Crown Prince Hirohito's visit to Kenley

On 16th May, 1921, RAF Kenley was visited by Crown Prince (soon to be Emperor) Hirohito, of Japan. He was the first member of the Imperial Family to leave Japanese soil – his state visit to Britain being one of the highlights of a six month tour of continental Europe.

Large crowds gathered at the aerodrome to catch a glimpse of the Prince and watch the flying. He arrived dressed in the uniform of the Imperial Navy, surrounded by high-ranking Japanese Officers and dignitaries. Photographs show him inspecting a guard of honour, looking around Kenley’s hangars and watching various flying displays.

Hirohito was shown round by Air-Vice Marshal Sir John Salmond. Amongst the pilots introduced to him was Flight Lieutenant James Robb.

He recorded the days events in his logbook:

Visit of Crown Prince of Japan to 24 squadron. Gave a demonstration in a Vimy, then took part in formation flying. Final event was a flight for one of the senior Japanese Generals in the back of a Bristol. Got told off for looping him!

At this time, Robb was already a WWI ace, but he continued to rise up the ranks, eventually becoming Air Chief Marshal Sir James Robb, GCB, KBE, DSO, DFC, AFC, one of  the greats in the history of the RAF. He didn’t retire until forced to by ill health in 1951, and died in 1968, aged 73.

The Daily Mirror reported the Crown Prince’s visit to Kenley on 17th May, 1921:

An exhibition of aerial acrobatics at a height of 1000ft and a sham air fight were witnessed at Kenley yesterday by the Crown Prince of Japan, with whom were the Duke of York and the Hon. F. E. Guest, Secretary of State for Air. The Duke of York, who was wearing the uniform of a wing commander, learned his flying with the performing squadron. 

Crown Prince Hirohito was also provided with “a programme of the proceedings in Japanese, bound in white silk and embellished with Japanese emblems, supplied by Messers Coad, High Street, Uxbridge.” (The Advertiser and Gazette, 20/5/1921).

Information and first photo from RAF  Kenley by Peter Flint. Used with the kind permission of Iris Flint.
Additional photos from the collection of Roger Packham of The Bourne Society.

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