Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome has welcomed descendants of its first commander, Capt (later Wg Cdr) Claude Ridley MC DSO (1876-1942) to his former station
Claude’s great-niece, Sophie Stuart-Buttle, brought along newspaper cuttings of his exploits. They were especially pleased to see the museum’s exhibition, dedicated to 37 Squadron RFC, which tells the story of their famous relative - including the sword he carried on his ‘passing-out’ parade. The exhibition is open to the public and recounts tales of the ‘derring-do’ exploits of this remarkable man.
Sophie’s daughter, Daisy, aged 12 (Claude’s great-great-niece), is a member of Towcester 1875 Squadron Air Cadets – clearly following in his very large, and illustrious footsteps. It is hoped that a visit of the Towcester Air Cadets can be arranged in the near future.
Claude, who transferred from the Royal Fusiliers after serving and being wounded on the Western Front, to 60 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, in July 1915, was decorated for home defence in southern England, winning the Military Cross in 1916 for ‘downing’ a zeppelin.
Not content to sit on his (injured) heels, he then transferred to 3 Squadron RFC, for secret missions into occupied France. It was on a mission like this that, while ferrying a spy behind enemy lines in France in 1916, his Morane aircraft broke down, and he and his passenger were captured.
Undeterred, and despite his injuries, Claude managed to escape, and spent several weeks on the run, trying desperately to get back to England via the Low Countries, gathering intelligence about the German forces. He delivered this intelligence to his superiors on his return. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for “conspicuous gallantry and judgement in the execution of a special mission.”
Due to his daring and well-publicised escape, he was withdrawn from missions overseas – he risked being shot as a spy if captured – and was instead sent to head up 37 Squadron at RFC Stow Maries. By this time, he was still only 19 years of age.
Claude is buried in Stow Maries churchyard, as he requested, returning to the place he had loved and served so well during the Great War.
To learn more about the exploits of Claude Ridley, or the work undertaken at Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome, the site is open to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10am until Sunday 17 December.