Chipmunk Flight 1962
Chipmunk Flight 1962

Chipmunk Flight 1962

Here are J. Kevin Webster’s memories of his first flight in an RAF Chipmunk from Church Fenton sometime in 1962. Visit his websites about the RAF’s 36 and 100 Squadrons:

Well, almost 40 years anyway. Together with Linton-on-Ouse, Dishforth and Topcliffe it was one of the bases often frequented by an eager group of teenage boys dressed in the itchy blue serge battledress of the Air Training Corps.

I was a cadet with 44(F) (Bradford) Squadron, ATC. There were no girls in the Corps back then. Having decided on a career in the RAF, I joined the ATC as soon as I was old enough. Church Fenton was one of our regular haunts – the home of our host AEF (Air Experience Flight). It was there that I made my first flight in a Chipmunk (not the awful singing group of those days, but the venerable DeHavilland aeroplane!)

It wasn’t the first time I had flown in an aircraft. That honour went to RAF Topcliffe, where, one bitterly cold January day, I boarded a Vickers Varsity for a trip out over the North Sea. Nevertheless, it was the Chipmunk that we had all been taught about. We took it all very seriously. I think many of us expected that something would be bound to happen to the pilot, and we would have to bring the ship safely home. Well, we had spent hours of survival lectures, in anticipation of an emergency parachute jump.

So the great day came and I was one of a group of lads who were picked for a Saturday morning trip to Church Fenton. Someone asked “where is it?” and another wanted to know if there was a church there. A “know-it-all” smile spread over my face, ’cause I KNEW where it was. My older brother Martyn, who’d been in the Corps before me, had taken me there once on the back of his Vespa scooter. Now he was in the RAF.

“It’s near Tadcaster” I said, very nonchalantly, “the place where John Smith brews his beer.” Since none of us was legally old enough to drink, I suppose it was a wasted observation. Somehow, I think we went to Church Fenton by train from Bradford. It was just before the infamous Doctor Beeching wielded his axe, but I seem to remember piling out of a train and being picked up by a Bedford three-tonner. There again, my advancing senility may well have got the wrong location. We had lots of RAF station visits in those days (when there were lots of RAF stations!!), but more accurate records are not available. This is because I lost my treasured 3822 many years ago (any ex-cadet will know what one of those is!).

What I do remember of that day, apart from the thrill of getting strapped into the rear of that Chipmunk cockpit, was the feeling that I had really grown up at last. OK, so I was only fourteen-and-a-half, but as that little silver aeroplane cleared the Fenton circuit and the pilot said over the intercom “you have control” and I took the stick in my hand, I felt as though I might have been born in the clouds.

I came down to earth with a bump. Not in the Chipmunk – the landing was perfect. I refer to my statement about feeling really grown-up. In the lunch queue at the Airmens’ Mess, I was rudely elbowed out of the way by an adult SAC who said something about “bloody sprogs” (whatever that meant).

That wasn’t the last time that I visited RAF Church Fenton. There were a few more Chipmunk flights and a couple of ATC West Riding Wing parades, before I finally handed in my cadet uniform in August, 1964. A month later, I became a “sprog” again, when I took the oath to The Queen as a new Admin. Apprentice at RAF Hereford.

It’s good to know that Church Fenton is still a going concern. I never made my way back there in the time I served in the RAF, but it will always have a very important place in my memory.