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U3A Writing: Does Everyone Want To Become A Glider Pilot?

Douglas Smithson arrives at a depot on Salisbury Plain in 1943 to train to become a glider pilot.

It is 1943 during the Second World War. I want to become a Glider Pilot. An Army Council Instruction posted on a canteen wall in South Wales informs me that I can. I have already tried but have been refused permission by the O.C. of the Royal Engineer Company that I am in.
After a second successful application I finally arrive at Fargo, the Glider Pilot Depot on Salisbury Plain, along with thirty other would-be army pilots.

We gather together in a group outside the entry to the depot. As far as I can tell, we are all keen to start the change from ordinary soldiers to army pilots; but are we?

Soon an officer and a staff sergeant arrive. We are ordered to fall in, "in threes." As we are all tired, having travelled a long way, this order is rather slowly carried out with a certain amount of noise. One of our number, moving to take his place, turned sideways and makes a slight spit on the ground. I repeat, "a slight spit." Is this the end of the world? Almost! The officer orders the staff sergeant to take the offender to the company office and place him on a charge.

A roll is then called and we are given instructions to be on parade in the mornings with our webbing newly blancoed bright green, our uniforms cleaned and brasses polished. My brasses had been painted dark green ready for action. I, along with others, spend the whole of the night getting everything spick and span ready for the next morning's parade.

On the parade in the morning I am fourth from the beginning of the front rank. The officer starts to inspect us, looks the second man up and down, then looks along the line. He sees that I am a corporal and orders me to take this man to the guardroom as his turn-out is not good enough. I go with the soldier to the guardroom, making sure that the inspection is past my position before returning. My turn-out is no better than his! A few more are also sent to the guard room before the parade is finished. Then we commence learning elementary rules about flying.

We have what the Army refers to as "Bags of Bull" for the next three days. We are told that if anyone prefers an easier time, "You can be RTUed (returned to unit) at once and any charges will immediately be dropped."

Our original thirty hopeful pilots has now dropped to twenty. The army is not entirely without sense. The ACI stating that anyone volunteering cannot be stopped is an open invitation to anyone fed up with his own unit to get away. This severe treatment on arrival at Fargo is a perfect method to get rid of unsuitable recruits.


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