key.aero was at the Goodwood Revival, held over the weekend of September 19/20, 2009. Goodwood’s motor racing heritage is well known, but few realise it started life as a retreat for Hurricanes from nearby RAF Tangmere.
‘Glorious Goodwood’ is the oft-bandied description for the Revival meeting, now in its eleventh year, and it is very well deserved – a Royal Ascot for aeroplanes and racing cars. On a sunny day there’s nowhere better to bask in a warm glow of nostalgia, as the 1950s and ’60s are brought back to life in a mixture of racing fuel and Avgas.
Goodwood motor racing circuit can trace its roots back to December 7, 1938, when the Air Ministry requisitioned the land. Before then it was just a collection of fields in a corner of the Duke of Richmond’s estate in West Sussex, his country house being situated a couple of miles to the north. But the dark days leading up to the start of World War Two air force defences were strengthened in the southern counties in response to fears of a possible German invasion. One of those airfields that underwent a rapid build-up was RAF Tangmere, a few miles west of Chichester – such was the congestion at the base that a relief landing ground was required, so a few fields near Westhampnett village were requisitioned for the dispersal of Hurricanes. As the Duke was an avid pilot, he didn’t object to the requisition. Known to many as ‘Freddie’ March, he had designed countless aircraft, many of which he built and flew from the fields around Goodwood.
The first aircraft to arrive were Hurricanes of 145 Squadron on July 23, 1940 during the early phase of the Battle of Britain. One of the squadron’s first major actions came on August 8 when it played a leading role in the ‘Battle of Convoy CW9’ off St Catherine’s Point on the Isle of Wight. British convoys were within easy reach of German bases in the north of France – convoy CW9 consisted of 20 merchant ships with an escort of nine naval vessels and was headed for Dorset. As it entered the Straits of Dover at dawn it was attacked by German torpedo boats and 160 fighters, fighter bombers and Stuka dive bombers. In the ensuing battle the Flying Officer Richard Kay-Shuttleworth, the second Lord Shuttleworth, tragically lost his life.
No.145 Squadron left Westhampnett shortly after, allowing 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron and it brought with it the airfield’s first Spitfires, a type that would become synonymous with the area over the next four years. No.602 remained at this base throughout the Battle of Britain.
To combat poor drainage, a concrete perimeter track was laid around the outside of the grass aerodrome during the winter of 1940/41. Legend has it that an Australian-born 21-year-old Spitfire pilot, Flt Lt Anthony Gaze, would regularly inspect the perimeter road at very high speed in his MG while off-duty. Gaze, who was the wingman of legendary ace Douglas Bader from March 1941, survived the war and befriended Freddie March.
Wing Commander Douglas Bader, DSO & Bar, DFC, led missions with 610 and 616 Squadrons through the summer of 1941, but on August 9 he was shot down over France and interned as a prisoner of war for its duration. Bader had joined the RAF in 1930 at the age of 20 but within 12 months he lost both his legs after a crash during an aerobatic manoeuvre. He had ‘tin’ legs made and learned to walk and fly again, shooting down 22 enemy aircraft before his last mission. A statue stands in the circuit grounds to commemorate Bader’s life and his time at Westhampnett.
The turnover of fighter squadrons was frenetic, due to its status as a satellite for Tangmere. Nearby Merston was also a satellite, but had even worse drainage problems than Westhampnett, thus increasing the tempo at the latter. Tangmere Wing’s Operational Record Book states that moves to Westhampnett in December 1941 were intended to be temporary, brought about by the “unsatisfactory state of the Summerfield track runways at Merston,” which needed to be “repaired and modified”.
In August 1942 the airfield was handed over to the newly-arrived Eighth Air Force and rebranded as US Army Air Base 352. On August 19, 123 Spitfire Mk.Vs of the 31st Fighter Group supported Operation Jubilee over Dieppe and claimed two Luftwaffe aircraft destroyed, three probables and one damaged for the loss of eight Spitfires (four pilots missing), which served to highlight the Americans’ inexperience in combat. Second Lieutenant Samuel Junkin Jr of the 309th Fighter Squadron was the first to shoot down a German fighter, achieving the first aerial victory by an Eighth Air Force fighter pilot flying from the UK. By mid-October the USAAF had left for Gibraltar and ‘Operation Torch’, the Allied landings in North Africa.
The airfield returned to RAF use, although British squadrons also dropped in for short periods while the Americans were ‘in town’. A new shape also appeared in the sky during 1943 – the Hawker Typhoon, which arrived with three squadrons working up towards the Normandy invasion. They disappeared to France shortly after June 1944 as the Allied push towards Berlin began. The Typhoons’ tenure was marked by a group of locals contacting the station commander (and the local press) to complain about the noise – with their Napier Sabre engines at full boost and flying at low-level, even the war-weary populace could take no more!
After September 1944, Westhampnett became a ferry field, No.83 Group Support Unit passing Spitfires and North American Mustangs into Europe until February 22, 1945. After a four-month closure, it hosted 787 Naval Air Fighting Development Unit until November 27, 1945. The airfield closed as a military establishment on May 13, 1946.
Freddie March was a renowned amateur motor racer, having won the Brooklands ‘Double 12’ in 1930. After the war he was approached by the then Squadron Leader Gaze, who suggested using the perimeter road as a motor racing circuit. The Duke and Duchess of Richmond officially opened the track on September 18, 1948, by driving around it in a Bristol 400 – the first race was won by a young Stirling Moss, who later became synonymous with the circuit. Goodwood’s opening was welcomed by enthusiasts who had been deprived of motor racing in Britain since Brooklands closed its doors in 1939 – over 15,000 spectators turned up to support the UK’s first professionally-organised post-war event.
After Moss’s career-ending accident in 1962, attention shifted to the circuit’s safety standards but the changes necessary were deemed too expensive, so after an 18-year association Goodwood closed its gates to motor racing in August 1966, although it remained in continuous use as a motorsports testing venue. Aviation, however, continued to have a presence with the Goodwood Aero Club, which had been established on the old airfield in 1958.
In 1998 the present Lord March decided to organise an event to celebrate the heyday of Goodwood’s motor racing and aviation heritage. The Revival has grown each year to become one of the premier events in the UK, and is an assault on the senses – you really do feel like you’ve been transported back in time to a world that feels less rushed, only the chirping of mobile phones occasionally spoil the illusion. Famous racing drivers mingle with ‘equally-celebrated but lesser-known pilots – Sir Stirling Moss is instantly recognisable to the majority, but pilot Charlie Brown is maybe only familiar to the aviation-minded amongst the vast crowd. Air displays fill the gaps between the races, with Spitfires, Mustangs and the Buchón sharing the spotlight this year with the Vimy and the Vulcan, surely the only time these two V-Bombers will have been seen at the same event.
Someone with feet in both the motor racing and aviation camps is racing driver and pilot Alain de Cadenet. “The revival is all about celebrating what happened here during the war and until 1966 when it all came to a halt – that’s why people show up here in traditional gear, wearing 1940s, ’50s and ’60s kit, with pre-1966 cars if they’ve got one, and it’s a celebration of a bygone era… the likes of which we will, in some ways unfortunately, and other ways fortunately, never see again,” he says. Today Alain is driving a 1962 Ferrari GTO – “It was built new for David Piper, painted BP green, and I’m racing it with the son of the gentleman who owns the car. Having sold it to him about 100 years ago for nothing, I get the privilege of driving it from time to time!”
Although Alain is keeping his feet on the ground, he has a rich aviation experience. Would he love to get in the air as well this weekend? “I would, in fact I’m starting to think I may not do the driving next year and come in an old biplane – a Tiger Moth or a Stearman, something like that. The only snag with all these gorgeous warbirds is that you can’t just go and jump in, you have to be current and signed off by someone. I have a pilot’s licence and I can fly anything up to about 10,000lbs – but what I learnt immediately is that if you fool around with those things, you can get into serious grief – a lot of better pilots than me aren’t here to prove that.
“The quality and experience of the pilots here at Goodwood is exceptional. They’re all current with airshow licences – I was never an airshow pilot. These guys fly these aircraft regularly so if anything goes wrong they’re not so likely to get caught out. The worst of all this serious warbird flying is that maybe a pilot can handle one thing that goes wrong, but if a couple of things go wrong, or more, you could be in really, really big trouble.
“My favourite aircraft here is Spitfire MH434, the late Squadron Leader Ray Hannah’s aircraft, which has enthralled everybody at Goodwood for years. He nearly took my head off in a little video clip that people may have seen! Ray was a good man – both he and son Mark were exceptional people, and I learnt a lot from both of them. He was by far the best post-war Spitfire pilot to date.”
With that it was time to jump in the car and set off on the formation lap – back to 1966 and a time of little health and safety constraint, when the sun always shone and the winner could speak his mind. Happy days!