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by Richard Riding

Triggered by the excellent On the Wire website and its account of goings on at Eaton Bray in the late 1940s and early 1950s, I had a rummage around my archive and, aided with a number of photographs and the pages of contemporary copies of 'Aero Modeller', (two words in those days) have jotted down a few memories of those far-off days.

In 1946 my late father E. J. ‘Eddie’ Riding left the Aeronautical Inspection Directorate (AID) following a 20-month stint signing out de Havilland Mosquitoes at Leavesden. On 1 March 1946 he took up an appointment with the Harborough Publishing Company Ltd at Eaton Bray as Chief Draughtsman and a member of the editorial staff. His main responsibility was working as co-Editor with Owen Thetford on Volume VIII of 'Aircraft of the Fighting Powers' for which he produced all the three-view general arrangement drawings.

He also produced dozens of articles for 'Aero Modeller', including the 'Civil Aircraft' series, which started in December 1943 and ran until August 1947, covering 41 different aircraft types. This was followed by a new series entitled 'Aircraft Described' which began with the November 1947 issue and with which he was still engaged at the time of his untimely death in an air accident in April 1950. Incidentally his masterly GA drawing of the Bristol Brabazon was published in the June 1950 issue of 'Aero Modeller' together with a fitting two-page obituary and appreciation by legendary 'Aero Modeller' artist Rupert C. Moore, who also produced a painting of the Brabazon on that issue’s front cover. But I digress.

Left: E. J. Riding at work in his office at Eaton Bray c. 1947.

My first visits to Eaton Bray began in 1946 at the age of four. We lived in Hendon at the time and the journey my dad took each day out to Eaton Bray in our old Ford was quite a slog. My first impressions of the Eaton Bray complex are still to mind – i.e. a damp and cold concrete edifice! To me as a child it seemed fairly spacious. It was full of interest with so much going on.

Naturally there were model aircraft all over the place and my dad’s office was a real glory hole, with photographs, books, magazines and large drawings all over the place. I used to spend time in the darkroom with dad and this sparked off a life-long interest in photography. Later, in 1958, I left school and became an aerial photographer. Not only did I fly from Elstree, where dad had learnt to fly, but I also used the same Auster Autocrat (G-AGXT) for which he used to take air-to-air photographs for the 'Aero Modeller'.

Richard Riding, aged seven, carrying a balloon at Eaton Bray at the end of one of the 1949 air displays. Behind him can be seen Douglas Russell (left); EJR added ‘buttons’ to the original print!

My dad subsequently became a very close friend of D. A. Russell’s. When DAR was struck down with chicken pox and was forced to take a holiday, he and my dad, together with DAR’s sons Michael and Timothy, flew to Jersey in a Morton Air Services Dragon Rapide, returning to Croydon in a 40mph gale in another Rapide two week’s later.

Joan Nayler standing with her DH80A Puss Moth G-ABYP.

Joan Nayler flying her DH80A Puss Moth, named Widget, from Eaton Bray on 3 July 1947. The aircraft was registered to Nayler Air Services.

At about this time DAR married Joan Nayler and she became my first love! A pretty and very intelligent woman who flew aeroplanes – what more could a young boy want? I believed she named her son Edwin after my father. I spent many happy weekends at the Russell’s splendid home at Shothanger Wood Cottage at Boxmoor. In the attic there was the most amazing array of 1/72nd scale model aircraft – and I was allowed to play with them. I so enjoyed my stays at Boxmoor that I was always reluctant to return home.

G-ABYP pictured after it crashed and caught fire whilst landing at Eaton Bray on 31 August 1947. Joan Nayler, soon to be Mrs. Russell, and her passenger managed to escape from the burning aircraft unscathed.
The building in the background of the left hand photo carries a hoarding with the legend 'Model Shop'.

The accident was reported in the local paper under the heading 'Aircraft Crash Escape' and went on to say 'Two young women had a lucky escape when the Puss Moth plane in which they were travelling crashed and burned out at Eaton Bray Sportsdrome on Sunday afternoon.
The occupants, Miss Joan Nayler (30), of White Waltham airfield, Maidenhead, the pilot and Miss Mary Wood (24) of the same address were able to scramble from the burning plane.
"It was all over in a few minutes" said a member of the 'Observer' staff who saw the crash. "The Puss Moth was a frequent user of the Eaton Bray landing ground and it appeared to be making its usual landing. It was a gusty day and it seemed that the wind suddenly lifted one wing of the aeroplane and tipped it. The flames shot up through the cockpit when the aircraft crashed. The weight of the engine appeared to drag open the door, thereby helping the occupants in their escape. The petrol tanks exploded and the fire was practically out before firemen arrived from Leighton and Dunstable".

Less than a month after her bad crash at Eaton Bray in August, Joan Nayler is pictured here flying passengers at Eaton Bray on 21st September in Fairchild Argus G-AIXM.

Joan was a highly experienced pilot having been a 1st Officer in the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) from December 1941 through to December 1945 ferrying a wide range of aircraft, including Spitfires.

At one of the tethered car meetings held at Eaton Bray where the 'Hastings Trophy' was being competed for, the winners were promised flights in 'the Auster aircraft' owned by 1066 Products of Worcester. This had been purchased in 1947 and was flown by Squadron Leader Crow until Geoffrey Hastings gained his PPL in July 1948. Here it is seen at Eaton Bray in front of the 'E' block. The Auster was later sold to a French company and destroyed in Africa in 1954.

Auster J/1 Autocrat G-AIJW owned by 1066 Products, being inspected by staff at Eaton Bray on 10 March 1948 having been flown in by Sqn Ldr Crow.

I think the greatest memories I have of Eaton Bray are the air displays that dad organised during 1949. As a teenager in the 1930s dad had attended many of Sir Alan Cobham’s National Aviation Day Displays and in 1938 worked as a licensed ground engineer with a travelling barnstorming outfit in the north of England. Thus the Eaton Bray displays had a touch of the barnstorming days about them and included some of these pre-war turns in its programme.

There were aerial paper chases (using toilet rolls), parachute drops and flour bombing of an old Austin Seven driven by a couple of dubious characters. The most popular event of all was announced in the Programme as follows:

The May 1949 Eaton Bray Display Programme was written and illustrated by E. J. Riding.

His air-to-air photograph of Hawker Tomtit G-AFTA graces the cover.

"When news of our Air Display got around, we were approached by a local sportsman who expressed the opinion that flying was ‘kid’s stuff’ and that he reckoned that he could put up as good a show as any of the highly skilled pilots here today. The organisers of the Sportsdrome have always been to the forefront in the furthering of individual talent, and we have accordingly placed a machine at his disposal. A member of the staff will explain the working of the controls to him, after which he will be left alone to his own devices".

Needless to say this was a carefully choreographed event and was carried out in a Tiger Moth by farmer Neville Browning, one of the cleverest exponents of crazy flying at that time and who had 6,000 flying hours already in his logbook. Anyone watching a later event; a display of aerobatics, would have made the connection between this and the flying of the ‘novice’! For a quid anyone could have a flight with Neville, which included loops, rolls and stalled turns if requested.

DH82A Tiger Moth G-AHRC belonging to the ‘Flying Farmer" William Tomkins of Apethorpe, Peterborough at Eaton Bray on the occasion of a second air display held on 21 August 1949.

At this event Hawker test pilot Neville Duke flew the Hawker Tomtit in a dogfight against a Tiger Moth flown ‘solo’ by Doc Morrell. The latter was ‘shot down’ and as the sole occupant was seen to bail out the 3,000 crowd went into a horrified hush as the 'pilotless’ Tiger dived towards the horizon and disappeared.

It was however under full control and Major ‘Dumbo’ Willans, who had remained hidden during the flight bailed out of the Tiger in time for him to give a demonstration of wing walking in a Tiger Moth – proper wing-walking that is, not trussed to a rig on the aircraft’s centre-section.

E.J. Riding in the front seat of test pilot Neville Duke’s Hawker Tomtit G-AFTA prior to taking him for a couple of circuits and landings at Eaton Bray on 6 June 1949.

F. Marmol gave a superb demonstration of gliding, much of it inverted, in the Zlinn glider in which had recently made an endurance flight of 53 hours over nearby Dunstable! Later in the afternoon he was towed off to Elstree by the Tomtit to give another display. There were pleasure flights given by R. A. Harris in a Dragon Rapide and many take-offs were made from that small field with the biplane fully loaded with nine up. Earlier Harris had taken up the entire staff of the Sportsdrome in flights of eight at a time. I remember too the chequered control van with former Spitfire pilot ‘uncle’ Alec Lumsden giving an excellent commentary from its top. Altogether that sunny but windy Whit Monday was a day to remember.

There is an interesting postscript to all this. Many years later, when I was editing and producing 'Aeroplane Monthly', I met Neville Duke for the first time at a Moth event at Hamble. We got talking and during our conversation I asked if he remembered giving my dad a trip in the Tomtit at Eaton Bray. "I certainly do, but it was your father who flew me." He said that he had two photographs of the occasion and that he would send me copies. He did, straight away, with a letter saying how he had enjoyed the Eaton Bray meeting. A gesture that was so typical of that great man.

Another display was held at Eaton Bray on Sunday 21st August 1949. I was there and had a 10min trip in an Auster Autocrat flown by aviation artist and former ATA pilot Stanley Orton Bradshaw whilst dad took photographs of the ‘crowds’. For some reason the word ‘crowds’ is in inverted commas in dad’s logbook – perhaps attendance was lower than expected.

DH89A Dragon Rapide G-AJZH spent most of the day flying joy riders at the air display at Eaton Bray on 16 May 1949.

The dark blue Braunschweig LF-1 Zaunkoenig (wren),  powered by a Zundapp engine, at Eaton Bray on 21 August 1949, where it was flown by John Fricker demonstrating the aircraft’s incredibly slow flying ability, which didn’t quite go to plan. At the time G-ALUA belonged to the newly-formed Ultra Light Aircraft Association then based at Elstree aerodrome. John could not understand why the considerable crowd cringed every time he flew near them.

 After he landed ‘Dumbo’ Willans, the parachutist, told him that as the Zaunkoenig took off it had picked up a glider tow rope which then thrashed around like an angry snake in his slipstream. Had John chosen to fly really close to the crowd… I well remember this incident and thought it was all part of the show.

G-ALUA was returned to German in 1976 and is currently displayed in the Deutsches Museum near Munich as D-EBCQ.

When dad got his PPL in early 1949 he made many visits to Eaton Bray in the Piper Cub G-AKAA and took many of the staff flying, including George Cull and Maurice Brett. But all this came to an end on 7 April 1950 when dad was killed at the opening of the Boston Aero Club in Lincolnshire.

The Auster Autocar was being flown by Stanley Bradshaw and, flying very slowly across the airfield in a very strong wind, the Autocar dropped a wing and entered a spin from which it was too low to affect a full recovery. All three occupants were killed.

Eddie Riding, Norman Eastaff and George Cull in front of Piper Cub G-AKAA flown into Eaton Bray by Eddie from Elstree in early 1950.

At Eaton Bray George Cull carried on with dad’s 'Aircraft Described' series but within a matter of a few years Eaton Bray came to an end and the entire Russell Empire moved away from the Bedfordshire countryside to urban Watford.

Left: Rupert Moore's painting of the Zaunkoenig G-ALUA featured on the cover of 'Areomodeller' for September 1950

Many of the activities at Eaton Bray can only be recalled through the pages of 'Aero Modeller' and in photographs such as these. But I possess a real treasure; I have a short clip of 16mm film taken on Douglas Russell’s cine camera by my dad at one or both of those air displays. A wonderful record, albeit in black and white, of just one aspect of that field at Eaton Bray that gave so much pleasure to so many people.

Miles Monarch G-AIDE at Eaton Bray on 6  April 1948. The pilot was F. C. Fisher and Eddie Riding had a quick circuit in it.


Many thanks to Richard for these wonderful reminiscences of aerial activities at Eaton Bray. All photos are from the archives of his late father Eddie Riding, as are the precise details of dates, aircraft, pilots, passengers and flights.

Eaton Bray Air Display Gallery

Photographs primarily from the collection of the late George A Cull, most of them taken at the Eaton Bray air displays of 6th June and 21st August 1949.  All photographs and text have again been very kindly prepared by Richard Riding. Two contemporary news reports refer to aircraft and events illustrated.

Tiger Moth G-AIDT, built in 1941 for the RAF as T6302, prepares for the return flight to its Broxbourne home. E. J. ‘Eddie’ Riding has a last minute chat with Neville Browning as he shouts ‘switches on - contact’.

E. J. Riding leans over for a chat with pilot Neville Browning as he is about to take off for home in the Herts & Essex club’s Tiger Moth at the end of the day’s flying.

D.A. Russell, in braces, chats with
 Neville Browning as he boards the
 Herts & Essex club’s Tiger Moth G-AIDT
 before returning to Broxbourne after displaying at Eaton Bray in 1949.

Pilot R. Harris, with Dragon Rapide G-AKZH’s engines ticking over, waits while another batch of passengers climb aboard.

A close-up view of part of the crowd watching the proceedings.
Note the aircraft wheel chocks in the foreground.

An Air Display at Eaton Bray August 1949

In perfect weather, the air show at Eaton Bray Model Sports-drome opened on Sunday, August 21, with a fly-past of light aircraft taking part in the various events. Included in the parade were a Rapide and an Argus, which carried on joy-riding for the whole of the afternoon.

Neville Browning was next off in his silver and green Tiger Moth for a display of crazy flying, after which he returned to accompany " Doc" Morrell in his Tiger for the next event. Messrs. Railing and Smith did a long- and a short-delayed parachute drop, respectively, from the two Tiger Moths at 1,800 ft.

Stanley Orton Bradshaw was inveigled into an Auster for his 'first solo', and proceeded to give a clever characterization of nearly every mistake likely to be made by earnest pupils. His final arrival was attended by the aerodrome fire tender and ambulance, and his prostrate and exhausted form was removed from the precincts of the field amid the laughter of the crowd.

Next on the programme was a furious dog-fight between two Hawker test pilots—Neville Duke in the Tomtit and E. S. Morrell in the Tiger Moth—at the end of which Morrell's passenger, Major Terence Willans baled-out over the aerodrome.

More aerobatics followed, this time by C. A. Nepean Bishop in a Magister of the Redhill Flying Club, before Mr. C. Ruffle in a Zlin 24 sailplane was towed-off by the Tomtit. The Zlin's acrobatic qualities were fully exploited.

An extra item on the programme was a demonstration of the Zaunkoenig, which is now being operated by the Elstree Group of the Ultra-Light Aircraft Association. John Fricker of the Aeroplane showed the slow-flying ability and general tractability of this amusing little aeroplane, and his performance was enlivened by a length of rope which caught in the tail-skid during take-off. During a low run however, the rope was deposited in the boundary hedge, and the demonstration continued without this extraneous parasite drag.

The final item in the varied programme was sharp-shooting by Colonel Crackshot with a 12-bore gun from the cockpit of the Magister. He proved to be a remarkable shot in addition to being psychic, for he burst the balloon targets on the ground in the order which the public requested.

Tiger Moth G-AHRV passes the crowd at head height as wing-walker Major Terence ‘Dumbo’ Willans (1918-2004) a former RAF paratrooper and safety harness pioneer, clings on for dear life. 

A view of the display looking across the top of the Zaunkoenig; note the chequered control van in the distance from where Alec Lumsden gave his non-stop humorous and informative commentaries.

Throughout the afternoon Mr. R.A. Harris, a flying instructor with BOAC, gave ten bob (50p) pleasure flights to eight people at a time in Dragon Rapide G-AKZH.

For an additional ten shillings flights could be extended to fly over Leighton Buzzard, Dunstable, Luton and other exotic locations. The Rapide was sold in Portugal in 1952 where it became CR-GAJ.

A seemingly endless queue of punters awaiting their flights in the Tiger Moth, Fairchild Argus or the Dragon Rapide. One wonders why the chap in the centre of the picture has his head in his hands? The steps in the foreground served the Dragon Rapide.

Business is brisk as Neville Browning gazes skywards from the front seat of the Herts & Essex Flying Club’s Tiger Moth G-AIDT as another passenger prepares to climb aboard. Beyond, DH Dragon Rapide
 G-AGZU, probably on hire from Marshalls at Cambridge, takes aboard more passengers for the ten bob flips.

The red and silver Tiger Moth G-AHRV, built in 1939, rests between events at the air display held on 6th June. Hawker test pilot E.S. ‘Doc’ Morrell almost turned the biplane inside out with his thrilling exhibition of aerobatics.

1939 Tipsy I Trainer G-AFSC pictured at Eaton Bray – date and occasion unknown. This aircraft was owned and flown much later by former DAGRA employee George Cull, who took these photographs. Douglas A. Russell can be seen second from right.

Whit Monday 1949

Whit Monday's air display at Eaton Bray Model Sports-drome, Bedfordshire, was notable for the fun that was obtained from a few light aircraft operating from a comparatively small field. The display, in fact, was in the truest barnstorming tradition, and was greatly assisted by brilliant sunshine.

Low-flying aerobatics by Tiger Moths, a Hawker Tomtit and a Magister continued intermittently throughout the afternoon, and kept the ball rolling while other events were fitted into the programme. Despite the sunshine, there was an extremely keen wind during the afternoon, which rendered, the first parachuting event rather interesting and most difficult. Two parachutists of the Owen group flew over in port echelon in a Tiger Moth and a Magister, piloted by Neville Browning and A. E. Rumble, respectively, at about 1,800 ft. before jumping from the wings of the aircraft. One parachute was opened immediately, but the second was delayed for about six seconds before deployment. This latter parachutist succeeded in landing in a bed of nettles in a ditch on the edge of the aerodrome, about 150 yds. from the crowd, shortly before his companion drifted over the hedge.

After some aerobatics by the Tomtit, demonstrated by Neville Duke, this aeroplane joined the red and silver Tiger Moth, flown by " Doc " Morrell, in a dog-fight. During the course of the fight, the ‘sole’ occupant of the Tiger Moth was seen to bale out, and to drift on to the aerodrome. The parachutist turned out to be Major Willans, who, unfortunately, got late oscillation in the gusting wind and landed rather heavily.

F. Marmol, in the Zlin sailplane in which he recently soared for 53 hours at Dunstable, shook everybody with his prolonged inverted flight, slow rolls, loops, stall turns, together with one or two manoeuvres which were not in the book. He was later heard to say that he wanted a really aerobatic sailplane!

Somehow or other, a couple of extraordinary characters dressed in ragged clothes ‘gate-crashed’ the show in an ancient Austin 7, and proceeded to charge round the aerodrome before stopping to light afire and make tea in the middle of the runway. After repeated bombing with chalk-filled missiles, the whole contraption burst into flames and smoke, and was eventually extinguished by the aerodrome fire engine."

A Tiger Moth dives above the joyriding Dragon Rapide G-AKZH, whilst spectators look on.

An ancient Austin Seven tries to avoid chalk powder ‘bombs’ thrown from a Tiger Moth; an event straight out of the barnstorming era of the 1930s. 

Ladislav Marmol in the Zlin 24 Krajanek G-ALMP put up an incredible aerobatic display at Eaton Bray after being aero-towed by the Hawker Tomtit G-AFTA flown by Neville Duke.

 Built in 1946 and imported into Britain from Czechoslovakia in 1947 as OK-8592, this glider held several unofficial endurance records flown by Ladislav Marmol, and still survives. 

‘Chris’ Wren’s caricatures of Eaton Bray air display participants Ladislav Marmol and John Fricker.

E. A. ‘Chris’ Wren (1908-82) was a direct
descendant of the 17th Century architect Sir Christopher Wren and became
aviation’s best-loved and most talented caricaturist.


Standing in front of the Sportsdrome complex  during a British Model Car Club meeting on Sunday, September 28th 1947,  is Fairchild Argus II G-AIXM with its Warner Scarab radial engine ticking over whilst passengers climb aboard. Pilot Joan Nayler?

The Argus was sold in Australia in 1952 and became VH-BLB and is still active.  At right is North Sea Air Transport’s Miles Messenger 2B G-AGPX, also joyriding, in the hands of a chap by the name of Ingles