill Working Group organises the activities of a team of volunteers dedicated to maintaining the good appearance of Hawkshill Freedown as well as encouraging a programme of open-air public events on the site. Scrub clearance parties are regularly held and new volunteers are always welcome. Tools are provided but helpers need to bring their own refreshments and come suitably dressed for physical work. The organisers suggest that folk can use the sessions to get fit as well as help the environment. For further information or details contact Stan Stockley on 01304 373304.

Walmer Parish Council finances the activities of the Working Group and publishes an occasional newsletter detailing news and events at Hawkshill Freedown. For more details, contact the Parish Clerk at Walmer Parish Council Office, 8 The Strand, Walmer, Kent CT14 7DY ( 01304 362363) or send an .

 

For photographs of the Memorial and commemorative plaque see:
www.eastkent.freeuk.com/deal/aerodrome.htm

 
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      This page was updated on March 2 2017