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Violation of Normandy's Airspace

Airspace over Normandy
Gamma II, c.1913, may well have been the first aeronautical intruder into Normandy's Airspace.

On Saturday the 1st March 1913, both the Surrey Advertiser and the Surrey and Hants News reported on how an experimental airship constructed at the Royal Airship Factory, Farnborough out of the old gas envelope of the BETA and the car and engines of another airship, came to grief on Thursday the 27th February 1913 at Ash, whilst being taken on a flight by Lt. Woodcock RN and Petty Officer King. Passing over the Fox Hills area of Normandy, their dirigible developed engine trouble and a hasty landing became imperative.

In their attempt to land, the vessel narrowly escaped colliding with the roofs of some cottages in the neighbourhood of Guildford Road but a large number of telephone wires were carried away and the airship eventually came to ground in a cottage garden where it was held by a couple of men who had run to render assistance. No one was injured, and the airship escaped with very little damage. It was then deflated dismantled and the parts removed on lorries to the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough.

Surprisingly, it is possible that the "pre-accident" flight of the airship over Normandy was caught on camera by a professional photographer, only to be recorded later as the subject of a printed postcard, so typical and popular in the early 1900s. Normandy Historians possesses a copy of one such postcard (courtesy of member Peter Trevaskis). The card is postmarked: "jy 8, 13" - (8 July 1913), stamped with a halfpenny (old money), King George V stamp. Unfortunately the place of posting of the postcard is indecipherable.

The card is addressed to:
Miss G Body, Hawthorns, The Butts, Brentford and the message is seemingly from "Ann" and reads as follows:

Dear Sis,
Just a card to let you know I am coming home on Thursday L & A will be pleased to see you. It will be more convenient to L if you could come at the end of next week instead of the beginning as L is going washing. I might come round & see you Thursday if home in time. All news when I see you.
Best love,

The postcard (published by Hawes and Horne of Normandy), shows a view of Normandy Common looking north towards the Manor House and probably taken from an upstairs window of what was then known as Normandy Stores on the south side of the Guildford Road near the colloquially known Normandy Crossroads. In the upper foreground of the photo is an airship and in the lower foreground a mother or young girl pushing a pram. Hunts Hill Road is clearly much narrower than today but the route of the stream is clearly visible together with a twin culvert under the road, complete with buttress. The middle ground shows the Manor House, with glass fronting veranda and the boundary wall with gate. To the extreme left of the wall, can be seen outbuildings.

It seemed only natural for two members of the Society (namely Jack Kinder and Sydney Foster), both keen aeronautical professionals to use their knowledge and expertise to identify the airship in the photo. Their research and endeavours indicated that the airship was either an early "Delta" or a later version of the "Gamma". Both models could have been airborne about 1913 - the postmark date of the postcard.

A more positive identification came from two sources - Tim Childerhouse's "Aldershot Aeronauts" and P R Hare's "The Royal Aircraft Factory" indicating that Gamma flew for three months only in 1910, due to the fact that the gas panel of the envelope not only ripped from end to end, but also around one quarter of its circumference. Whilst under repair, the panel was strengthened by a hemp cord all round, which can be seen clearly in the postcard. Later, further modifications were made to the dirigible and Gamma flew again in the early part of 1911. A newer and larger envelope was fabricated in 1912 and the dirigible officially renamed Gamma II, remaining in use throughout 1913 until being handed over to the Royal Navy on 1st January 1914. One might presume that Lt. Woodcock RN and Petty Officer King were on a test or hand-over flight prior to the airship going into naval service.

John Squier, who maintains the society's collection of postcards and pictures, questioned the authenticity of the postcard, simply because he recalled a postcard in the society's collection showing a similar view of the common (NH Catalogue Number p190), of the collection. Again this is a copy of a Hawes and Horne postcard but depicts a collection of eight small views of Normandy, one view of which is entitled "the common". The view is remarkably similar to that of the "Normandy Common" as shown on the airship postcard - the young girl and pram are the same, being in the same position and posture, and the view of Hunts Hill Road being also the same.

Interestingly, in the collection of copied postcards held by the society are other postcards of Normandy Common, including one of five equally small views of Normandy published by the Frith Company, Godalming .and postmarked: 31 October 1910, 7 April 1911 and 8 July 1913, each of which shows "The Common", as in NH Catalogue Number p190. However, no card shows an airship. By common agreement, it is concluded that the airship photograph is a "fake" - more kindly, it is a constituted photograph depicting the skill of the photographer.

One can imagine Mr Horne (the photographer), on seeing the airship, dashing to locate his camera and apparatus; breathlessly taking the shot from the upstairs window of his living quarters over the shop. The shop has changed its appearance and size over the years, but basically the prime building and accommodation is much the same today as it seemingly always has been.

Possibly only later, and in all probability after the reporting of the mishap of the flight of the airship, did Mr Horne realise the commercial value of a composite photograph. Such a composite photo procedure is not the only example of the photographers' art and skill in deception. Other postcards of the period have since been proved to be constituted ones!

.Greetings from Normandy

 Post Card
"Greetings from Normandy"
Posted on 16 August 1915
with a close-up of "The Common"
Note: this post card was
coloured by hand
The Common

Peter Blakiston

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