4th March 1939

Dead man appointed to run Guernsey Airport

Work on Guernsey Airport began in 1937 and it opened for business in May 1939. It took over from the landing site at L’Eree. Although it had served the island well, it wasn’t suited to larger aircraft. There had also been accidents, which had led to calls for something more suitable. The new airport at La Valliaze simplified things greatly, and catered for more suitable planes.

Guernsey Airport today

It wasn’t in use for long before German forces landed there at the start of the Occupation, but for that brief period, it was under the authority of a many who knew more than his fair share about aircraft and flying.

Dead man flying

Flight Lieutenant FA Swoffer, formerly of the RAF, had written the book Learning to Fly. He was appointed to the new role at Guernsey Airport at the start of March. He’d been working at the Empire air base at Southampton Water at the time, and was said by the Gloucestershire Echo to be “looking forward to his new job in Guernsey”.

Yet it’s only thanks to the sharp eyes of a nurse, several years before that he was in any state to take it up at all.

Swoffer had crashed his plane in 1916, and very nearly been killed. He’d got into a spin, fallen 60m and crashed into the ground at high speed. Assumed to have expired, he was taken to a mortuary to be prepared for burial. Fortunately, a nurse spotted that he was, in fact, still alive. He was nursed back to good health, and was soon back in the air.

A new airport for Guernsey

The airport was officially opened on 5 May 1939 by Sir Kingsley Wood, the air minister and, technically, Swoffer’s ultimate boss. It had four grass runways, the longest of which was just over 900m, and initially hosted Guernsey Airways and Jersey Airways flights to London, Southampton and Shoreham.

It was obvious that war was on the horizon even as the airport was opened, and four months after the first flights took off, control passed to the RAF Coastal Command. The RAF moved out in the summer as the islands were demilitarised.

 

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Other events that occured in March

Debut of Guernsey-set comedy This is Jinsy 1st
Channel 4 broadcasts Sark-based Mr Pye 2nd
First ever broadcast of Puffin’s Pla(i)ce 3rd
Dead man appointed to run Guernsey Airport 4th
Guernsey’s entire police force is arrested 5th
Isle of Guernsey delivered to its new owners 6th
Guernsey players set darts record
Guernsey heads call for an end to the Eleven-plus 7th
Guernsey’s first governor, Edmund Weston, is appointed 8th
Occupying forces mount a desperate raid on Granville 9th
Guernsey emergency services prepare for a disaster 10th
Birth of Baron James de Saumarez 11th
First publication of Victor Hugo’s Toilers of the Sea 12th
Building work starts on Guernsey Airport 13th
Guernsey’s island-wide police force is established 14th
Guernsey exchange student goes missing in Virginia 15th
The Book of Ebenezer Le Page is published 16th
BBC Radio Guernsey takes to the air
Guernsey clears up after heaviest snow in years 17th
Torrey Canyon spills oil on Guernsey’s beaches 18th
Guernsey issues banknotes featuring famous locals 19th
Guernsey guidebook pioneer Henry Inglis dies 20th
Soldiers staged a mutiny at Fort George 21st
Alderney arrest sparks a “riot” 22nd
Guernsey nurse Elizabeth Lincoln elected to the States 23rd
Famed printer Thomas de la Rue born 24th
Guernsey votes for equal age of consent 25th
Guernsey to UK telephone connection inaugurated 26th
Condor Liberation enters service 27th
Guernsey Post Office is established 28th
Enemy at the Door comes to the end of its run 29th
Guernsey adopts Sterling currency 30th
Guernsey and France tackle the Amoco Cadiz oil spill 31st