HATCH GATE AIRFIELD.
Colonel Arthur Close Borton of Cheveney, recorded events during the First World War, with particular reference to his sons Biffy and Bosky, and to the use of the then disused flour/water mill of Cheveney Institute, and the use of an adjacent field round Mill Lane (,Hatch Gate).
Whilst walking to Hunton church with his wife Laura on 8th November 1914, they met two Naval Officers studying a map; they said that they were prospecting for a landing ground. He took them to Hatch Gate along Mill Lane which they said would be suitable. The airfield was duly prepared and on the 24th December 1914, Bosky and Biffy arrived in a Henri Farman aeroplane, an event that was to be recorded on a plaque, which remains there today. A barrack building was erected at Hatch Gate and typically housed 15 men with one or two officers. 1915 was a busy time with a continual flow of aircraft through the Hatch Gate airstrip, their pilots being invited for lunch or dinner or even to stay the night at Cheveney House. Meanwhile Matron Laura was constantly involved with a full Institute Hospital.
Biffy used Hatch Gate whilst at home, but during the war he used others in France, and in one of his letters to the Colonel wrote that on the 28th of May 1916 they had an entirely unexpected visitor to the aerodrome. This the Colonel entered into his diary, and is recorded in “My Warrior Sons” an extract from the Colonel’s war diaries, that reads:-
‘. . . an entirely unexpected visitor to the aerodrome. At about 3 am a machine was heard in the mist over the aerodrome; the officer on duty was roused and proceeded to fire signal lights which were answered from the machine, which proceeded to come down, tho’ the first effort was misjudged and he had to go round again. Judge at the astonishment of all concerned when they saw it was a Hun who was more successful the second time and made a faultless landing and taxied up to the sheds where he was surrounded by a mob of mechanics in various stages of undress, headed by the officer in PYJAMAS and a BRITISH WARM, (a ¾ length Camel coat,) armed with an empty revolver. The whole affair was worthy of comic opera, and has caused the most intense amusement. I fear we shall always be known as The Hun Catchers.
The Huns had apparently been out bomb-dropping and were lost in the fog. They were firmly convinced they were over their own lines. We entertained them to breakfast before handing them over. However – amusing as the whole thing was, I strongly resented having to dig out at 3 am to welcome our friends the enemy.’
The Hatch Gate airfield continued to be used throughout the First World War, and the Colonel erected a plaque on the site with details of that read: -
“It was on Christmas Eve 1914 that Captain Amyas Eden Borton of the Black Watch, with his brother, Captain Arthur Drummond Borton of the King’s Royal Rifles as Observing Officer (Sons of Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Close Borton of Cheveney Hunton) landed on this ground in a Henri Farman Biplane during a reconnaissance from Brooklands Surrey.”
Colonel Borton died in 1927 at the age of 76, whilst Bosky (Arthur Drummond), who won a VC during the war settled in Southwold in Suffolk, where he died in 1933 at the age of 49. Biffy (Amyas Eden) was to inherit Cheveney. In 1922 he was awarded the C.B., and the following year became Commandant of the RAF College at Cranwell. In 1933 he retired as an Air Vice-Marshal in command of the inland area of the RAF. He commuted to London in his own private plane from the resurrected air-strip at Hatch Gate.
Cheveney house gardens were to be frequently open to the public all the time the Borton family lived there from the late 19th century, supporting organisations and groups of both Hunton and Yalding. Biffy who supported many local societies, especially the British Legion, passed away in 1969 to an overflowing memorial service in our parish church.