Role of Larne Airfield at Bentra given official recognition

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A commemoration stone was unveiled at Bentra, in Whitehead, on Saturday, to mark the site of a World War I airship base.

The official ceremony at Diamond Jubilee Wood was conducted by the Queen’s representative in Co. Antrim Lord Lieutenant Joan Christie.

Larne Airfield - also known as either Bentra or Whitehead - was Ireland’s first permanent military airfield.

Larne and Kirkistown Airfields are the first in Northern Ireland to be honoured with an Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust’s memorials.

Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust, the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and Mid and East Antrim Borough Council were also represented at the service.

Historical consultant Guy Warner explained: “The airships that operated from Bentra patrolled the North Channel looking for U-boats during World War I.

“They also escorted the Princess Maud back and forward to Stranraer and escorted convoys from 1917.

“Their role was chiefly one of detection and surveillance from a height. They had a crew of two or three, a pilot, wireless operator and then an engineer. If it had not been for this work, we could well have lost the war. It was that crucial.

“Larne was a very important base. The North Channel was a choke point. It was crucial to guard that particular part of the route.

“More than 100 vessels were based in Larne providing continuous patrols for U-boats. Most of the vessels were quite small although there were also destroyers and minesweepers.

“Bentra was chosen because it was a flat site opposite Luce Bay in Scotland. The airships were based there from 1915 until the end of the war.

“They are a forgotten aspect of World War I. Larne and Bentra’s role in the war deserves to have more recognition.”

The unveiling coincides with the launch of a new exhibition at Carrickfergus Museum called “Ships & Airships: Coastal Defence during the First World War”.

It explores the war at sea around our shores, with a particular focus on Bentra.