The ghost of Joyce Green Airfield, an ill-fated WW1 aerodrome on the Dartford Marshes

by Ian Tokelove
Looking across the Dartford Marshes towards the QE11 Bridge. These fields were once part of Joyce Green airfield.

Joyce Green airfield was one of the earliest Royal Flying Corps (RFC) airfields. Based on Dartford Marshes during WW1, this was an ill-fated aerodrome with high fatality rates.

Looking across the Dartford Marshes towards the QE11 Bridge. These fields were once part of Joyce Green airfield.

The airfield’s buildings and hangers were located close to the Long Reach Tavern. The nearby fields were used as runways, their drainage ditches covered over with wooden boards.

The Parade Square at Joyce Green, behind the Long Reach Tavern
The Parade Square at Joyce Green, behind the Long Reach Tavern

This quote from Air Vice Marshal Arthur Gould Lee, taken from his book ‚ÄėOpen Cockpit‚Äô (1969), sums up not just the danger of Joyce Green, but also the industrial nature of the area at the time.

“To use this waterlogged field for testing every now and then was reasonable and to take advantage of it as an emergency landing ground for Home Defence forces was credible, but to employ it as a flying training station was folly and as a Camel training station was lunacy.

A pupil taking off with a choked or failing engine had to choose, according to wind direction, between drowning in the Thames (half a mile wide at this point), or crashing into the Vickers TNT works, or hitting one of their several high chimney stacks, or sinking into a vast sewage farm, or killing himself and numerous patients in a large isolation hospital, or being electrocuted in an electrical substation with acres of pylons and cables; or trying to turn and get back to the aerodrome. Unfortunately, many pupils confronted with disaster tried the last course and span to their deaths.‚ÄĚ

Records back up the Vice Marshal’s opinion, with many young pilots spinning out, before crashing to the earth, or into the Thames or Darent. Several mid-air collisions were also recorded, as pilots practiced for combat.

Nothing remains of the airfield, not even a plaque to the men who died here.

The RFC abandoned the site in 1917, moving to a much more suitable location at Biggin Hill, later made famous as an important fighter base during the Battle of Britain.

Air crew of 63 Squadron relax by the Thames at Joyce Green airfield in 1917.
Air crew of 63 Squadron relax by the Thames at Joyce Green airfield in 1917.
Joyce Green airfield had six hangers, close to the Long Reach Tavern. Image via Royal Air Force Museum.
Joyce Green airfield had six hangers, close to the Long Reach Tavern. Image via Royal Air Force Museum.

Joyce Green Airfield ‚Äď useful links

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Joyce_Green

https://airbornerambler.wordpress.com/2018/07/29/joyce-green-a-passing-shadow/

https://www.crayfordhistory.org.uk/projects/wilfred-salmon/wilfred-salmon-online-exhibition/history-joyce-green-airfield

A scout plane at Joyce Green Airfield in 1915. From Dartford Library.
A scout plane at Joyce Green Airfield in 1915. From Dartford Library.
An aircraft repair shop at Joyce Green Airfield on the Dartford Marshes
An aircraft repair shop at Joyce Green Airfield on the Dartford Marshes

You may also like

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More