- 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.
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