A FLIGHT down memory lane is on offer – thanks to a new book tracing the history of a Wearside air cadet squadron.
Dave Walmsley, who serves as a Flight Lieutenant with 2214 (Usworth) Squadron Air Cadets, spent a year writing and researching the 128-page paperback – with the help of squadron cadets.
“It is a definitive illustrated history of our squadron, packed with more than 200 archive photographs and celebrating the development of 2214 over the past 70-odd years,” he said.
The origins of Usworth’s Air Cadets date to 1938, when the Air Defence Cadet Corps was launched nationwide as the storm clouds of war gathered over Europe.
The organisation was later, however, amalgamated into the Air Training Corps on February 5, 1941 – with the aim of providing recruits for the Royal Air Force during the conflict years.
“We believe our group started life as Castletown and District Squadron in that year. After quite a bit of research, we think it was initially based in a local church hall,” said Dave.
“Several Sunderland-based corps were formed at this time, after an advert was published in the Echo asking 16 to 18-year-olds interested in flying to attend their local drill hall and join up.”
The Castletown squadron flourished throughout the war and, in the 1950s, moved to RAF Usworth – which had been used by allied fliers from around the world during the conflict.
“The name of Usworth was adopted by the unit, and is still retained today. It is a name to be proud of – as many, many brave men flew from Usworth throughout the war,” said Dave.
“Indeed, the air war came close to Usworth on August 15, 1940, during the Battle of Britain – when 607 Squadron, led by Francis Blackadder, beat off a Luftwaffe attack from Norway.”
One of the original Usworth air cadets was Albert Ibbitson, a cousin of the well-known Wearside butchering family, who signed up after spotting the advert in the Echo.
He went on to serve in the RAF, later returning to Wearside to become Commanding Officer of Usworth Squadron in the 1950s – at a time when the air cadet movement was facing a tough future.
“Numbers initially fell post-war. The Corps had to change from being a recruitment agency for the RAF and the challenge was to find a new role in a new world,” said Dave.
“New initiatives helped bring people back into squadrons. This peaked in the late 1960s/early 1970s – so much so that an additional hut had to be built at Usworth to house the extra cadets.”
The closure of RAF Usworth in 1958 and the opening of Sunderland Airport in 1963 rejuvenated interest in 2214 Squadron as well – with regular Air Days helping to showcase the unit.
Indeed, demonstrations by RAF aircraft such as jet fighters, transport and trainers – as well as the Red Arrows – increased interest “in all things to do with flight” for several years.
“Having Sunderland Flying Club and Parachute Club on the squadron’s doorstep also helped maintain numbers – as did the introduction of girls into the corps during the 1980s,” said Dave.
“And, as the decades changed, so did the air experiences on offer to cadets – from flights in Tiger Moths in the early years to Chipmunks, Bulldogs and finally Tutors.”
Proposals to mark the squadron’s 70-plus years of flying history with a book were first unveiled back in 2013, when Wearside Echoes carried an appeal for archive pictures.
Scores of photos, documents and service records were donated following the plea, and now An Illustrated History of 2214 (Usworth) has finally been published.
“I wanted to celebrate our unit’s past, present and future by writing this book; it is a tribute to all our cadets and staff over the years. We are very proud of this squadron’s history,” said Dave.
Thousands of cadets have taken to the skies with the squadron over the years, with many going on to serve their country in the RAF – as well as other armed forces.
The earliest members, when not out on the parade ground or being drilled in flying tactics, were encouraged to become more familiar with aircraft by building planes from Airfix kits.
Indeed Roy Cross, the artist who created the 1960’s distinctive AIRFIX ‘red stripe’ box top artwork, was himself an air cadet – and his work also features in the book.
Nowadays, cadets can take part in everything from parades to flying, gliding, shooting and adventure training – proving “the ATC still has plenty to offer” youngsters of today.
And a new crest has heralded the new era – featuring the squadron’s Vampire aircraft gate guardian and the 1922 Washington shield; re-establishing its Washington links.
“The unit has served the youth of the region with dedication and professionalism since 1941, and long may it continue to do so. We look forward to the next 74 years of flying,” said Dave.
* Dave will give a talk on 2214 (Usworth) Squadron at Sunderland Library on April 16 from 1.30pm.
There will also be a display of model aircraft and memorabilia, as well as photographs.
His book is on sale at Waterstones, WH Smith, Amazon, Sainsbury’s in Washington and from the unit’s website HERE, priced £12.99.
All proceeds from sales are to go to squadron funds.
The squadron is open to new members. It meets Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7pm-9.30pm at Squadron HQ – adjacent to the Aircraft Museum/Nissan plant, Usworth, Washington.