Out of the Past, April 1975

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Having a liking for reading back issues of The Aeroplane the Editor was doing just that, shortly after he had bought a house in Wales, and was consequently intrigued to see that in 1936 the Three-Counties Air Race had been based on Hereford Race Course. This was described as “large enough but rather rough”, but the only casualty seems to have been to a telephone wire. Run on a Friday so as not to clash with the more important London-Cardiff race, over 90 miles of a 30-mile course, 22 started, the winner being R.F. Hall in a Lancashire Aero Club Avro Cadet. The Glass sisters were second in their DH Moth and A.E.F. Payen third, flying a Croydon Airways’ Puss Moth.

What seemed especially interesting was that the turning points were at Jack Buckley’s flying field at Bredwardine and Randolph Trafford’s private aerodrome at Michaelchurch. Were either of these two private fields still in existence? Enquiries, which entailed visiting local pubs, drew a blank so far as Bredwardine was concerned. But some interesting facts were discovered about Mr. Trafford and his aerodrome. It seems that he learned to fly in Switzerland, where he had a chalet, on a Morane-Saulnier parasol monoplane. This was in the 1920s, and so this aeroplane, with its radial engine, could have been a very early specimen. Mr. Trafford was then living at Michaelchurch Court and he returned there with the Morane-Saulnier and later set up his own aerodrome in one of the adjacent fields, with petrol pumps, hangar, wind-sock, etc. He had by then retired the old machine and acquired a more modern biplane, which appears to have been a Gypsy Moth. In this the owner did much long-distance flying, when not driving his Lagonda or an Essex Terraplane. He used it to go to London from Wales, probably to Heston. There are also stories of him flying an elderly lady relative to Switzerland and havng to ask her to get out and hang onto the wings when they landed in a gale in France that had grounded Air Force machines, and of his offering to visit an aunt who had to go into hospital in Geneva, again flying out in such bad weather that no airliners were operating and only his friends waited for him to arrive, as he eventually did.

Giving up aeroplanes for an ocean-going yacht, Mr. Trafford found himself abroad when war came. He returned to England and enlisted in the Fleet Air Arm, surviving a fire at an airfield building but being too badly injured to be passed for front-line flying. He was in a Fairey Fulmar with a young rating when its engine began to mis-fire. A landing was attempted in a field near Okehampton. The aircraft blew up and Trafford was killed. In former times, at the big house by his private aerodrome, he used to entertain well-known aviators to lunch, with perhaps 15 machines landing there, afterwards to indulge in aerobatics, with the final display given by the host. It is said that his power dives from over the Black Mountains onto the field, to within feet of the ground, are remembered still. In the mansion two framed paintings exist, of the biplane coming home, with the mountains in the background, and of the Morane, the latter painting dated 1929.

The field is still there, but power cables now cross one end of it and telegraph poles have sprung up along the lane that borders it. The foundations of the hangar remain and a nearby-by garage has a photograph of the biplane being refuelled from their pump, on an occasion when it ran out of petrol just short of its own field. And now comes the crux of this research. When it was pensioned off, the Morane-Saulnier was brought from Gloucester, probably from the aerodrome that is now Staverton, on a lorry, with the wing removed, to be stored in a shed at the mansion. The wing was taken, probably on a horse-drawn farm cart, to another shed some distance away. It was not until 1959, they say, that Trafford’s grandmother, requiring the space, had the ancient aeroplane removed by scrap dealers. The wooden propeller is all that remains, although when it was scrapped the machine was complete, except perhaps for sparking plugs. That propeller has metal strips on the leading edges, surely not bullet-deflectors of a machine used in the 1914/18 war?—W.B.

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