Timeline Events Ltd (TLE) returned to Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome in April 2017 for another successful afternoon and evening photographic event, building on the relationship established over the past year between the heritage photoshoot company and the organisations based at the historic airfield.
Nestled in the Essex countryside, Stow Maries is the only First World War aerodrome in the United Kingdom that survives largely in its original state, and the project to conserve the site has made remarkable progress since 2007. As of spring 2017 another wing of the museum has opened, Squadron 37, with further renovation work moving to the outlying buildings and, most notably, the water tower, which has recently been stripped of the errant tree that grew proudly from its apex. Slowly but surely the airfield is being sympathetically brought back to its former glory, the completion of each stage of the restoration rolling back the years.
The aerodrome closed in 1919 and, but for the abandonment and overgrowing, was left unchanged – this is what makes the history of 100 years prior feel so tangibly close. As a result Stow Maries is thick with atmosphere, making it a perfect location for bespoke photographic events such as TLE’s April shoot. Not only is the setting suited to these events, but the aircraft based at the airfield make for fitting subjects and include some of the rarest types in Europe. The WW1 Aviation Heritage Trust have two of their aircraft currently in residence – a B.E.2e and Sopwith Snipe – which are both immaculate reproductions built by The Vintage Aviator Ltd in New Zealand. They share a hangar with several privately owned airframes including replicas of the Sopwith Camel, Fokker Eindecker and Nieuport 17.
The aircraft posed for the photographers at this particular event were the ¾ scale SE5a replica, Eindecker, Nieuport, B.E.2 and Snipe. Some of the aircraft took to the air for local sorties in the afternoon and, whilst clearly identifiable as a scale replica, the sight of the SE5a silhouetted against the clouds in the distance made for an evocative sight.
A new resident at the airfield for the 2017 season is the Nieuport Scout 17 replica. Previously owned for many years by Rob Gauld-Galliers, the Nieuport was purchased by John Gilbert at the tail end of 2016 and moved to the Great War Aerodrome. Since then John has been very active flying the aircraft on local sorties, as he was during the afternoon of the TLE shoot. The Nieuport will make a great addition to the event days at Stow Maries, with its Escadrille de Lafayette colours giving it a striking appearance.
One of the crowning glories of TLE photoshoots is that they allow you to take a wide variety of photographs over a prolonged period, including getting right up close to the aircraft at appropriate times – something occasionally lacking from other similar shoots. That is a particularly welcome opportunity with the B.E.2 and Sopwith Snipe – The Vintage Aviator Ltd are renowned for upholding the highest standards of workmanship with their First World War reproductions, and being able to inspect the detail at close quarters really brings that point home whilst adding another dimension to the event.
Before sunset the Snipe conducted an engine run, allowing us to hear the staccato growl of the beastly 230hp Bentley BR2 rotary echo around the aerodrome. As the sun set over London through the broken clouds to the West, thoughts began to turn to the role of the airfield during the First World War with one particularly poignant scenario set up with the re-enactors and the aircraft. Stow Maries was one of a ring of defensive aerodromes established around London in response to the Zeppelin and Gotha attacks launched by the Germans in 1915. The forgotten blitz on London is an overlooked part of British history and is covered in detail by the museum at Stow. It is from this very place that young men would mount their basic wood and canvas aeroplanes in the dark of night to attempt to intercept and shoot down the intruding bombers, acts that must have required the most immense bravery. To that effect, the posed scenario of two pilots stood beside a B.E.2 at dusk, as if preparing for another night at readiness, was rather thought provoking. Their figures and the many bracing wires and struts of the aircraft silhouetted against the twilight sky made for some of the best photos of the evening. Where else is it possible to achieve such photos?
As sunset gave way to the ‘blue hour’ that photographers crave some more engine runs were conducted, allowing the assembled group to capture the aircraft in a “living” state and with the full arc of the propeller illustrated. The Nieuport was first up and looked particularly smart under the lights with its silver paint scheme, followed by the SE5a replica which was enhanced by its smoke system. Once the aerodrome fell silent, there was a final period of static photography under the lights, bolstered by a backdrop clear of obtrusion and lights. The owl calls echoing around the aerodrome and the aircraft being pushed back into their hangar signalled the end of a superb evening’s photography.
To be afforded five hours of unhindered shooting with some of the rarest aeroplanes in the country, in such a unique and visually appealing setting, really is something to be savoured. It is events such as these that epitomise TLE and highlight what their high-end shoots provide for the photographer – exclusive experiences and opportunities that are true value for money. Whilst Stow is clearly a photographer’s dream, rich with opportunities, these events benefit more than just the photographers – they support the worthy ventures ongoing at the aerodrome, with donations from the proceeds and extra revenue from the NAAFI (which serves food into the evening), as well as contributions from those who choose to come early and pay to visit the museum, all going towards the upkeep of the site. Exposure for these ventures also cannot be underestimated. Even among aviation enthusiasts Stow Maries is not widely known, so a plethora of high-quality photographs being produced and shared periodically around social media is an excellent way of catching people’s eyes and spreading the word. Indeed, in 2016 TLE held two events at Stow, an evening and a dawn shoot, and are set to return to the Great War Aerodrome again later this year in what I hope will become a most welcome annual cycle.
Timeline Events’ next photoshoot at Stow Maries will be the unique Sunrise Shoot on October 21st (with a backup date of the 22nd) from 0530 to 0900, featuring up to five of the based aircraft with engine runs and re-enactors. Tickets are on sale now for £65.