First World War centenary: Bravery of Sutton’s Farm’s pilots commemorated by museum

Sopwith Pup aircraft 189 from night flying squadron at Sutton's Farm

Sopwith Pup aircraft 189 from night flying squadron at Sutton's Farm - Credit: Archant

William Leefe Robinson, Frederick Sowrey, Wulstan Tempest. These names may not immediately spring to mind when contemplating Havering’s historical figures, but the faces behind them were responsible for some of the most heroic acts in the borough during the First World War.

Havering Museum volunteer Dennis Lynch, who has created an exhibition on Sutton's Farm aerodrome in

Havering Museum volunteer Dennis Lynch, who has created an exhibition on Sutton's Farm aerodrome in Hornchurch, which played a vital role during the First World War. Picture: Havering Museum - Credit: Archant

The trio were pilots at Hornchurch’s Sutton’s Farm aerodrome and their story is being revisited as part of a new exhibition at Havering Museum, created by Dennis Lynch over the course of a year.

Dennis said: “It’s an amazing story of endeavour and courage. The three very brave young pilots effectively stopped the German airships from attacking London.”

The pilots’ story, explored in a Recorder feature last year to mark the centenary of the war, began 100 years ago, when Sutton’s Farm was officially opened on October 3, 1915.

Home to the Royal Flying Corps, the Royal Air Force’s predecessor, the aerodrome became famous for the bravery of its 39 Squadron.

William Leefe Robinson. [Picture: Hornchurch Streets of Heroes by Richard Smith]

William Leefe Robinson. [Picture: Hornchurch Streets of Heroes by Richard Smith] - Credit: Archant


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Leefe Robinson became Britain’s most famous pilot after his exploits on the night of September 2, 1916, which saw him become the first to shoot down a German airship during the conflict.

He is oft-cited as bringing down one of the feared Zeppelins, but it was actually a Schütte-Lanz.

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National hero Leefe Robinson, awarded the Victoria Cross by King George V, was soon followed by Sowrey and Tempest, who shot down enemy aircraft in later weeks, becoming recipients of the Distinguished Service Order.

All three pilots received silver cups from the parish council.

William Leefe Robinson. [Picture: Hornchurch Streets of Heroes by Richard Smith]

William Leefe Robinson. [Picture: Hornchurch Streets of Heroes by Richard Smith] - Credit: Archant

Sutton’s Farm became RAF Hornchurch in 1928 and later achieved legendary status.

The exhibition opens on September 12 at the museum, in High Street, Romford.

Dennis said: “I am proud to have created what I hope will interest many visitors to the museum.”

Open days will be held on September 12 and November 14, making entry to the museum free.

William Leefe Robinson. [Picture: Hornchurch Streets of Heroes by Richard Smith]

William Leefe Robinson. [Picture: Hornchurch Streets of Heroes by Richard Smith] - Credit: Archant

Visit haveringmuseum.org.uk.

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