History sought on the war flyers who operated from the borough

IF anyone is like me they will enjoy nothing more than a stroll along the coast, but how many are aware of the significance of some of the local landmarks or areas in which we walk?

Just two examples among many in our region are both pieces of green belt land that have played an important role in recent history.

The first is at the bottom of the football field just off the Broadway and currently home to Cullercoats Football Club, and the other is the field situated between the caravan site and St Mary’s Lighthouse.

These were both used as strategic airfields in the First World War, and the coastal area again played a big part in the defence of our country in the Second World War.

Many of the brave airmen also spent a lot of their training in Whitley Bay and the surrounding areas.

I know personally of Captain Philip Gray, a Canadian Lancaster bomber pilot who even to this day still shudders at the memory of running up and down the sand dunes at Seaton Sluice in the winter as part of his physical training in preparation for battle.

The volunteers at the North East Aviation Museum near Sunderland do a tremendous job in documenting and archiving local military history and this week they received some fascinating documents from a man living in the United States who was the nephew of a First World War pilot and he is trying to find out more about his uncle’s time in the north east.

Lieutenant Leonard Robert Curtis was born in England but was told by the Royal Flying Corps that he was too young to sign up so he travelled to Canada to learn how to fly.

He passed out in 1917 and was posted to Cramlington later that year for operational training before heading off with the newly formed RAF to France where he saw action before two injuries, including gun shot wounds, ended his career just before Armistice, earning him both the British War and Victory medals.

Following time spent in hospital recovering from his injuries Lieut Curtis returned to the north east in 1919 to work again at Cramlington, possibly as a flight training instructor.

The documents include logbooks and photographs and the one that will be of particular interest to News Guardian readers is the ‘top secret’ photographs he had to take from his plane over the Whitley Bay area as part of his training.

I am sure you will agree that it is important that our history is documented and never forgotten and if anyone has any interesting memories, photographs, documents or details of the airfields, the pilots based in our region or general information we would be very interested to hear from you.

If you do have anything that you feel may be of interest please contact info@neam.org.uk or visit www.NEAviationReseacrh.org.uk as it is also always interested in any contributions.