BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

BBC Homepage
BBC History
WW2 People's War Homepage Archive List Timeline About This Site

Contact Us

The Glider's Landing Strip.

by scavenger

Contributed by 
People in story: 
No.1 School of Army Co-operation
Location of story: 
Old Sarum (temperary air strip)
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
10 August 2004

Glider’s landing strip

In the early stages of the war I was posted to a make shift airfield at Old Sarum working with (S.T.A.L.) Short takeoff and landing aircraft, like the old biplanes Hawker Hector and even auto gyros.
After loosing so any aircraft over France during the lead up to and the evacuation of the British Expedition Force at Dunkirk it was felt that the enemy would use them to gather intelligence by flying them over the channel, therefore when fighter aircraft were doing their patrols along the South coast, they would challenge any aircraft they came across. If the challenged aircraft could not show the code for the day the fighter would shoot them down. So it was very important for the “Airman of the day” to get the pilot’s plans, work out any drift caused by the wind and inform Boscombe Down and also to get the code of the day. Likewise any aircraft that landed would immediately be challenged, and if the pilot did not know the code he would be taken away by the military police.
One day our photographer went off for a mission but was never seen again, and we felt sure that he was challenged and was unable the satisfy the fighter pilot.
Part of the force which went over to France on “D-day” were gliders. To enable the pilots of these, gliders training especially on landings was required. As the RAF representatives we were given the task of setting up a temporary air strip. Our task was to find a flat piece of land long enough to land a troop carrying gliders. Once we had located a suitable location we would mark out the landing strip with about twenty “Goose Neck Flares” down each side.
You would put a marker at each end of the runway and on each side. With your colleague standing at one end keeping the markers in line you would pace out and place all the gooseneck flares into position. These flares were like little self contained 2 gallon oil drums.
Once in position we could make them ready for use. The lid would be removed and place up side down on the ground, then with a tool like a “Shepard’s Crook” you lifted out of the drum the cylinder containing the reservoir and the wick. The drum still containing the paraffin was left near by in case, so that if the flare needed to be extinguished it could be placed, (still alight), into the drum and refit the lid. If you were quick at this it would extinguish the flare. Only when all the flares on both side had set up could they be lit. We carried this exercise several times quite successfully, but it was still quite frightening being on a quiet hill side, when suddenly with out any noise several gliders drop down from the skies and land on our make shift runway. Hopefully they all made a successful landing. Then the tug aircraft would land so that they could take off again. During these practice sessions our little hill top got very busy, with extra ground crew arriving to move the gliders around once they had landed. During these times the only building for miles was a small pub about a quarter of a mile away from the end of the runway did a roaring trade. These practice runs on both days and nights. One night we had lit the flares to identify the runway when the Air raid siren sounded near by. Panic you could imagine what a ARP warden would say “Get That Light Out!!!!” if he were around, and we had 20 lights glowing brightly down each side of the runway and there was only two of us. If the “Luftwaffe” were to see them they could think they were the marker flares ready for their bombing mission. If that were to happen there would not be much left of our runway, or us. So using the Shepard’s crook we lifted each flare, now a flaming ball and replace back into the drum of paraffin, then quickly replacing the lid to extinguish the flames, Then quickly moving on to the next one until all the flares were extinguished. We had nearly completed one side when I either slipped or just didn’t line up the drum properly, when the drum tipped over and its contents of paraffin spilled down the hill. The next moment the flame from the flare ignited the now paraffin soaked grass and half the hill went up in flames, a target that could be seen for miles around, and above. The pub had followed a complete black out routine every light out and the black out curtains fully down, but the pub now looked as if it was in the spot light on a theatre’s stage. I started to put out the heath fire, then all the customers within the pub piled out and came rushing over. Non of them were not impressed to be illuminated whilst the enemy were above. Fortunately I was able to get the fire out and my Flight sergeant was able the calm the mob. We got all the flares out and waited for the heavens to open. We waited and waited but we could not hear any aircraft noise after a few minutes the siren sounded again giving the “All Clear”. The locals gave up arguing with us and went back for more Dutch courage.

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

Forum Archive

This forum is now closed

These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Gliders Landing Strip

Posted on: 23 October 2005 by Imazad

Lovely story and it brings back some great memories for me.
I was in Leicester during the war but can confirm that you managed to choose an excellent site for glider landings.
I first discovered it's suitability when flying a glider from Tarrant Rushton, Dorset in an attempted 300km triangle for the Gold Distance badge sometime in the early 1970's. I ran into a patch of poor weather about halfway round and decided to cut my losses and head back towards home and shorten the journey for my retrieve crew. I landed on the Old Sarum Airfield which was then being used by the ATC as a gliding experience centre.
In 1980 the Dorset Gliding Club lost the use of Tarrant Rushton when the wartime airfield there reverted to use by the original farmers.
We were in limbo for several months, flying wherever we could but were then invited to share the use of Old Sarum sometime in 1981 by the Bustard Flying Club, a group of flying private owners who hardly ever took to the air.
It proved to be an ideal site for gliding use and was our home for about 12 years until we found a permanent home back in Dorset at Gallows Hill near Bovington Camp.
I was there CFI for many of those years and am an Honorary Life member, though sadly I am a bit creaky now and visually handicapped and unable to fly for the last 12 years, I am still with them in spirit.

Dennis Neal

Archive List

This story has been placed in the following categories.

Royal Air Force Category
Wiltshire Category
icon for Story with photoStory with photo

Most of the content on this site is created by our users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please Contact Us.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy