Slough Nostalgia: When a plane landed on Datchet’s golf course

By 1911, Datchet villagers were getting used to the rumble of motorcar engines and the sight of the young daredevil Tommy Sopwith racing his motorbike around the greens, scattering the hens, when he visited his mother and sister who lived at the Manor Houses.

But, one Sunday in mid-January, a new and different engine noise was heard, overhead.

Tommy, who had learned to fly at Brooklands, had decided to take his plane to Datchet for a spin.

Mr Page, the headmaster of the village school, had settled down to enjoy a relaxing afternoon when someone started violently ringing his door bell.

He later told a newspaper reporter that the visitor had exclaimed excitedly, ‘An aeroplane! An aeroplane! Mr Sopwith has landed on the golf course’.

There was only one golfer on the course at the time and he was considerably surprised to see the machine sailing over the bunkers.

Few people had seen a plane before and within half an hour a thousand villagers had rushed out to see it.

Mr Page joined them and found the ‘bird machine’, a Howard-Wright biplane, quietly resting.

By then Tommy, who had been making a name for himself as a pioneering aviator, had gone to the Manor Hotel for coffee with his sister, leaving his plane under the supervision of Mr de Paravicini, the Keeper of the Course.

When Tommy returned, silence fell.

He jumped into his seat and decided to perform a flying display.

The motor buzzed and the plane’s nose lifted as it ran along on its wheels for about 150 yards before taking off.

He ascended to about 400 feet in a circular course then made a steep dive in which he stopped the engines completely and he came to land with the lightness of a feather.

Everyone cheered and Mr de Paravicini thanked him on behalf of the villagers before Tommy and his plane departed for Brooklands.

Two weeks later Tommy returned.

He had been invited to Windsor Castle by King George V. He took off again from golf course, flew across the East Terrace where the royal party had assembled, circled around the Round Tower and landed on the East Lawn where he was presented to the King and warmly congratulated.

On his return, he had to leave his plane in Datchet overnight as fog had descended and Mr Page gave the schoolchildren time off to go and see it.

Little did the headmaster know at the time what a familiar sight a plane would become in Datchet.

With thanks to Janet Kennish for her research on the Datchet History website.

Alison Crampin is acting chair of Datchet Village Society, www.DatchetVillageSociety.org.uk.

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