Article, History

Remember RAF100

On Wednesday 1st April 2020, the Royal Airforce will celebrate its 102nd anniversary. It’s lovely to be able to look back on a wonderful day two years ago when we marked its centenary.

On the 28th March 2018, Farsley Farfield Primary School in Leeds was delighted and honoured to be the host school for the national Remember RAF100 launch event. Sunday 1st April 2018 was the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Royal Airforce (RAF).  Through contacts made during our research into the Farsley Airfield, we were chosen to take part in this very special event. (There is more information about the Farsley Airfield at the end of this article.)

Working with a brilliant team from Big Ideas, an organisation that develops projects for schools and community groups, children from Year 6 and Year 2 spent the morning working together to learn about the RAF and remembrance. One of the aims of the project was to bring more acts of remembrance and learning about war into Key Stage One. The Year 6 children, who were already “experts” on the First World War and the Farsley Airfield, partnered with the Year 2 children to share their knowledge and support the learning of the younger children. It was fantastic to see such great teamwork between the children.

This was the launch of a national project for schools across the UK. The activities we participated in are all detailed in a teachers’ guide which is available for all schools in the UK.  (Click here to go to the Big Ideas website and access the resources.) Many special guests were invited to join us for the morning including: the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Cllr Jane Dowson;  two members of the RAF who work locally with air cadets; a former RAF navigator; County Commissioners for the Girl Guides and the Scouts; local police officers; local historians; members of Friends of St John’s Church; representatives from the British Council and the Pudsey Civic Society; a representative of the Leeds Industrial Museum; and our chair of governors.

The Remember RAF100 project also involved an art installation. Every child at Farsley Farfield created an aeroplane with the name of a serviceman or woman from the RAF who lost their life during the First World War. In total, there were 4805 individuals. Farfield created planes for 440 of them. These planes were spread out on our hall floor so everyone could walk around them and reflect on the names. The Remember RAF100 team took the planes away with them and they became the start of the national art installation which was unveiled in the Royal Airforce Museum in London.

The Royal Airforce Museum in London

The day started with a number of activities in our school hall. Later in the morning, the Year 2 children, some of our Year 6 children and one Reception child walked with the special guests to St John’s Church in Farsley to visit the grave of Captain Charles Butler, an RAF pilot from Farsley who lost his life in the First World War. We participated in a short service of remembrance where children read a biography of Captain Butler, recited the poem “In Flanders Fields”, listened to The Last Post and had a minute of silence to remember all the pilots who served in the war. Following the service of remembrance, the special guests came back to school for refreshments and an opportunity for the adults to talk about all that had gone on.

A special thank you to A Slice of Home bakery for creating such an amazing cake.

That evening, Farsley Farfield was on Look North, BBC One  – a great end to a fantastic day! The event was also featured on radio and in a number of newspapers.

Farsley Airfield (04.1916 – 03.1917)

Welcome to Farsley Farfield Primary School. 100 years ago, Europe was in the middle of the First World War. Today we will spend time remembering all the people who took part in the First World War and, in particular, the pilots who flew over Leeds to keep it safe.

In the summer of 2017, Mr Harris, our headteacher, was contacted by the Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust. They told him there had been a First World War airfield on the site of our school grounds from April 1916 to March 1917 which they would like to acknowledge with a plaque. At that time, there would have been no school, no housing estate and no office buildings, just flat fields on top of a hill – a good location for planes to take off and land.

Farsley 1892 (The airfield was located between Priesthorpe Lane and Cote Farm)

The First World War was the first major battle where airplanes and other flying machines were used. The Germans used huge airships called Zeppelins to drop bombs on their enemies. These Zeppelins were stationed in Belgium and could reach the east coast of England. At first, Norfolk was the target but then British leaders became concerned that Leeds and Hull would soon come under attack. A number of temporary airfields were established.

In Leeds, airfields in Farsley, Seacroft and Middleton were used by the 33rd and 76th squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps. These pilots flew B.E. 2 and B.E. 12 bi-planes. Their role was home defence through air patrols. They needed to protect the city of Leeds from German Zeppelin bombing raids. These airfields were used for emergency landings and refuelling.

Across the school playing field, there would have been a long, grass landing strip; a wind-sock to tell the pilots the wind direction and some cans of fuel. If necessary, pilots could land, refuel and take off again to continue their surveillance.

During the first world war, Leeds was victim to only one Zeppelin bomb attack. This was in north Leeds near Harewood. The Zeppelin’s mission was to drop bombs on the munitions factory at Barnbow near Leeds and on Kirkstall Forge but it aborted its mission when it came under fire and ditched its incendiary bombs. There were no fatalities and little damage.

Royal Flying Corps squadron 33 were not in Farsley for very long. By the autumn of 1916, they had moved to their main base in Lincolnshire where the squadron still remains today.  The 76th squadron then took over the airfield for a short period. Farsley airfield was soon closed because of food shortages in Leeds. The land was needed for farming.  Zeppelin raids continued in other parts of the country until the final bombing raid on the 5th of August 1918.

Following the war, there was some debate about where to locate the Leeds Bradford Airport. This Farsley site was considered but the decision was made to go further north to Yeadon where the airport is located today.

Our research into the Farsley Airfield has been very challenging. Very little is known about the airfield as it was only here for such a short time and must have been very secretive during the war.

We are very proud of the part Farsley played in the protection of Leeds during the First World War and will always remember the importance of this piece of land at Farsley Farfield Primary School.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

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