Pioneering days of the world’s cleanest airport

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THE first flight in Jersey took place on 26 August 1912, in the course of a sea-plane race between St Malo and Jersey. Hundreds of people turned out to view this extraordinary aeronautical machine.

There were passenger flights intermittently in the 1920s and in 1929, a flying-boat service was established by Imperial Airways.

On 18 December 1933, the first civilian passenger air service began, connecting Jersey with Portsmouth. The aircraft was a De Havilland DH 84 Dragon carrying eight passengers, whose fares for the 75-min flight cost them £1-2s-6d for a single ticket and £2-13-0 for a return.

As Jersey had no airport, and the Dragon was not amphibious, it landed on the sands at St Aubin’s Bay, opposite West Park Pavilion. It was an enterprise of the company Jersey Airways, launched with an initial investment of £120,000 by three business partners: W L Thurgood, L T H Grief and Jersey farmer J A Perrée.

Thurgood had owned a motor bus company in Ware, Hertfordshire, before selling it and moving to Jersey. As he settled in to Island life, he noticed how wide and flat St Aubin’s Bay was and thought how cheap it might be to run a plane service from the Island to mainland Britain.

He also experienced a very rough boat crossing on one occasion, and vowed that nothing would make him repeat the experience – so he started an airline company to avoid that happening.

The ‘airport’ was a square half-mile of sand due south of First Tower, and the timetable was controlled by the need for the aircraft to land there at low tide.

Air services to Jersey consisted of biplane airliners and some sea-planes landing on the beach. The pilots wore white overalls and goggles. Two buses acted as moveable offices, with one used as the weather office and the other as the check-in office, complete with a set of scales. The buses used to drive down the slipway to the beach, just before the airplanes arrived.

Not only did twice-daily tides make the ‘airport’ difficult, it was also difficult to prevent members of the public from walking across the landing area. In various incidents, two boys and a policeman were killed and it was hardly surprising that these tragedies happened given the crowds of people that surrounded the plane as they taxied along the sands.

Any aircraft that developed mechanical problems had to be dragged up the slipways until the tide receded.

After a year of operating eight-seater planes, Jersey Airways switched to the 14-seater De Havilland DH 86 Express.

During that first year of 1933-34, 20,000 people were ferried between the Channel Islands and mainland Britain. In 1936, the company made a profit of £361, flew a total of 50,000 miles, and carried 24,717 passengers, as well as 152,764 lbs of freight.

A regular Jersey to Heston (for London) flight was introduced in 1934, with passengers being conveyed by car from the company’s London office in Pall Mall. The car journey was free of charge. The commercial success of the English routes was a factor in the Chamber of Commerce’s campaign to have a purpose-built Airport built.

After a long period of campaigning and discussion, particularly with land-owning farmers in St Peter, Jersey Airport was built by the States. It cost £126,000 and was way over budget. The new airport, with four grass runways, was opened by ‘Babs’ Coutanche, wife of the Bailiff, Alexander Coutanche, in 1937.

A discovery down under

THE first of the De Havilland Dragons to be purchased by Jersey Airways was christened ‘The St Ouen’s Bay’. Amazingly, this plane is still in existence in Australia, where it is in the process of being restored.

The details below are extracted from the April 2007 issue of The Moth Magazine, the magazine of the de Havilland Moth Club:

‘Registered G-ACMO 12.33 to Walter L Thurgood t/a Jersey Airways, named ‘The St Ouen’s Bay’. Registered 1.34 to Jersey Airways Ltd. Sold 1.6.35 to Northern and Scottish Airways, Ltd, Renfrew. Registration cancelled when sold to Australia to South Queensland Airways Ltd, Archerfield, named ‘City of Toowoomba’.

‘Impressed into the RAAF 4.7.40 (Then transferred to Air Observer Schools before being converted to an air ambulance in 1942. Various other transfers in and out of the RAAF until it was struck off in September 1944).

‘In his workshop near Brisbane, John Sinclair has been making significant progress on the restoration of his DH84 Dragon ‘G-ACMO’.

‘In the silver state looking for all the world like a giant lizard, the addition of the cockpit framework, a coat of blue and some sign-writing has transformed her into a celestial queen.’

A radio officer remembers

EXTRACT from the book, Under Five Badges, by Philip Moss, formerly radio officer with Jersey Airways.

Writing of his first year with the company in 1937: ‘The standard long day on a Saturday consisted of either four return Southampton trips and a return to Heston, or three return Hestons and a return to Southampton. Either of these rosters involved 11 hours in the air.

‘To this should be added a short time on duty before take-off, plus 20 or 30 minutes on the ground between each flight, so that it was not unusual to spend 15 or 16 hours on duty.

‘There was rarely time to eat a decent meal. On the ground we mostly sustained ourselves with an egg or eggs beaten up in a pint of milk, with slabs of chocolate to munch in flight.

‘With six aircraft, each one carrying not more than 14 passengers, we could shift between 600 and 700 passengers a day, in fact on one August bank holiday Saturday we lifted nearly 850.

‘The return fare to or from Southampton was £3 and that to Heston was £4-10s. In addition to the above, two routes we also flew to in the summer to Exeter, Bristol, Portsmouth, Brighton, Alderney, and Rennes.’

With thanks to Alastair Layzell for his help in researching this article.

Pictured: Two De Havilland DH 84 Dragons are shown on West Park beach in 1933. The picture is from a series of postcards called Channel Islands Aviation History produced by La Société Jersiaise

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