Hunt for team behind epic glider project

The story of how a team of volunteers came together to build a massive World War Two glider in the West Midlands has been told as part of a new book about airborne forces.

Martin Locke with the book Flying Pantechnicons.
Martin Locke with the book Flying Pantechnicons.

And now a quest has been launched to track down those volunteers to give them a free copy as a thank you for their efforts in creating the only complete Horsa assault glider in the world in a project which lasted over 10 years.

The full-size non-flying replica, built as a tribute to the airborne forces, is now on display in a museum in The Netherlands, the country of the most famous glider operation of all – the attempt to take the bridge at Arnhem in 1944.

The Shropshire-built Horsa glider is the only complete example in the world.

Retired Squadron Leader Martin Locke, of the Assault Glider Trust, the charity behind the project, said: "Tim Jenkins, one of the trustees of the trust who now resides in Canada, has written a very knowledgeable book called Flying Pantechnicons which covers the story of the development of airborne forces and assault gliders, in particular during the Second World War, which leads gently into the Assault Glider Trust's creations.

"We were hoping to give each one of the volunteers a free copy. We have a list of about 40-something of them, and have got to around half but are getting stuck because we can't trace the rest.

"In some cases we have no phone numbers or addresses. They would generally be living in this part of the local area, this part of the West Midlands.

"I am very keen to get these books to the people who deserve them, those fabulous guys and girls who gave their time and skills to build the glider, which has gone to a superb home, although it's a shame it's not in the UK.

"Most of those we have contacted have been overjoyed to get the book and see their name at the back."

Martin is appealing for the volunteers who have not received the book to contact him on 07914 728130, or at malocke99@hotmail.com by email.

The Horsa was built in a hangar at RAF Shawbury between 2001 and 2014, but sadly on completion was unable to find a permanent home for public display in Britain, and ended up being stored for five years in an old hangar at RAF Cosford with an uncertain future.

It was transported to Holland in June 2019 to go on display in September that year as part of events marking the 75th anniversary of the epic Arnhem operation, in which the wooden Horsa troop-carrying gliders played a leading part.

It proved a big hit with the crowds, including Prince Charles, and is now at the Oorlogsmuseum, Overloon.

"The guys over there have done an awful lot of finishing off, with things added like radio kit and things we couldn't get hold of," said Martin.

Martin said that the Assault Glider Trust, which later expanded its project with the acquisition of a Waco glider – known as a Hadrian in British service – a Dakota, and a Tiger Moth, was still in being but would be wound down in the not-too-distant future.

"We no longer have a purpose."

Shropshire was a centre for wartime training on Horsa gliders – this Horsa is coming in to land at RAF Sleap, near Wem. Picture: The D. Stewart Robertson Collection, courtesy of the Nanton Lancaster Air Museum.
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