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80 years on from when air cadets in Sittingbourne began training during Second World War


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Eight decades ago, as Britain went to war with Germany, a new group formed with the sole purpose of training young men to protect their country.

Memories writer Christine Rayner dives into the history and story of Sittingbourne's Air Training Corp.

A 1960s ATC march-past in Sittingbourne High Street, which was then the main route from London to the coast and was closed for the ceremony
A 1960s ATC march-past in Sittingbourne High Street, which was then the main route from London to the coast and was closed for the ceremony

As Britain struggled through the dangers and deprivations of the Second World War, a group of young men began enlisting for a new organisation aimed at preparing them for service as soon as they came of age.

The first squadron of Sittingbourne Air Training Corps met above Burton’s the tailors in the high street on February 5, 1941 and continued to enlist potential candidates for the Royal Air Force until it was disbanded at the end of the war.

Almost a decade later, in 1950, two of the first teachers to join the town’s new West County Boys’ Secondary Modern School decided to revive the unit.

So 2230 (Sittingbourne) Squadron Air Training Corps was formed, with science teacher Mr Howard as commanding officer and English master Denis Jarrett as his deputy. Their part in encouraging and nurturing a sense of pride and duty in the boys is fondly remembered by one of the early recruits, Clive Eglinton, who has shared the following memory of those days, along with a few photographs from the corps archive.

Clive writes: “When I joined the squadron in the late 1950s, as a tall, skinny teenager, Denis was very much ‘sir’ to me, but as years went by he became a good friend, until his death in 2017.

Denis Jarrett (right) with former Sittingbourne ATC squadron cadet Clifford Spink, in about 2000
Denis Jarrett (right) with former Sittingbourne ATC squadron cadet Clifford Spink, in about 2000

“Denis took great pride in the way that ATC helped to prepare so many young people, at a fledgling stage in their personal development, to rise to the challenges of their chosen occupation or career, whether that was military service, in industry, business or professions.”

Clive says membership of the ATC instilled “a sense of discipline, pride and teamwork”, encouraging the young cadets to take part in the many activities and courses put on for them. Summer camps on RAF stations were a highlight and many of the Sittingbourne corps had the opportunity to learn to fly gliders. A few even gained a private pilot’s licence.

Two more activities formed under Denis Jarrett’s command were the squadron band and a judo team, which one year performed before the Queen during the Festival of Remembrance in the Royal Albert Hall.

Clive recalled the annual parades, which went from Borden Grammar School to St Michael’s Church for a service.

He added: “They were supported by ATC units from other towns in Kent, the numbers growing each year, so they were quite large, significant events and attended by local and Kent dignitaries with TV coverage of the 1960 march-past and salute as we passed Central Avenue.”

Several members of the Sittingbourne squadron went on to play an important part in service life. Clifford Spink became an air marshal while Air Commodore Paul Rose was head of Helicopters 3 defence, equipment and support.

Remembering his time with the corps on the RAF Benevolent Fund website, Mr Rose said: “Learning what it means to be a leader but also a follower is so important and I’m grateful I was privy to this so early on.”

Were you in Sittingbourne ATC? Share your memories by emailing sittingbournekm@thekmgroup.co.uk.

Read more: All the latest news from Sittingbourne

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