This post should probably be called 'Smugglers?' but like many people I owe an intellectual debt to Enid Blyton.
I've seen mentions of mystery aircraft in Britain in the 1930s but until now never a primary source reference. Thomas Bullard's most interesting The Myth and Mystery of UFOs notes that 'Mystery airplanes also appeared at this time over English locations, first to suspicions of criminal activity, then to worries over Nazi espionage', and provides two references. 1 One of them is inaccessible to me (Daily Telegraph, 16 July 1937, 7) but the other is from The Times (16 April 1936, 9) which I can get online. And here it is:
WATCH FOR MYSTERIOUS AEROPLANE
Our Folkestone Correspondent telegraphs:--
A mysterious aeroplane has caused the authorities to keep a watch at Capel le Ferne during the past fortnight. It was reported that a machine had flown low over the village, which is between Folkestone and Dover, on two successive Thursday evenings. On the second occasion it appeared to land at a remote spot, but within a minute or so it was seen making its way across the Channel again. A large grey motor-car was seen to come from the place on the second occasion, and to go towards London. Since then the aeroplane, which is said to be of foreign origin, has not been seen.
Well, that's a bit underwhelming, it must be said. There's nothing in the report itself to suggest that it wasn't, in fact, an actual aeroplane, though that may be because of its brevity (perhaps a local newspaper would have more). Aircraft were reasonably common by the mid-1930s. Smaller ones could still land on improvised airstrips; and with a bit of ground assistance they could probably do so at night. The question is, though, why would anyone want to? The only sensible answer would seem to be to smuggle something into the country, whether it be contraband or people. And it's certainly noteworthy that Capel le Ferne is about the closest point on the English coast to the Continent (the Channel Tunnel passes underneath it; next door is the site of Hawkinge, one of Fighter Command's forward bases during the Battle of Britain). So in theory it would be a good spot to duck across the Channel, land, and take off again before anyone on either side noticed.
And such things did happen. Here's a prosecution for smuggling of cigars and brandy, reported in The Times (18 December 1936, 3) -- as the crimes took place only seven months later than and about five miles north from the Capel le Ferne incident, it could even be the same gang at work:
Mr. Stephenson said that it was a breach of regulations to unload any goods from an aeroplane unless at a proper Customs aerodrome [...] In this case [defendant Frederick] Hayter landed not at a Customs aerodrome but a place called Wickham Bushes, near Dover. He committed a breach of regulations by not reporting either to a police or excise officer that he had landed.
The pilot, Hayter, made a statement to Customs describing 'how he landed from Le Touquet in a field near Dover and hid a suitcase containing 12 bottles of old brandy under a haystack'. One of the accused was a local farmer and presumably the alleged haystack was in one of his fields.
So probably not a visiting spacecraft or even a projection of fears of aerial incursion, but: smugglers!
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- Thomas E. Bullard, The Myth and Mystery of UFOs (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas), 115.