Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has joined forces with Fields in Trust to preserve a former WWI facility as a Centenary Field.
The site of the Whitehead Aerodrome was today protected as a Centenary Field in a dedication ceremony at Bentra Golf Course. Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough, Councillor Audrey Wales MBE said “In memory of those who served or were lost, the World War I Whitehead Aerodrome site was declared a Centenary Field. This is a very exciting initiative from Fields in Trust which is being embraced by the Council as part of its commitment to marking the Centenary of WWI in a very public way. We want to celebrate the ongoing community use of these recreational sites as well as recognising local heritage through the protection of important green space. Council has already demonstrated its commitment to protecting such green spaces; in addition to the Bentra Golf Course we have permanently safeguarded sites with Fields in Trust at Ballymena and Larne, with a further one in process just outside of Carrickfergus".
“For these actions, we were awarded Fields in Trust’s partner of the year last year,” said Cllr Wales.
Coming just one week after marking the anniversary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, this accolade is timely recognition that Bentra Golf Course and Whitehead Diamond Jubilee Wood was the wartime home to the Whitehead Aerodrome between 1915 and 1917. It was the first military aviation facility in Northern Ireland. Airships based at the site patrolled the waters between Ireland and Scotland to combat the German U-Boat menace.
Fields in Trust Development Manager, Terry Housden commented: “I congratulate Mid and East Antrim Council for this showcase launch. We look forward to many more landowners following their lead and many other Centenary Fields protected as memorial spaces in Northern Ireland. “This programme is a fitting way for us to mark the sacrifices made by so many in World War I whilst looking to the future through a living remembrance.”
Centenary Fields run in partnership with The Royal British Legion protects UK, parks, playing fields and community gardens forever to mark the anniversary of World War I. Sites protected through the programme have a tangible connection to WWI. The stories attached to sites being protected by the programme are often remarkable. The history of the Bentra site has been researched by local historian and author of ‘Airships over Ulster’, Guy Warner, who led a site tour before the dedication.
Protection as a Centenary Field now safeguards the future of the site as a playing field and recreation ground with provision for a public golf course and natural woodland area. Bentra Golf Course is a mature nine-hole course designed in 1935 by James Braid. The site is also home to an 18-hole mini golf course, which played host to a family tournament today.
The woodland contains 60,000 trees, a fruit tree orchard, a 2km path network, a large pond, outdoor gym, picnic area and is home to a large sculpture designed by artist Kevin Killen who worked with local school children to produce it.
The UK-wide Centenary Fields programme is a unique way to commemorate the centenary. It gives land owners, like Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, the opportunity to dedicate space to remember the sacrifices of those who gave their lives during the conflict, but also to ensure that future generations have valuable green space to enjoy as a living legacy. This was a point demonstrated by the organised sports and activities for all ages and abilities, which followed the dedication ceremony.
The need to secure places for playing sport and to enjoy nature and recreation has never been greater. Current concerns about health, child obesity, access to nature and mental wellbeing all need a green infrastructure for future generations to enjoy.
Golf clubs are invited to get involved in Fields in Trust's Golf Club Champions Initiative, Bernard Gallacher - Ryder Cup winning Captain and Fields in Trust supporter- said "Please join golf clubs throughout the UK in supporting Fields in Trust in their work to protect and improve parks, playing fields and public golf courses so that future generations have accessible places to play."
Photograph shows The Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough, Councillor Audrey Wales MBE, unveiling a plaque at the site.