WW2 glider pilot shares memories of being an Ely air cadet
- Credit: Crick family
A 95-year-old former glider pilot who participated in the D-Day invasion has shared fond and poignant memories of his time as an air cadet in Ely.
The air cadets celebrate their 80th anniversary as an organisation this year and the 1094 Ely Squadron published an appeal in this newspaper for former members to share their experiences.
Charles Crick, who is known as Ray, heard about the appeal – and has penned a letter to the squadron’s young air cadets about the days when he was wearing a similar uniform to theirs.
He joined in 1943 during World War Two when the organisation was known as the Air Training Corps (ATC).
His letter describes how he was inspired by the RAF pilots and crews, was taken into the skies in a Lancaster at RAF Witchford and his journey to becoming a glider pilot in the Army.
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And these activities and training are similar to the many opportunities still offered to the air cadets of today.
Ray, who still lives in Ely, said: “I thought that when I was called up I would like to go into the RAF.
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“The Commanding Officer of 1094 at that time was a MR Cant and there were officers from different local businesses, and the Post Office, to give training to the cadets. The Reverend Pelloe taught us maths.
“On occasions we would visit local RAF airfields and on one such visit to RAF Witchford myself and one or two other cadets were taken up in a Lancaster.
“On a visit to RAF Waterbeach our flight was in an Airspeed Oxford.
He added: “A guard of honour by 1094 cadets was put in place for a visit by the young King Peter of Yugoslavia in front of Ely's magnificent old Corn Exchange.”
When Ray turned 18 and was called up for military service, he was placed on the deferred service list to train as an aircrew radio operator.
A detachment of glider pilots visited his camp looking for volunteers to train – and his cadet background was relevant to the glider flying.
The RAF initially taught them to fly Tiger Moths and then gliders.
Ray said: “I didn’t get to wear an RAF uniform but I did an Army one instead.”
He added: “The ATC training was relevant to the glider flying.
“I became a second pilot in the Glider Pilot Regiment and the 1094 ATC Squadron had helped on my way.”
Ray piloted Horsa gliders which were a British troop-carrying glider. For the D-Day invasion, they were pulled behind RAF transport aircraft and transported paratroopers.
Commanding Officer John Donoghue, who currently heads the 1094 Ely Squadron RAF Air Cadets, said: “We’re so inspired to hear Ray’s story.
“He was incredibly brave to have volunteered to become a glider pilot. Often, these pilots were flying their aircraft into and behind enemy lines.
“They were very skilled. Those who made it would’ve survived the intense training and could land their aircraft in fields that weren’t specialist airfields, which was risky.
“They then would’ve fought alongside the infantry on the ground.”
He added: “Ray’s story is an inspiration to us all. To think, the glider pilot’s wings on his Army uniform is exactly the same badge our young glider pilots receive when they’ve qualified.
“It’s wonderful our cadets currently training have that to relate to.”
The squadron hopes, when the pandemic restrictions are eased, to be able to present Ray with a polo shirt bearing its crest and his name.
As it was meant to be awarded the coveted Freedom of the City of Ely last year, it is now hoped Ray will be able to join them when they receive the honour.
CO Donoghue said: “We’ve invited Ray to be our guest of honour.
“Our plan is to enrol him into the air cadets for the day. We will present him with a beret to wear on the parade and he can join us when we receive the Freedom of the City of Ely.”
Ray’s letter ends with one last memory of bumping into his former Commanding Officer when he was home.
He said: “I met Mr Cant whilst in my glider pilot uniform by chance in Ely one day. He shook my hand and we had a brief chat.
“Both of us realised we had been involved in a job well done.”
For its 80th anniversary celebrations, share your memories of being part of the 1094 Ely Squadron by emailing email@example.com or write to 1094 Squadron, The Cadet Centre, Heaton Drive, Ely, Cambridgeshire, CB7 4RS.