Recollections by Arthur Hobkirk, Founder member,
In July of that year I was [posted by the Air Ministry to Messrs Avimo Ltd of Taunton as Inspector-in-charge of all Ministry contracts which this Company held for supplying special equipment to the Royal Air Force.
In the course of my official duties I met Mr Brian Masters, a young man engaged in the Aircraft Oxygen Assembly Dept. And during a conversation, discovered we were both engaged at weekends as gliding instructors with the Air Training Corps, he at No. 624 School at Exeter Civil Airport, and I as Flight Lieutenant (RAFVR) an Commanding Officer of No. 92 Gliding School operating from Royal Air Force Station Colerne, near Bath. I had also been a professional instructor for three seasons with the Bristol Gliding Club at Lulsgate Airfield, Bristol.
About this time Royal Air Force Southern Command decided close the A.T.C. Gliding School at Exeter as a result of which Brian Masters had become interested in forming a civilian Gliding Club in the Taunton area where he was living. So Brian and I joined forces with other interested individuals and it was agreed to have a public meeting in the Parade Rooms Taunton to see how many other people were interested in learning to glide.
Small posters were printed, advertising the date of the meeting, and displayed in various shops etc. around the town.
The public meeting was fairly well attended, and a small committee was formed with me as elected Chairman, and given the task of exploring the Taunton area for a suitable site for such flying operations. We inspected land at Culmstock Beacon, Culmhead, Smeatharp, and Dunkswell. those last three sites were ex R.A.F. airfields. The Culmhead airfield would have been ideal, with a 1,000 foot Hill Soaring Ridge at the north end of the runway, and quite near to Taunton, but unfortunately, we discovered that this excellent Culmhead site had been earmarked for Foreign Office use as a Radio Station.
Eventually through the efforts of our newly appointed Secretary, Miss Rosemary Edmonds of Curry Rival (the original Secretary Mr. V. Roberts having left the district) arranged with the Air Ministry Office of Works, to rent the Dunkswell Airfield, on monthly agreement for £30.00 per annum (the first years rates were £33.00). The agreement specified the use of the runways only, plus £1 for each glider.
At this point we had an airfield, but no equipment of any kind, and found it a little difficult in holding our few members together and continue the interest.
Mr. Percy Coats, one of our founder members, informed me that he had two Kirby Cadet Mk.l single-seater gliders (TS.301 and RA 892) at his farm in North Curry (Somerset). He had made a successful bid at a recent sale of ex. R.A.F. Gliders sold by the Air Ministry. I purchased these gliders myself from Mr. Coats, having been unsuccessful in my bid at this sale for an ex. A.T.C. MK.ll Slingsby Tutor glider.
A few weeks after the A.M. sale, I noticed an advert in the magazine "Sailplane & Gliding" offering two ex A.T.C. MK.II Tutor gliders for sale from an address in Sunderland. I wrote to the vendor and arranged a visit to Sunderland to inspect these two gliders with a view to purchasing one. So one weekend in mid-summer, a Bristol gliding friend and I, motored up to Sunderland, and after an inspection, purchased the better of the two gliders for myself. This glider, when modified, would become the base of the club's two seater training programme, when the T31 type new fuselage was fitted.
On returning to Bristol, I wrote to Messrs Slingsby of Kirby-Moor-Side, North Yorkshire, and asked them to collect my complete Tutor glider from Sunderland, and at their works, modify the wings to make them interchangeable for fitting to a two seater Tandem Tutor T.31 fuselage, for use at Dunkswell. I now had the club's authority to purchase a new T.31 fuselage from Slingsby's, with the loan I had obtained from Kemsley Flying Trust, having negotiated with the Trust Secretary, Mr Basil Meads, O.B.E., over the last twelve months, when on his visits to Bristol. Two conditions being:
1. The Club had to have a minimum of 40 fully paid up shareholders: and
2. The Club must be registered under the Friendly Societies Act as a Limited Company.
The loan was for £500.00 for five years at 1% interest. In the first year, without any equipment, we were unable to meet Condition 1.
During my official duties in Taunton I stayed at the Clifton Hotel in Cheddon Road, returning to my home in Bristol each weekend. Also staying at the Hotel was a very energetic young businessman, who also had an insurance office in the- same building, one Norman Whyte, and during many an after dinner conversation we discussed gliding. He eventually became one of our first founder members to be taught to fly at Dunkswell. He obtained his International ‘B’ Gliding Certificate in August 1958, on the second Weeks Holiday Course I ran for the Taunton Vale Club at Dunkswell that year.
For the valued service he gave in helping to form the Club during it's early days, and in particular in establishing the Club as a Limited Company with the Registrar of Friendly Societies during his business journeys to London, in 1957 he became our President, an office he held with distinction for many years, and a great influence in obtaining the Devon and Somerset Gliding Club's permanent site at North Hill near Honiton. These were difficult days after the Club vacated the Dunkswell site.
In late September (1956) I made the journey alone to Messrs Slingsby's Kirby-Moor-Side to collect my spare MK.ll fuselage now left at the factory (Ingles Lane), and, with a special trolley I made, towed this fuselage behind my car from Kirby-Moor-Side to Dunkswell Airfield. A very long and wet journey. The Club were to use this fuselage for single seater gliding for new members flying solo after training at Dunkswell. Slingsby delivered the complete two seater Type T.31 Tandem Tutor glider, civilian Registration No-BGA.801 to our Nissen Hut H.Q. at Dunkswell airfield July 1958, charging the Club six pence per mile for delivery, including the return journey to Kirby-Moor-Side. As there was no room on this trailer for my single seater fuselage, it was left at Slingsby factory, hence my journey to collect it as mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Mr Brian Masters left the Club to take a post as instructor with the London (sic) Gliding Club, Lasham, Hampshire.
Out accommodation at Dunkswell Airfield in the early days was very basic, consisting of two American type Nissen huts, open at each end. We eventually bricked up one end for wind and weather protection. Corrugated steel sheets were cannibalised from other derelict Nissen huts, to make ours serviceable, and enable the Club to stow it’s equipment and two single seater gliders in the two serviceable huts. These gliders had to be de-rigged after each days flying.
I had collected our first two Kirby Cadet MK.I gilders from Percy Coat's farm on my own trailer, and brought them to Dunkswell with the help of Brian Drake, a founder member, of Culmhead House, in July 1956.
There were two very large hangers at Dunkswell Airfield, but these were occupied by the Civil Defence Authorities for the stowage of fire fighting equipment and motor fire engines. The engines were exercised around the perimeter track during week days to keep them in a serviceable condition
Both the Club's Kirby Cadet MK.I gliders were received with the single wheel fuselage modification, together with the centre of gravity 'Otfur' launching hooks, enabling the Club to launch from the metalled runways at Dunkswell using a Ford V8 tow car, and 1,000 foot of 13 gauge piano wire. This gave us on average approximately five minutes flight duration from a thousand foot launch, and longer if the pilot was fortunate to catch a thermal. From this height at the top of the launch, the pilot is able to see both North and South coasts of Devon on a clear day.
In the early two years of the Club's existence the two Slingsby single seater gliders and the type T.31 two seater glider, gave excellent service in training the Club members (and holiday course visitors) to International ‘B’ and ‘C’ solo standards of gliding efficiency.
After one year we vacated our Nissen Hut H.Q. when permission was obtained from the Air Ministry to use a cluster of low derelict brick buildings at the West end of the airfield, and, with the valued help of Club members these buildings were modified to accommodate our gliders and equipment without having to de-rigg each day but it was still a work of art stowing the gliders in our new head-quarters after a days flying, but we were making progress slowly.
With the necessary official documents obtained from the Registrar of Friendly Societies, North Audley Street, London, by the efforts of our founder member Norman Whyte, I wrote a draft copy of our proposed Club rules, and submitted these to the Registrar tor official approval.
These were returned to me as satisfactory and approved, enabling me to have printed, in book form, copies for distribution to Club members (at two shillings each) with one copy to be kept at, our Headquarters at Dunkswell airfield and one at the registered office of the Society, Taunton Vale Gliding Club Limited. The original office location being Foss End, Stoke Road, North Curry, in the County of Somerset, the home of our Hon. Secretary Miss Rosemary Edmonds, another founder member. At the AGM in 1959 we had 84 fully paid up share members.
After Norman Whyte had arranged insurance for all the Club’s equipment and gliders, the Committee of Management decided on a date for our official opening, Sunday 22nd June, 1958. Our special guests being Edward du Cann, M.P. for Taunton, Mr F.S.Wallis, the Mayor of Taunton, together with local press and founder Club members. Norman Whyte had been responsible for these arrangements and also for a celebration supper (at his own expense) at the Squirrel Hotel, Wellington, after our successful first days flying by Taunton Vale Gliding Club from Dunkswell airfield Devon.
These are the humble beginnings of a very successful enterprise started by the founder members and friends thirty five years ago in Taunton, Somerset, England.
Founder Member & Life Member
N.B. I resigned in 1960 as First Chairman, finding the travelling distance to Dunkswell from Bristol too great at weekends, and my other gliding commitments with the Royal Air Force, made it impossible to give my full support to the Committee and Club members. I had also been officially posted from Taunton to my new duties on the Concorde project at British Aircraft Corporation Filton, with responsibilities for engine and fuel installation, but I take a pride in having played a small part in the formation of a now very successful Gliding Club in the West country. For my services, the Club, at the 1959 A.G.M., elected me an Honorary Life Member.
P.S. The Club's name was changed at the A.G.M. 28th March, 1960 from Taunton Vale Gliding Club to the Devon and Somerset Gliding Club.