Historians Western Front Footsteps lead visit to Leighterton

A group of amateur history buffs, led by battlefield historians, visited the village of Leighterton last week on the trail of the Australian Flying Corps.

The visit, part of a two-day local history tour focusing on the First World War, looked at the fascinating history of Australian airmen in 1918-19 who flew from airfields at Leighterton and Minchinhampton.

Military historian Jeremy Banning normally guides clients around the battlefields of the Western Front, but has been unable to do so since the pandemic struck.

Together with his colleague, Clive Burlton, they guide an annual coach tour to France and Belgium with their company, Western Front Footsteps.

After two years of cancelled tours and frustration they were asked if a local UK based tour was viable and so the idea for the trip was born.

Other stops on their itinerary included a walking tour of Bristol, the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum in Gloucester Docks, the village of Sutton Veny in Wiltshire and Mells in Somerset, burial site of war poet Siegfried Sassoon.

Having stopped at the memorial to Leighterton Airfield on the A46 next to Starkey Hire, the group visited the village cemetery where 25 Australians are buried.

Of these, 17 were killed in air crashes, including men who had previously fought at Gallipoli and on the Western Front before transferring to the Australian Flying Corps.

More than half of all British and Commonwealth airmen who died in the war were killed in crashes during training, lacking experience and piloting aircraft which were mechanically unreliable.

Jeremy said: “There is so much First World War history around us if we just care to look.

“Despite the fact that some of those joining us were members of local history societies, we still managed to surprise them, visiting places they were unaware of.

“Leighterton was one site that very few had heard of. Whilst researching the history of these young Australians, I was struck by the contrast between life in these sleepy Cotswold villages and the arrival of energetic Australians with noisy aircraft.”

There still exists a strong connection between Leighterton and Australia with an annual Anzac Day parade and service held at the cemetery.

For further details see: https://westernfrontfootsteps.com/

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