Reviewed by Peter Howarth (PJH)
This is one of those locally-produced books that provides a goldmine of information on a seemingly small and inconsequential airfield, that in fact had a long and interesting history. The site was first used for one day in 1912 by the Royal Flying Corps for exercises, and was not used again until Sir Alan Cobham’s circus arrived for displays in 1935 and 1937. Following the outbreak of war, Henley-on-Thames was initially opened as a Relief Landing Ground for No.13 EFTS at White Waltham. In turn it was also used by Woodley’s No.8 EFTS and No.10 FIS.
However real interest is added to the story when a Spitfire assembly and flight test facility was built on one end of the airfield during 1941, catering for dispersed production in the
Reading area. By the end of 1942 this facility had closed as the later marks of Spitfire required a longer runway than Henley’s small grass field could offer. The hangars didn’t go to waste though as No.529 Sqn arrived in 1944, equipped with Avro Rota autogiros and a few DH Hornet Moths. This unit’s role was the calibration of the UK’s air defence radars and this is explained in some detail, supported by extracts from the squadron’s Operation Record Book.
In April 1945, the unit made history by becoming the first RAF unit to operate helicopters when two Sikorsky Hoverfly Mk.1s were received. Early test flights of the Cierva W.9 helicopter were also carried out here. However by the end of 1945 the site had been vacated. The Spitfire assembly site is still used by industry, although the rest of the airfield has returned to agriculture.
The author has clearly researched this airfield in great detail. A good plan and building descriptions are included, along with a comprehensive list of the aircraft produced here. The book is also well illustrated and is printed on high quality paper. Highly recommended.