ONE hundred years ago, a small but significant piece of world history was made on Island shores.

A flying ‘first’ happened in the skies above IW beaches.

It initiated the start of the aviation phenomenon that is today’s mass movement of people on air travel holidays.

In the summer of 1919, Britain was ready to cast off the deep sadness of loss of life in the Great War.

Distractions such as Peace Concerts were planned.

Experienced war-time pilots sought new opportunities to bring the exhilarating novelty of flight to the paying public.

Just three months after Armistice Day, five mainland aircraft companies had contacted Ryde, Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor councils.

John Dawson and Sons, of Newcastle, requested permission to provide short ‘joy-ride’ flights.

British Aerial Transport wanted to run a service from London to the IW.

Both were in search of suitable landing sites.

Bournemouth Aviation proposed flying boat trips to the Island, starting from Durley Chine beach, Bournemouth.

AVRO Aviation and Supermarine Aviation were the two most serious contenders.

All town mayors and councillors were in favour.

They agreed that flights around the Island coast would be a desirable attraction for visitors during the summer season.

Bournemouth Council proposed selecting “a suitable company who shall have the monopoly,” as the safest option and easiest way to maintain some control on operations.

On April 2, a conference was held at Shanklin.

Managing director, Hubert Scott-Paine, commander James Bird and Lt. Victor Paine, of Supermarine, met representatives of Ryde Pier Company, Seaview Pier Company, Sandown, Shanklin, and Ventnor councils.

The aviation company had been responsible for valuable pioneer work during the Great War, and their aircraft had been tested to the limits in extreme weather.

Supermarine proposed to make Southampton the centre of their operations and organise a seaplane service between Southsea, Bournemouth, Weymouth, and all resorts in the IW.

James Bird outlined a varied programme of flights designed to accustom people to the new sensation.

The offer was trips from Southampton to Ryde, Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor, trips from those Island resorts to Bournemouth, Southsea and Weymouth, and Wight-only trips between Island towns ­— one town only, short taster flights.

Bird hoped it would inspire confidence in the most nervous novice passenger.

Pier heads were integral to the scheme.

Passengers would board a flying boat, moored nearby, by boat from the pier.

Flights would cost 2s 6d (£6.75 today) per mile, per passenger, for distance flights.

A small flying boat carried three passengers.

Larger aircraft would be used for the longer flights.

Scott-Paine believed his company was further ahead than any other British company.

Ten machines were ready. Five would operate daily.

Five would remain at the Southampton Woolston works to receive inspection by Government officials.

Insurance for all passengers was arranged.

Supermarine’s carefully thought-out scheme, with extensive facilities at Southampton and under Government control, won unanimous backing from the conference.

All agreed it would advance IW interests.

Major-General, Charles Seely, enthused and promised to inaugurate the first flight.

A former IW newspaper said: “Councillor Hayden will no longer be able to say that Ryde is the slowest place on earth when we all get to be flyers.”

While Supermarine’s proposal awaited activation, other nations were planning their own passenger flights across water.

France, for example, was concentrating on new design, giant air ships to carry large passenger numbers.

Scott-Paine’s ambition was more modest, more safe ­— more quickly attainable.

In late July, AVRO Aviation advertised daily flights from the piers.

It said: “The flights will prove a great attraction to visitors to obtain fine views of the Island. Fee: 30s (£80 today) charge per trip.”

Supermarine’s service was delayed until the new Aviation Bill became law.

On August 23, 1919 ,the big day arrived.

Seely sent a telegraph of apology ­— he couldn’t attend the first flight.

The honour went instead to Southampton’s mayor, as the city was the mainland base port.

Scott-Paine said: “Supermarine is not out to make money but to make history.

“The time is ripe for a passenger service over the sea.

“In starting the first of its kind in the world, the Supermarine Company have at the heart of Southampton, a service that has long been talked about and which is now about to become an accomplished fact.”

His other driving motive was to restore the pride and importance of the naval side of aviation.

He felt it had been eclipsed by the Royal Flying Corps aircraft during the Great War.

He said: “The company intend to supply authorities all over the world who wish to use our machines for passenger-carrying.

“We are prepared to send fully trained pilots with the flying boats.

Thus, in August, 1919, Wight seaside towns became the ‘overseas’ ports of the world’s first scheduled passenger flying boat service.

Soon after, Supermarine started a cross-channel passenger service to France.

To put this into historical context, in June, 1919, Alcock and Brown made their (now famous) first non-stop transatlantic flight.

It was another 20 years before USA airline, Pan-Am, made the world’s first passenger transatlantic flight.

So next time you fly to distant shores, keep in mind that 100 years ago, it all started here.

Ryde, the slowest place on earth? We’ve had our moments.

A question for current councillors ­— why isn’t there a ‘Blue Plaque’ to commemorate this?