100th anniversary of important World War One flight from St Albans airfield

PUBLISHED: 21:00 06 April 2017 | UPDATED: 14:04 10 April 2017

Captain Albert Ball at London Colney in 1917

Captain Albert Ball at London Colney in 1917

Archant

A centenary anniversary of a famous early RAF squadron soaring up from St Albans to fight over the French trenches in World War One is tomorrow (April 7).

In 1917 local people crowded to watch the 56 Squadron Royal Flying Corps fly a new type of aircraft, the SE 5a, over to St Omer from the London Colney Airfield site, by Shenley Lane and Harperbury Hospital.

From St Omer they travelled to Vert Galant and achieved their first victory on April 23 with the help of renowned Capt Albert Ball.

Coined as Britain’s first celebrity fighter, Albert went on to get another 12 successes with the squadron - he got 44 throughout his career.

The papers loved him for his style of piloting and his empathy - Capt Ball stalked from below, but guiltily, understanding the enemy were just obeying authority like him.

Albert crashed and died after losing control through a storm cloud on May 7 of that year, and a month later was posthumously awarded the highest military accolade, a Victoria Cross.

A German pilot, Lothar von Richthofen, boasted that he was responsible for Albert’s death but these claims are not substantiated.

The notable former airfield has no marker, except graves of two pilots at a nearby church.

St Albans aviation enthusiast, Paul Field, said it was an important event for London Colney people: “Albert was a really strange chap, he used to have a shed on the airfield where he would go and play the violin, he met a St Albans lady and he had proposed to her a week later, he was also a very well-to-do character.”

Albert met his fiancée, Flora Young, after taking her up in an aeroplane at the London Colney site - there has been controversy about whether he truly loved her or he was simply a charismatic flirt.

Later Flora married another man and became Mrs Thornhill.

Paul continued: “But then at the point he was killed he had shot down more than anyone else.”

“It’s amazing to think that’s what happened 100 years ago.”

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