The Air Training Corp has been in Highbridge and Burnham since 1940 the current headquarters being just off the Highbridge Road. The Army Cadet Force and Sea Cadets had been in existence for some years and upon the outbreak of hostilities in 1939 cadets from these units were naturally drafted, when old enough, into the Army and Royal Navy. The Royal Air Force being a relatively young organisation did not have such a cadet force in which to train future airmen.
With Air Training Corps units being formed around the country Highbridge/Burnham felt that they too would encourage recruitment and a flight was formed in 1940. Flight Commander A. White and the new cadets met at the Adult School in Church Street, Highbridge – meetings were held twice weekly on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Originally the unit was a detached flight of the 65 Bridgwater Squadron. In the early days the instructors included Deputy Pilot Officer J. Freeman and Superintendent H. Miller of the St John Ambulance Brigade and Mr. Hawkins.
Towards the end of the war Mr. Brabner ran the Flight in the Territorial Army Drill Hall that was on Burnham Road, Highbridge. At the end of the war F/O V. Ruskin took over the running of the Flight. The membership increased and in 1955 the unit gained Squadron status becoming the 2302 Highbridge/Burnham Squadron under F/Lt Ruskin. In 1958 F/Lt Ruskin joined Wing H.Q staff and F/Lt Hoey took over with F/O A. Lismore, F/O C. Stell and P/O V. Drew.
The Army decided it no longer needed the Drill Hall and it was sold. The Squadron moved into temporary premises at the rear of Church Street, Highbridge, until the present Headquarters were built off Highbridge Road. The Squadron did rifle shooting at R.N.A.S. Yeovilton and R.A.F. Watchet, glider training at R.A.F. Locking and spent a week at a R.A.F. station every year where the cadets flew in non-operational aircraft. They also had regular flying experience in Chipmunks at R.A.F. Filton. Three cadets, P. Hoey, P. Chidzey and R. Stell gained the Duke of Edinburgh gold award. Many cadets left to make a career in the R.A.F. In the late 1960’s F/Lt Hoey transferred to Wing staff and F/Lt A. Lismore took over Command.
Following Flt. Lt. Arthur Lismore came Flt. Lt. Viv Drew who commanded the unit from the late 1960’s until 1982, when he decided to retire from the R.A.F.V.R (T) and Flt. Lt. Paul Upham assumed command of the detached flight. Cadet numbers in the 2302 Sqdn. had steadily dwindled and it became increasingly difficult to retain cadets for a long period of time, eventually, in about 1982 the squadron was downgraded to the detached flight status becoming a detached flight of (Weston-super-Mare) Squadron.
Flt. Lt. Paul Upham joined Squadron 2302 as a cadet in April 1970, in those days the unit met weekly on Monday and Wednesday evenings. In the summer months formal lessons on the theories of flying were kept to a minimum and the light evenings were used to take on the Army and Sea Cadets at cricket or football. There were also outdoor projects such as constructing and flying model aircraft. In the early 1970’s the cadet’s uniform still comprised the World War II pattern, called “Hairy Mary’s” battle dress. Life as a cadet in the unit changed very little during the decade. Opportunities did arise twice a year to go to Filton and fly in Chipmunks and there was gliding at Weston Airport, again twice a year. Some cadets including Paul went on a complete gliding course and ultimately, he stayed at the Gliding School as an instructor, a position held for 18 years.
In the early 1980’s the 2302 unit did not have direct access to its own rifle range, but every Monday evening two/three members of staff drove cadets out to R.A.F. Locking to use the indoor range. There was regular shooting with 303 rifles at Yoxter on the Mendips and at Langport. The unit won several R.A.F. Wing competitions and Paul represented the Somerset Wing at the Bisley Championships.
Cadets were given the opportunity to attend a weeks-training camp held on a R.A.F. Station somewhere in the U.K. Some were lucky being selected to attend camps overseas, such as Germany or Malta. During these training camps cadets had the opportunity to visit various sections on the R.A.F. bases, if it was a “flying” one, meaning there were aircraft on the base, cadets had the opportunity to ‘crawl’ all over the aircraft that had been stripped down for maintenance. This gave them the chance to put into practice what their theory lessons had taught them and to see, first hand, how an aircraft was constructed and how systems worked. In 1978 Cadet Paul Upham was successful in getting a commission in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserves –Training Branch and was posted to 2302 as a staff member. It became increasingly difficult to retain cadet numbers for long periods and in 1982 the Squadron was down graded as mentioned earlier.
Fortunes changed and the A.T.C. across the country was about to make a huge step forward in its role as a premier youth organisation. A handful of units, in each county, had for a few years been allowed to recruit girls, this was, however, under very strict rules. The number of girls had to be no more than 10% of the total strength; obviously there were some activities in which the girls could not take part. Trials had, however, been a success and the green light was given to 2302 unit to recruit girls. This change in policy produced quick results, within a few years three female A.T.C. Cadets were recruited and with females joining, boys suddenly became interested again. Both sexes took part in identical activities, with the exception of sport. Boys played football of rugby and the girls netball and hockey. There was quite a shock for boys when girls beat them when participating on equal terms.
Numbers slowly increased and in the late 1980’s the unit was once again granted Squadron status, being given it original Squadron Number 2302. During the mid-1980’s transport had improved and the unit began to participate in adventure training activities, Duke of Edinburgh Awards. Cadets regularly took part in exercises on Dartmoor, Lake District and North Wales. These additional activities created renewed interest in the A.T.C. and brought new recruits. A number of cadets gained awards, but with the whole country falling into a well-forecast “Demographic Trough” numbers of eligible teenagers reduced and numbers again fell. In 1993 a week’s adventure training trip to the Isle Arran off the Scottish coast was organised. Several cadets units from Somerset participated and the whole event was a huge success and continued on an annual basis until 2001. The foot and mouth disease that year caused the cancellation just weeks before the trip was to take place. Later in that year the owners of the premises on the Island sold the buildings and future visits ceased.
(Information supplied by Sqdn Ldr P. Upham and Flt. H.H.Hoey)
Update March 2010
Flt. Lt. Lismore, mentioned above, retired last year after over fifty years of service to the corps. He was also:
• Hon Secretary of the Highbridge Chamber of Trade and Commerce for 21 years and President for 3 years
• Secretary of the Burnham-on-Sea & District Branch of the Royal Air Forces Association for over 22 years.
He has received 2 special Commendation Awards from the respective Lord Lieutenants of Somerset, A Civic award from the Town Council and a Special Commendation Award from the President of the RAFA Air Vice Marshal Sir John Severne.