A NEW interpretation board will be unveiled on Monday to mark the centenary of Drem Airfield which saw its training depot station open in April 1918.

The airfield was initially home to American 41st Aero Squadron when it was formally opened and is referred to in their history books as ‘Gullane’.

But it was its role during the Second World War that would mean Drem became permanently remembered in Royal Air Force records.

In 1939 the grass airstrip on the site was resurfaced and the unit was renamed RAF Drem and became home to No. 13 Flying Training School.

Following the outbreak of the Second World War, RAF Drem became an air defence fighter unit for the city of Edinburgh and the shipping area around the Firth of Forth, with Supermarine Spitfire of 602 Squadron posted to Drem.

And it was there that their commander developed a lighting system which would revolutionise the way the force approached landings.

The Spitfire was considered a magnificent fighting machine but its long nose made it difficult to land, particularly at night, as visibility was impeded.

During daylight hours, this could be overcome by briefly altering the aircraft’s altitude, but at night doing so even briefly to view the landing lights could be both dangerous and impractical.

In 1940, the station was under the command of Wing Commander ‘Batchy’ Atcherly and he devised a solution.

The Wing Commander mounted cloaked lights on 10ft high poles around the airfield in a pattern.

The lights would only be visible to aircraft approaching in the circuit and were shrouded to avoid attracting the enemy.

A circle of lights was laid out around the field and pilots would fly around this until they saw the path lights on the runway, angled to be seen only at the correct position.

They were also hidden, where possible, in hedges and bushes, and the pattern was specially designed to allow for Spitfire blind spots.

The system, known as Drem Lighting, was adopted by the RAF at all its stations.

RAF Drem managed to avoid much interest from German bombers but it was hit on August 12, 1942.

A Junkers Ju 88 flying over the East Lothian countryside dropped bombs across the grass airfield.

While the bombs missed the main runways, control tower, and caused minimal damage to the Spitfires on the ground at the time there was, it was reported, one fatality – a local cow grazing at the perimeter of the airfield was killed.

The Junkers returned on May 11, 1945 but this time it was the Ju 52 tri-motor transport aircraft that arrived from Norway, carrying German officers responsible for surrendering the stations there.

Escorted to Drem, the officers were immediately taken to Edinburgh Castle in a convoy.

Only a small number of the hundreds of RAF buildings on the site remain today – including two hangars – while some now form part of Fenton Barns Retail Village.

There remains a permanent exhibition on the site and the new board marks out the location of the former runways, control tower and the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force quarters.