In World War 2, towed transport gliders were built in large numbers to air-land troops with their heavier weapons behind enemy lines, without using parachutes. The Airspeed Horsa carried two pilots and 25 or more troops or loads like a jeep and anti-tank gun. It had a cylindrical plywood fuselage, a high wing with very large flaps and jettisonable main undercarriage, the glider then landing on a central skid and nosewheel.
In the late summer of 1994, two of these gliders suddenly appeared in the large field immediately to the east of the road between Magpie Farm and the Culworth turn. Presumably these had made an emergency landing in the field because of some problem during a training exercise. Donald Taylor has written a first hand account of how these gliders were removed from the field and this can be seen on the next page.
The Curious Case of the Two Gliders
It was late summer 1944 and World War Two was really going well. Earlier in the year, the troops stationed in the area had suddenly disappeared, as we discovered, many South prior to D-Day*. The 4th/7th Dragoon Guards had lived at Thorpe Mandeville with their Valentine and Matilda tanks, eventually replaced with Cromwells, but now all gone. Canadian troops had passed through with their Bren Gun Carriers and six pounder anti-aircraft guns. It was very quiet – almost peaceful – apart from the aircraft overhead – all allied by now, of course. Most people could recognise the various types at a glance and there was keen interest, especially among the younger element. I was fourteen!
Mr Cherry’s big field, stretching from the Magpie to the Culworth turn, was designated as an emergency landing ground for the RAF but fortunately it hadn’t been needed. However, suddenly two Horsa gliders appeared, causing quite a buzz of excitement! There was much speculation about this unexpected event, not least as to how they would ever take off again. The Horsa was a large troop carrying glider made of plywood and needed a powerful multi-engined aircraft to tow it. The problem was that the field was not long enough for such an aeroplane plus glider to take off. Next day, the glider pilot regiment aircrew plus several other soldiers and equipment turned up and moved the gliders into the corner of the field nearest to the windmill. They were turned to face towards the Magpie and then two poles were erected before each machine. A towrope was connected to the nose of each glider, with a huge loop at the other end, draped over the poles, at right angles to the heading of the gliders, probably fifteen to twenty feet above the ground.
Two of the ubiquitous DC3 (Dakota) aircraft appeared, each trailing a hook or grapnel beneath the tail. Passing over the gliders, they disappeared in the direction of Moreton Pinkney, then we heard them returning, the first one very low. From our vantage point, certainly less than one hundred yards away, it was clear that the grapnel was to engage with the loop in order to drag the glider into the air. At the first pass, the Dakota was too high and so missed the snatch. It seemed hardly surprising, since the first glider was parked very close to the electricity supply lines; they are still in the same place today and it seemed a very dangerous manoeuvre.
Coming round again, the connection was successfully made and the glider accelerated very quickly across the field and into the air. As the hook engaged, the towing mechanism inside the Dakota passed out a great length of rope, cushioning the shock of the sudden pull. Once airborne, the Dakota and glider became closer as the rope was reeled in again. Now having a good idea of what to expect, we watched the second snatch, realizing that the first effect of hooking onto the tow rope knocked the poles flat so that the glider could pass harmlessly over them. The aircraft had hardly disappeared over the horizon when the ground crew had loaded their equipment into their lorry and were also gone. In moments the excitement was over and before us lay a large tranquil field, just as though nothing had ever happened.
*D-Day, 6th June 1944, The day on which Allied Troops invaded German held France by means of beach landings in Normandy.
I also witnessed the glider incident but since I was only six years old at the time I am grateful to Donald for these more adult memories. The thing I remember best is being told by a very superior older boy that “….of course the ropes are made of nylon”. The only nylon I knew about was that used in the stockings of my mother and aunties (when they could get them) and I childishly imagined hundreds of them joined together to make the tow rope!