Before the Second World War, Aldenham Country Club - now Haberdashers' Aske's School - had a polo ground and, at a time when flying was highly fashionable, many players would land their de Havilland Puss and Leopard Moths on Elstree’s grass strip before making the short hop across to the club to play. Back then there was no real infrastructure at the aerodrome due to the relatively infrequent usage.
During WWII, the Ministry of Aircraft Production laid a concrete runway and erected the large Bellman Hangar to work on Wellington bombers. The planes were towed down the bypass from their Watford factory to be constructed and repaired at Elstree before taking to the skies, and modifications were continually fitted, including one to trial bounce bombing. The Allied Expeditionary Air Forces Communication Squadron maintained a detachment of aircraft at the airfield for several months towards the end of the war, ferrying agents to and from occupied Europe.
After a period of post-war quiet, Elstree’s managers began to fly in converted Halifaxes stacked with Italian food to supplement the depleted British stocks. However, the project was short-lived when an overloaded plane crash landed, damaging the runway, and it was left to John Houlder, a 34-year-old engineer and artillery officer, to make something of the place. Thus began a happy and fruitful period in the airfield’s history, with Houlder at the reins for a remarkable 56 years until his recent death. "I ran it like I ran the artillery," he said in 2005. "After 50 years it's still here so I must have done something right.”
He got much right, and Elstree now thrives, with over a hundred fixed wing customers and a growing rotary base, 24/7 operations, newly built hangars and dedicated FISOs and ground staff.
The pictures below capture many exciting times at Elstree Aerodrome throughout the 40s, 50s and 60s.