WATCHING boats glide in and out of Poole Harbour, it’s hard to imagine the busy waters doubling up as a runway.

But for eight years during the 1940s, take-offs and landings were as prevalent as launches and dockings.

The famous flying boats splashed in and out of Poole, connecting Britain with its colonial outposts across the globe. Many even consider Poole the birthplace of British Airways, its forerunner BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) having established itself during its time in the harbour.

BOAC became the town’s biggest employer, creating around 650 jobs, from telephonists to baggage handlers to flight stewards.

Many former staff were reunited recently at a special memories day, hosted by East Dorset Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

Among them was Patricia Miller, who joined the company as a wages clerk aged just 17.

She worked out of the main office hub at Salterns Point, but got the occasional chance to ride on the flying boats.

“The opportunity to fly on the boats was fantastic – all the water flying by as you landed,” said Patricia, now 79.

“It was an exciting time.”

The craft would carry around 24 passengers and the Kangaroo service, which took around 12 days to reach Sydney, departed Poole three times a week.

For the teenagers who signed up as stewards, the flying boats offered an incredible opportunity to see the world.

Brian Grinter, 81, joined BOAC as a 16-year-old, making trips to Hong Kong and Singapore.

“It was quite an experience for a young lad,” he said.

“It was a very good life.”

Ron Gubb, 80, ditched his job as an electrician to become a steward and also flew around the globe.

“I got through two or three passports in my time,” he said.

Gordon Reeves, 80, was another 16-year-old who signed up to become a steward.

He recalled the indulgence passengers on the flying boats enjoyed. “The flying boats were really quite luxurious, with silver service,” he said.

Passengers would travel by train from London to Bournemouth. They would be transferred to Poole’s Harbour Heights Hotel for stop-overs, then on to the departure lounge at Salterns.

Among the celebrated passengers were King George VI and General Charles de Gaulle.

The flying boat operation had been shifted to Poole from Southampton in 1939 due to the fear of attack by the Luftwaffe.

Five runways were laid out across the water and the harbour hummed with the buzz of aircraft.

As well as commercial flights, military flying boats flew in and out of RAF Hamworthy and there were seaplanes from RNAS Sandbanks.

By 1947, the industry had returned to Southampton and boats ruled the harbour once more.

But the memory of Poole’s days as an international airport has been kept alive by the Poole Flying Boats Celebration.