Southdown’s Wartime History

By Ron King

During the Second World War, the Southdown Club could not operate as all private gliding was suspended. So after a while it was revived by the government, in the form of training for young people prior to call up. Firstly, the organisation was called The Air Defence Cadet Corps, which later became the Air Training Corps. Southdown came back to life again in the form of 161 Squadron A.T.C. based at Hassocks in a field alongside the London to Brighton railway line.

Cadets from various squadrons in Brighton, Hove, Hassocks and Burgess Hill were then given the chance to train and fly Dagling Primary gliders.

I joined the group in 1941 and used to travel by train up from Brighton with another cadet called McCubbin, who incidentally was born on the same day and year as myself. We always knew when we were there as the porter used shout “Socks” on arrival.

The officers who operated the field were the C.O. Flt. Lt. S.G. Stevens, F.O. Squeege Ashton, Flt. Lt. Winters and F.O. Norman. Some were pre-war members and some became post-war founder members of the reformed Southdown Gliding Club. The main office on the field at that time was a caravan which was ‘out of bounds’ to us ‘erks’.

The only means of launching then was an old barrage balloon winch. The cable from this went up the field through an old car wheel on a wooden base which was staked into the ground. So all launches took place alongside the winch.

Retrieving vehicles were a pre-war Morris Cowley and an old Vauxhall. These were modified by removing the bodywork and fixing a scaffold pole at right angles to the chassis. This meant you could fix the glider to the protruding pole and sit on a rear mounted seat on the chassis by holding onto the wing. In this way the glider was retrieved with no walking.

There was no hangar to stow the aircraft in and the only place to put them was in a railway tunnel underneath the London to Brighton line which constantly dripped with water in the winter.

At the age of fourteen, to be able drive a retrieve vehicle and glide was great fun, There was also a fully camouflaged American Pontiac with R,A.F. roundels and F11 on the front. This was the staff car and a few of us were allowed to drive this to the village to get grub for the chaps. During the war there were no driving licences so it was possible to do this.

Launching was performed by using ground slides, low and high hops and S turns. This could be exciting at times, as prior to flying we had to clear the field of cows. This meant that you were splattered liberally with cow pats during take off and landing.

One day there was a flurry as ‘Dad’s Army’ turned up in force, not to mention a policeman in a tin helmet. It appeared that they had reports of gliders landing and there were troops. The T.V. series really brings it back to me with a laugh.

We also had a visit from the air officer commanding the area one day, who had a peg leg. I do not know how he managed in a wet field! He appears to have been there to inspect how the training was going. Then Steve Stevens the C.O. pushed me into a Dagling and whispered “Get the stick back, lad and get as much height as you can. We will show them!” The cable tightened and I was soon launched to about 200-300 ft. All of a sudden there was a loud bang so I looked back and could see fabric fluttering. Between the chap on the winch and myself not releasing, I managed to ‘kite’ the aircraft back to the ground. Part of the wing covering had come off and we think this problem was due to the damp conditions in the tunnel storage.

Two other people who joined the group at Hassocks were Ted Palmer, who was an instructor at Parham for many years and Bob Stringer, who helped me for a long time in the workshops until health forced him to give up.

As time went by the Daglings were modified to take two wheels. We also fixed a cover round the front of the aircraft to form a sort of cockpit. I think it was more of a protection against cow pats.

We were regularly ‘buzzed’ by fighters during flying and it was a bit of a fright when you were on a ‘high hop’ and the fighters roared alongside. I joined up in the R.A.F. in 1945 and the club moved to Shoreham. It’s all a long time ago (57 years). The club has changed but the ‘old spirit’ is still there in a different way.

Transcribed by Tom Beck. 11 May 2015.

Early History – Part 1

Early History – Part 2


Southdown Ball 1931
West Sussex at War Leaflet
Railway to Brighton 1931 Poster[1]
Railway to Brighton 1931 Poster[2]
S&G Vol1 No5 Oct3 1930

Old Photos