WINGS OVER CAMBRIDGE
CAMBRIDGE'S CONNECTIONS WITH THE WARTIME AIR FORCE

 

 

 


The Visit of Auckland Aero Club's Moths
and the establishment of Cambridge's Aerodrome

 

Three de Havilland DH60 Gipsy Moths visited Cambridge in October 1929 from the Auckland Aero Club. The aircraft and their crews were making a tour of the North Island to survey and encourage the establishment of aircraft landing grounds throughout the country.

This set in motion the setting up of such a landing ground right here in Cambridge, at the Trotting Club (also known then as the Showgrounds, and now Cambridge Raceway).

Waikato Independent, Thursday 12th of September 1929

CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

ORDINARY MEETING

AEROPLANE LANDING GROUNDS

Prior to the discussion on railway freights and the transport service to Cambridge last evening at the Power Board buildings, an ordinary meeting of the Chamber of Commerce was held, the president (Mr T.F. Richards) presiding over a very good attendance of members.

Aeroplane Landing Grounds

The Secretary, Auckland Aero Club, wrote re the provision of landing grounds for aeroplanes throughout the Dominion. The securing of such areas was one of the main obstacles to aviation progress in the Dominion. It was felt that the obtaining of data from borough councils and other local bodies was unwieldy, and with a view to awakening interest in the various centres, it had been decided to give practical demonstrations. The club had decided to send a flight of two or more 'planes round the North Island for the purpose of discussing landing grounds and would arrive in Cambridge on October 3 at 12.30, and leave again at 3 p.m. It was suggested that the chamber arrange for a conference of persons interested; also that the school children be invited to be present.

The president said he had no doubt the matter would be placed before the Borough Council, but he thought the chamber would be interested. He understood the Trotting Club was interested itself in the matter of providing a landing ground at the racecourse.

On the motion of Messrs A.H. Nicholl and A.E. Hill it was resolved that the secretary bring the letter before the notice of the Trotting Club and ascertain what steps they have already taken in the matter, and what revenue was likely to be derived from the landing area when laid down.

It was agreed the club's request for a conference of interested residents be arranged.

 

 

Waikato Independent, 3rd of October 1929

AERIAL TOUR

PLANES VISIT CAMBRIDGE

A MEMORABLE OCCASION

In a continuation of their tour of the first section of the North Island for the purpose of arranging landing grounds, the three Moth aeroplanes arrived at "Bardowie" Cambridge, punctually at 11.30 this morning, and made a perfect landing before a large and representative gathering.

The planes left Te Aroha at 9.30 this morning and visited Morrinsville. Leaving there at 11.15, the three planes, flying in triangular formation, were first observed as mere specks on a cloudy north-eastern sky. Soon they took more definite shape, and after circling over "Bardowie", made a beautiful landing in what is known as the 'pond' paddock.

The first plane glided slowly and gracefully down before the spectators. It was the Auckland Aero Club's plane (gift of the Auckland Herald), piloted by Captain J. Seabrook (club captain), with whom was Mr K. Hackett (Herald representative). This was followed closely by the other two machines. The club's D.H. Moth was second, with Major J. Cowper (instructor of the club) and Mr H. Mason (a member of the committee). The last to land was Mr J.C. Horton in his private Moth. He was accompanied by Mr E.W. Wright, a pupil of the club.

Mayor's Welcome

In extending a very hearty welcome to the visiting airmen, Mr C.H. Priestly (Mayor of Cambridge) said that flying had now come to stay. He advised the visitors that the Cambridge Trotting Club was prepared to put down a landing ground on the racecourse. He assured them that there were a number of public-spirited men in the district who were keenly interested in aviation.

They looked upon the present visit, said the Mayor, as a red-letter one for Cambridge. He assured the club that Cambridge was prepared to do at all possible to advance aviation in the district.

Mr R. Hannon (president of the Trotting Club) also briefly welcomed the visitors.

Mr Mason, president of the Auckland Aviation Association, thanked the speakers and those present for the welcome. The object of the visit was to stimulate interest in aviation . They made a strong point that it did not entail a great expense on local bodies to provide landing places, especially in country districts. All that was required was a good area of level ground with Clear approaches. Mr Mason stated that they had started out from Auckland, and the trip to Te Aroha had taken one hour. This showed the value of aviation for general transport. Another object was to demonstrate to the people how safe flying was.

Mr Marshall, the Mayor of Paeroa, who had flown from Auckland, had declared the experience as sitting in an armchair. The speaker said if landing grounds were provided all over the country in two years flying would be general in New Zealand. He also reminded those present that the provision of grounds for landing would not affect the production of the land in question.

Local Flights

After the reception a number of officials of the trotting Club and other public personages were taken for flights, some interesting "stunts" being indulged in. Afterwards the visitors were taken on a tour of inspection of the trotting Club's racecourse.

Next Stage

The visiting planes are to leave Cambridge at 3.30p.m. for Te Awamutu on the next stage of their tour.

 

 

 

The Auckland Weekly News

 This event was also covered by the now defunct Auckland Weekly News, and in the issue dated the 9th of October 1929 a full page photospread of the Moths in Cambridge was featured, as seen below. Note: These images are digital photos taken of the microfilm reader screen, as the old magazines are held on microfilm at the University of Waikato, so the quality is not as good as a scan from the real thing. The photos were taken by J.F. Louden

 

Better details from that page with the original captions in grey, and more detail from me where appropriate in yellow, are thus:

 

1. Captain J. Seabrook, one of the pilots on both stages of the tour

This was Captain John Seabrook, an ex-WWI pilot, still in the Territorial Air Force then, and the Chief Flying Instructor with the Auckland Aero Club at this time

 

2. Captain W.S.R. Bloomfield, a pilot on the second stage

 

3. Major G.A.C. Cowper, also a pilot on both stages, talking with assistant ground engineer at Mangere, Mr L. Anderson (right)

 

4. Mr Ian Horton, who flew his own machine on both stages

This is Mr Horton of Wilson and Horton newspapers, who own the New Zealand Herald and also owned the Auckland Weekly News where these photos come from. The company donated a Moth to the Auckland Aero Club, becoming known as the Herald Moth

 

5. Cambridge residents including Mr. R. Hannon (left), president of the Cambridge Trotting Club, watching the aeroplanes arrive

6. Machines over Cambridge with the War Memorial on right

The three Auckland Aero Club DH Moths are seen flying up Victoria Street in a low flypast. Clearly seen is the Cenotaph on the right, the National Hotel on the left and in the background the old Post Office which in 1929 still had it's clock tower.

 

7. School girls with a keen "air sense"

 

8. Aero Club "Moths" surrounded by interested spectators at Te Aroha

 

9. In sympathy with the aviator. A well known Cambridge lady "helps" Major Cowper while watching him do a loop

Does anyone have any idea who this lady was?

 

10. Flyers and prominent residents photographed in front of one of the machines at Cambridge.

Do you recognise anyone in this photo? If you do, please contact me
Here are some blow ups which may help you to recognise faces:

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Waikato Independent, Saturday 5th of October 1929

AVIATION GROUNDS

PROVISION IN CAMBRIDGE

SUITABILITY OF RACECOURCE

After the reception to the visiting pilots and members of the Auckland Aeroclub at "Bardowie" on Thursday morning, an inspection was made of Trotting Club's grounds to ascertain their suitability or otherwise as a landing ground for aeroplanes. In addition to the visiting pilots and Me H.J. Mason (chairman of the Aero Club), there were also present, Messrs C.H. Priestley (Major), Cr C.W. Clark, Messrs R. Hannon (president), N. Banks (vice-president), W. Stopford (Secretary) and C. Andrew (Committeeman) of the Trotting Club.

The visitors were motored all over the grounds and both Major G.A.C. Cowper (instructor) of the Aero Club and Mr Mason expressed themselves as delighted to find in the centre of Cambridge such an extensive area of level country. In fact all visitors agreed that it would make an ideal aerodrome.

Major Cowper pointed out that the length from East to West was all that was required but thought that the breadth was a trifle narrow, but when when it was pointed out that the breadth could be easily extended and that in all the club could provide 84 acres the Major replied, "It's an excellent site and among the best we've seen." Major Cowper stated that the area required for a landing and taking off run was about 400 by 350 yards and he was assured that this area could be comfortably provided. it was pointed out by the visiting pilots that the belt of trees on the western end of the course would have to be removed or well topped.

Mr Hannon replied that the trees were very ancient and they could come out, though the belt to the South Western corner of the course would have to remain, but it was stated by Major Cowper that the latter would not be an obstruction.

RACECOURSE BANNED

The Government's ban on racecourses was discussed, the Major expressing the opinion that it affected more the city courses. It was hardly reasonable that it should apply to country courses, where in many instances the racecourse was the only possible site for an aerodrome.

In reply to Mr Stopford, Mr Mason said that the Minister of Defence (Hon Wilford) had stated that he could take no exception to the legislation provided.

Mr Mason agreed with the Mayor that in the case of Cambridge, the ban was unreasonable. This applied to several other places and pressure would have to be brought to bear on the Government to lift the ban where it was possible or to have the legislation removed. Aviation was getting beyond the experimental stage and landing grounds had to be provided. Mr Mason assured the local representatives that the club would take steps to deal with the matter.

The visitors were assured that the Trotting Club was prepared to go ahead with the provision of a landing ground in conjunction with other sports bodies for whom it was intended to provide playing areas.

The Mayor assured the visitors that the council would do all in its power to support the project.

Mr Mason and Major Cowper expressed their appreciation of the interest and enthusiasm displayed. Cambridge was an ideal spot for an aviation centre, being flat and with good atmospheric conditions. Mr Mason again emphasised the fact that it would not be a very expensive undertaking to provide a landing ground at Cambridge. He assured the local representatives of the club's hearty co-operation.

OFF TO TE AWAMUTU

After lunch at the National Hotel the visitors left a few minutes after 2 p.m. for Te Awamutu, and returned later to Cambridge , the machines being tied up here for the night.

The visiting pilots were the guests of the club on Thursday evening. Early yesterday morning the airmen returned to Auckland.

To clarify, this aerodrome started in 1929 was separate from the strip previously used by aircraft visiting Cambridge. The old airstrip was across the other side and further north up Victoria Road, somewhere on the Bardowie Estate, owned by wealthy landowner James Taylor. This was where the first aircraft to visit Taylor had landed, the Avro 504 detailed on this page.

The Bardowie strip was also the site of aircraft rides provided by George Bolt in an Avro Avian. See here for more.

Also reports that the famous Southern Cross of Kingsford Smith fame landed there in 1928, or possibly 1933, have been unsubstantiated as yet. See more here

So from 1919 till 1929, there was aerial activity from the Bardowie airstrip, a private piece of land simply cleared of fences so aircraft could operate as and when they needed. It was always for special events, joy rides and parachute displays as such. But it wasn't till 1929 that a proper Aeroclub backed and Council-sponsored aerodrome was established in Cambridge.

This is where the research got difficult and it has taken some time to sort out. Many eyewitnesses I have interviewed who saw planes flying from the airstrips had different names for the airfield. Also, newspaper reports have differed in the names used. Apart from the older Bardowie airstrip, I have now established that all the other names refer to the same plot of land!

These names include:

- Taylor's Pond Paddock on Bardowie Estate

- The Trotting Club

- The Showgrounds

- Taylor Estate (west of the road)

-The Polo Ground

I eventually established that James Taylor owned land on both sides of Victoria Road, all called Bardowie Estate but sometimes referred to as the Taylor Estate. Some of his land on the western side encroached into the new aerodrome as this was inside the trotting track, and the trotting track spilled over from the greenbelt into Taylor's land.

I assume, but have not confirmed, that the piece of land was leased to the Trotting Club by Taylor. Half the track lay in the greenbelt land, which is council owned (or public owned at least). The other half of the mile long track went into private land, that of Mr Taylor.

This area, on the corner of Taylor Street and Victoria Road had also been used for polo by the Cambridge Polo Club. So this is why some reports of aircraft in the Polo Ground were made in the newspapers.

It has to be remembered that Cambridge's trotting track used to be quite a lot larger than it is today. In fact around twice the size. The track extended all the way out across the Greenbelt area of Taylor Street, and out to virtually touch Victoria Road. So most of the Greenbelt we now see on Taylor-Victoria corner, and all of the track today, was all on the inside of the old track! A massive area.

There are aerial photos in existence of the old trotting track which i hope to be able to bring to this page soon, once permission is gained. I have studied these 1940's and 1950's aerial photos of the area and they clear up the mystery of the Pond Paddock on Bardowie Estate I think. Where the pond is nowadays next to the pony club (adjacent to Taylor Street), there were in 1946 some tall trees even then, which seem to surround the same pond. That pond would definitely have been on the edge of the Taylor property, Bardowie, where it borders with the greenbelt. See the diagram below to clarify this.

All the area around those trees in the 1940's and 50's photos was flat grass land, so must have been back in the 1930's too. There were no fences dividing the border between Taylor's property and the council-owned greenbelt either, so I'd imagine the greenbelt land was probably leased by Bardowie for grazing.

With no fences, the area in the middle of the track is more than enough to land even a large aircraft like a Fokker Trimotor on comfortably, and smaller Moths, Avians, Spartans and Desoutters wouldn't have any trouble. Many of the unconfirmed reports of the Southern Cross landing in Cambridge say it was in this area, and having seen the photos I now believe it possible.

There were no power lines or other obstructions either except the tall oaks down Taylor Street, but they would be on the opposite side from where aircraft would operate and cause no problems.

That pond has probably always been there, under those trees, and I am quite convinced that the Pond Paddock, and the Racecourse were one and the same place. Now that we have also pinpointed the Polo Ground as being in the very same paddock, thanks to John Richardson who told me this, we know now all these places were the same big field.

If you have any further memories, photos, documentation or better still, photos, of the Aerodrome at Cambridge, I'd be very pleased to hear from you. Email me

Who Used The Cambridge Aerodrome?

So, we now have established that the aerodrome was created, and where it was situated. But who used it? Some interesting characters all told...

Among the operators to have used Cambridge Aerodrome was the famous Malcolm "Mac" McGregor, who had become the chief pilot of the short-lived Hamilton Airways Ltd. This was set up by a group of Waikato businessmen in April 1929, originally with Mr John H.M. Smith as the company's first pilot. The airline started small with DH60 Gipsy Moth ZK-AAG, which they'd bought from Mill's Air Survey and Transport Company. Later two more Gypsy Moths were added to the company, ZK-AAS and ZK-AAV. It seems the company was an aerial taxi service, people could telephone them and charter a flight from and to anywhere. They flew to almost any town or district in the country, and if they didn't have an aerodrome they'd land in the most suitable paddock to be found.

Mac McGregor is reported to have flown into Cambridge on a number of occasions to pick up or let off a passenger. It was fairly commonplace for the more wealthy passenger to go by aircraft to Hamilton (landing at the racecourse at Claudelands) than by road, because the road to Hamilton up till 1939 was unsealed and in appalling condition. The alternatives were travelling by riverboat or by train, both of which were the more affordable transport options. But going by air was more fun, more exciting and quicker for those who could afford the luxury.

Another pilot known to have operated from Cambridge Aerodrome was Stanley Blackmore. He flew with the Waikato Aeroclub and his own Waikato Aviation Co. Ltd (the latter based in Rotorua) so apparently made regular visits to Cambridge in Desoutter Tourer aircraft, which could carry two passengers as well as Stan. He would take rides at the annual A&P shows and other events (local airman Charlie Christiansen remembers going up with Blackmore on one such trip). Blackmore also used the other nearby strip on Bardowie, Victoria Road too, on one such occasion being when he took up parachutist Scotty Fraser.

On March the 2nd, 1933, another very famous and important New Zealand pilot flew into Cambridge. He was Ron Kirkup, flying his Avro Avian ZK-ACM. He'd flown down from Mangere to Orakei and then Cambridge, before flying onto Te Rapa, Te Awamutu and Rukuhia.

That was ZK-ACM's first visit to the town but not its last, because In April 1934 Kirkup sold the Avian onto Ted Harvie, who had local Cambridge connections. Harvie was then based at Mangere but he flew charters around the country, and on the 15th of May 1934, he flew A.P. Blair from Mangere to Cambridge via Te Rapa, and back.

On the 24th of May 1934, Ted again flew down to Cambridge from Mangere, by himself, and returned to his Auckland base with J. Sawers aboard - perhaps a businessman going to the big smoke?

On the 7th of June 1934 Ted Harvie flew into Cambridge alone from Taupo in ZK-ACM. He then tripped onwards to Mangere the same day. No doubt he met friends and family during this stopover. The next day he flew back to Cambridge, via a short stop at Te Rapa, and he returned to Mangere with a passenger this time, a M. Harvie. This was probably his brother Monty.

On the 25th of June 1934, after taking future Air Force squadron commander Aubrey Breckon for a flight over Auckland Harbour, Ted then flew A. McGruen down from Mangere to Cambridge before proceeding onwards to Rukuhia, Te rapa and home to Mangere.

On the 2nd of July 1934, Ted again flew to Cambridge, leaving from Hobsonville this time and flying passenger K. Bartlett into the town. They returned to Mangere that day.

The Avian went through a complete overhaul shortly afterwards, and then on the 13th of September 1934 Ted flew E. White from Mangere to Cambridge, and onto Te Rapa.

On the 20th of September another trip south saw Ted fly to Te Rapa, then he flew from there to Cambridge and back twice, before returning to Cambridge. The aircraft seems to have stopped at Cambridge at this point, his logbook states "at Cambridge". He flies it on the 3rd and 4th of October just at Cambridge, and finally leaves the town on the 4th back to Te Rapa and onto Mangere.

I am certain that this period where Ted had his plane based at Cambridge, for the 14 days between the 20th of September and 4th of October 1934, this was when a young lad by the name of Gordon Easter became involved. Gordon recalled to me how he washed and polished Ted's aeroplane and how eventually Ted took him flying in it and taught him the basics of how to fly. This all makes perfect sense because there was some local flying in the logbook, and even more importantly, there's a notation in the book for this period stating "A/c washed, cleaned, greased, inspected." A/c being shorthand for aircraft.

Avian ACM graced Cambridge skies again on the 12th of November 1934 when Ted flew her in from Mangere direct, flying solo, and tootled onwards to Te Rapa and back to Mangere the same day.

This trip was Ted's last jaunt into the Cambridge Aerodrome in his Avian, though he continued to fly all around New Zealand in the plane till he sold it onto Mr. R.G. Tappenden in April 1935.

A huge thank you goes to Mr Keith Trillo, ZK-ACM's last owner, for kindly supplying the above details from the aircraft's logbook.

If you recall anyone else or any aircraft types using the Cambridge Aerodrome I'd like to hear from you please.

Now I have to establish when the aerodrome ceased to operate as such. I'm not sure if it continued in use right up till the war, when the Army took it over and the racecourse became a training facility for Territorials. Does anyone know when it ceased as an operational airstrip?


I have attempted to construct a diagram to demonstrate basically where the two airfields lay. Note, this map is by no means to scale. If anyone can add more information or correct anything wrong here, please contact me.

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And here are some photos of the aerodrome site as it looks today in 2006

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Above: This is the corner of Taylor Street (running to left and right of shot, and Victoria Road looking towards Hautapu direction. This fence around the piece of greenbelt land was basically the edge of the trotting track as it used to be (it was obviously oval within the confines of the fence line I mean)

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Looking slightly left of the previous shot gives an idea of the field, and the size of the trees in Taylor Street, which are very ancient and would not have been much smaller in 1929-1930's

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The view from Taylor Street fence line across to the pond, which is under the tallest trees seen. In the 1930's those tall trees were almost in the centre of the track, with as much pasture again on the other side of them. They were an isolated clump in those days without the fences and smaller trees around them.

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And for reference, a shot of the pond itself.

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