Before the Second World War, flights to and from Jersey were made via the St. Aubin’s Bay airfield. It officially opened in December 1933 but wasn’t your typical airfield: it was positioned on a beach opposite the West Park pavilion.
Situated just to the western side of St. Helier, it would eventually close operations in March 1937.
Prior to the 1933 opening, the beach at West Park had previously been used for aircraft landings. According to the Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust (ABCT), the area had seen some minor aviation activity in the 1920s:
During the 1920s the Supermarine Sea Eagle amphibious flying boats of Imperial Airways made ad hoc visits if the usual Southampton and Guernsey service was extended.”
This connection to Southampton was to continue when the airfield officially opened in December 1933 as the Jersey Airways company was formed. They were to operate flights to and from Portsmouth, with a Southampton stop being added in early 1934.
The Southampton association would see the airline run a fleet of 8 De Havilland Dragons between the city’s Eastleigh airport and the island.
During the short time it operated as a dedicated landing spot, St. Aubin’s Bay airfield of Jersey proved to be popular. 20,000 passengers are said to have been carried on the Dragons by the close of 1934. It wasn’t unusual for all 8 planes to be in the air during the peak holiday season.
Some flying boats also used St. Aubin’s Bay airfield in Jersey. The UK Airfield Guide explains how Kirston & Mace Ltd operated a Saro Cutty Sark seaplane to Southampton in 1930. Short Sunderland flying boats were also seen here after WW2 years after the airfield had officially closed.
In terms of that 1937 airfield closure, there are good reasons why this happened.
Being that St. Aubin’s Bay airfield was on a beach, it encountered some rather predictable problems. These included the obvious issue of tidal waters. The water would come right in at high tide, covering the sand and leaving no beach for the non-seaplanes to land on.
The tides also meant that aircraft could not be serviced on the beach. If there were any mechanical problems, planes would have to be towed up the slipway onto stable land above the beach area for any work to be carried out.
Given that the location of the beach was also just west of St. Helier’s town centre, which happens to be the most highly populated area of Jersey, it was frequented by beach goers. You can imagine how tricky it would have been to keep people off the beach when planes came into land.
On the 10th of March in 1937, all the problems connected to the timetables being governed by tides was removed with the opening of Jersey Airport, which still exists to this day.
The new airport had four grass runways and was further expanded and improved when the Germans invaded in 1940. The Luftwaffe added concrete taxiways and hangars, enabling easier flights into the island of troops, supplies, and equipment.
In 2013 a memorial to all the units and personnel based at Jersey’s pre-war airfield on St. Aubin’s Bay beach was laid by the Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust.
The memorial above is the only reminder of what was once here. If it wasn’t for the memorial, visitors would never know that this beach on West Park in St. Aubin’s Bay near St. Helier was once a thriving 1930’s airfield.
- The image in header is taken from a postcard belonging to Mike Charlton via www.aviationpostcard.co.uk (with his kind permission).