I SUPPOSE I must have been about 13 when I got on my drop-handlebar racing bike and made for Stow Maries.

I had heard rumours of a “lost airfield”, a place that was off the beaten track and had apparently been left to its own devices since the end of the Great War.

I didn’t quite believe all the fantastic stories about its remarkable state of preservation, but I was determined to find out the truth for myself.

The trouble is it was on private land, closely guarded by the farmer.

After a struggle, I found the entrance gate, plucked up courage, opened it and cycled on down a long track-way.

After what felt like miles a modern looking farmhouse came into view.

A dog started barking and a cloth capped man began to walk towards me.

It was now or never. My heart started thumping and my mouth went dry.

“What do you want?” he asked. I blurted out my interest in local history, repeated the tales that I had been told and said I had cycled all the way from Maldon.

“So can I please have a quick look round?” I said.

There was reluctant agreement, but subject to strict conditions – no messing around with anything, nothing to be removed and only me.

All these years on I am still eternally grateful to Mr Turner for the opportunity he gave me to explore – it was truly magical.

Maldon and Burnham Standard:

A snapshot of the airfield from the 1970s

People don’t believe me today, but I am sure there was a vintage car and a steamroller in what I subsequently discovered was the aerodrome’s MT (Motor Transport) shed.

I cycled towards a collection of buildings and made for a group ahead of me and to the right. (I now know these to have formerly been the officers’ accommodation).

I laid my bike down in the long grass and opened one of the doors. It was stiff and creaked on its rusted hinges.

Inside the floor was dusty and strewn with old yellowing newspapers. There were cobwebs everywhere and many of the windows were either cracked or broken.

I distinctly remember a smashed enamel bath with lion’s claw feet.

I was spellbound, but also slightly unnerved. It was eerily quiet, but in my head at least I could hear the voices of past occupants and the distant sound of biplanes overhead.

This, after all, was Stow Maries Great War aerodrome and it had been left like this since 1919. I took a few snaps with my old instamatic (I still have them) and then decided to head home for fear I might outstay my welcome.

It’s hard to believe that was almost 50 years ago, but I have never forgotten it.

Maldon and Burnham Standard:

The airfield today

I returned a few times afterwards – once to meet Air Marshal Sir Denis Crowley-Milling who had crash-landed on the site during the Battle of Britain and was making a nostalgic visit.

I also remember watching a model flying club in action there and I even flew over the site myself to take some aerial photographs.

My Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force research then mainly focused on Stow’s sister site, the 37 Squadron ‘C’ Flight Station at Goldhanger, but thoughts of my teenage visit came flooding back when a work colleague said her husband was thinking of buying the aerodrome to house his security firm.

In the event that didn’t happen and instead, in 2009, it was purchased by Steve Wilson with Russell Savory as tenant.

The long and expensive journey of restoration then began.

It was designated with Grade II* Listed status in 2012 and the following year the Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome Trust was formed to take ownership and preserve and develop it to its full potential.

That work continues to this day, but it took an invitation to a recent event there to make me realise just how far things have come on.

Many of the buildings have been restored, there are excellent exhibits and even aircraft.

On the day I was there I saw the resident 7/8th’s scale SE5a (which made me think of VC ace Mick Mannock’s visit to Goldhanger in 1918) and replica BE2e and German Albatros DVa aircraft which took to the air for a mock dogfight.

It’s all a far cry from my first visit in the 1970s, but equally special in a different kind of way.

It is good to know that Farmer Turner’s protection of the aerodrome paid off and that a place which witnessed so much activity during the years 1916 to 1919 is alive and breathing once more.

Stow Maries Aerodrome has an optimistic future as the best preserved airfield complete with First World War era buildings and is now, of course, open to all as a really special visitor attraction.