7th January 2015: Members' Evening

Wye Historical Society's Members' Evening on Wednesday 7th January was, as usual, well attended. Members and visitors were treated to three interesting presentations, the first being a short film called 'Wye's Forgotten Airmen' which tells the story of the airmen stationed at the training base for pilots (along Bramble Lane near Havillands) during World War 1.

Led by Jasper Bouverie some ten teenagers from Wye helped him in the making of the film which included photographs from the time (now stored in Wye Historical Society's archives) as well as an interview with Maureen de Saxe (the Society's archivist), and modern aerial footage of the North Downs near Wye. Reference was also made to various crashes one of the more spectacular being when a pilot, wanting to liven up a colleague's wedding flew low over Wye, scattering confetti. Unfortunately he could not regain height and crashed into the roof of the King's Head! Fortunately the pilot survived unscathed. The film ended with footage of two recent commemoration ceremonies. One was the unveiling on Churchfield Green of a memorial to the airmen from the base who died during WW1. The second was the dedication in the Church porch of a plaque listing all the names of the airmen who died.

The next item of the evening was a short film entitled 'Kent below the surface'. Made largely by a former member of the Historical Society, Gerrit Riezebos, the film explored a number of chalk pits and dene holes from which chalk was extracted in the past for spreading on the surrounding land.

The final contribution was a talk by Paul Burnham on the life of John S W Sawbridge-Erle-Drax (1800-1887) known as the 'Mad Major of Olantigh'. After marrying a rich heiress he spent much of his time on her estate in Dorset. In 1851, however, he inherited Olantigh and other Wye properties and even though his presence at Olantigh was sporadic he quickly earned a lively reputation. A favourite story is that if the railway crossing gates were closed he would jump them on his horse! Between 1841-1880 he served three periods as MP for Wareham, Dorset. He is reputed to have spoken only once in Parliament - to ask for a window to be opened. Fifteen years before his death he built a huge mausoleum for himself in Holnest churchyard in Dorset. It had a letterbox through which The Times was delivered daily for some years after his death! Such were the eccentricities of this colourful figure in Wye's history.

Jenny Oram

Wye's Forgotten Airmen - a video by Funder Films