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Lincolnshire’s war in the air –1914-18

To celebrate the RAF’s 100th anniversary in 2018, we look back at the county’s unique connection with it during the First World War

In August 1914, Britain declared war on Germany, unleashing a conflict on a truly industrial scale. For the first time, all the resources of the state were mobilised to support the war effort - and nowhere more so than in Lincolnshire.

Factory workers pull a Sopwith Camel along Monks Road in Lincoln – courtesy of Lincolnshire Archives

Factory workers pull a Sopwith Camel along Monks Road in Lincoln – courtesy of Lincolnshire Archives

On the ground, local factories switched production from agricultural machinery to aircraft, with female workers playing a vital role. As the planes rolled off the lines, the Royal Flying Corps took to the skies to fight back against massive German airships bombing civilian targets. At the same time, the Royal Naval Air Service was busy training pilots at Cranwell, a role the base still fulfils today.

By the time the two organisations merged to form the RAF in April 1918, the First World War was finally ending, and hostilities ceased on 11 November. Lincolnshire, though, had formed an enduring relationship with the RAF, in peacetime as well as war, that continues to this day.

Lincolnshire: Bastion in the Air, 2015-18

To celebrate the RAF’s centenary in 2018, a three-year programme of activities is taking place in Lincolnshire.

Called Bastion in the Air: 2015-18, it explores the heroic war effort on the ground and in the skies that led to the formation of the RAF.

Highlights include an exhibition at RAF Scampton, north of Lincoln, featuring a recreated First World War airfield.

Three replica aircraft of the period, including a Sopwith Camel from Britain and a German Rumpler CVII, will take pride of place.

Visitors can also find out about the history of Scampton during the First World War, while dramatic stories of local service personnel will bring the period to life.

The exhibition, featuring free tours, runs from 6 April until 24 August.

Please book in advance at www.rafscampton.co.uk.

Meanwhile, The Collection in Lincoln will be focusing on the threat to Lincolnshire posed by German airships, known as zeppelins.

It will also look at the British fightback, including local aircraft productionand the role of female workers known as “munitionettes”.

The exhibition runs from 26 May until 9 September. An admission charge will apply, but there’s no need to book.

Elsewhere, two travelling displays - Heroes of the Airfields and Heroines of the Home Front - are touring the county until December.

Details of venues and dates are available at www.facebook.com/aviationheritagelincs.

Bastion in the Air is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the following councils - Lincolnshire, North Lincolnshire, North East Lincolnshire, and Lincolnshire’s seven districts.

War on the home front

In 1915, Minister of Munitions David Lloyd George called the conflict “an engineer’s war” - and Lincolnshire was quick to respond.

Local firms produced more aircraft for the war effort than any other county- over 3,700, including 2,750 made by Lincoln company Ruston Proctor.

The famous Sopwith Camel biplane was among the planes produced locally, along with the Gunbus and Handley Page bomber.

Women at work

With men fighting at the front in huge numbers, thousands of Lincolnshire women flocked to join the war effort.

They were soon producing aircraft, tanks and other munitions, with girls as young as 16 operating heavy machinery around the clock.

Lloyd George recognised their vital importance, saying: “Without women, victory will tarry.”

Despite their efforts, women lost their jobs to the returning soldiers at the end of the war, although many did win the right to vote for the first time in 1918.

Bombs over Lincolnshire

Zeppelin raids over Lincolnshire included a devastating attack on Cleethorpes in March 1916, killing 31 soldiers billeted in a chapel.

An airship also bombed Washingborough that September. Although noone was hurt in the attack, two boys drowned when a ferry overturned taking sightseers across the river to see the craters.

The county fights back

By 1916, British air defences had improved dramatically, and the Royal Flying Corps in Lincolnshire was conducting regular antiairship patrols from local bases.

Out to sea, the Royal Naval Air Service was also escorting convoys and flying anti-submarine patrols.

On 1 April 1918 - just months before the end of the war - the modern RAF was formed when the two organisations merged.

An enduring relationship

Lincolnshire has maintained its unique relationship with the RAF for 100 years, through the Second World War and the Cold War and into the modern era.

Today, RAF College Cranwell - created in 1920 - retains a unique training role, while RAF Scampton is home to the world-famous Red Arrows. Coningsby, Waddington and Digby are also central to its operational work.

 

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