South Downs branch offers fellowship for retired Fleet Air Arm personnel

Members of the Fleet Air Arm Association, South Downs branch, at the Castle Inn, Bramber. Picture: Steve Robards SR1808080
Members of the Fleet Air Arm Association, South Downs branch, at the Castle Inn, Bramber. Picture: Steve Robards SR1808080

Former Fleet Air Arm personnel of all ranks meet together to share memories of the Royal Navy.

The South Downs branch of the Fleet Air Arm Association has been going for 20 years and now meets at the Castle Inn Hotel in Bramber every fourth Wednesday of the month, 11.30am to 1pm.

Chairman Gerry Mitchell. Picture: Steve Robards SR1808097

Chairman Gerry Mitchell. Picture: Steve Robards SR1808097

Chairman Gerry Mitchell, from Upper Beeding, said: “Like any branch of ex-service personnel, the numbers fluctuate, so we are always looking for people to join.

“Over the years, the dynamics have changed. We started with people just talking about their experiences but it is now more formalised.

“Everyone has something to give. We all get on with each other and having ex-Wrens provides a nice balance to the branch.

“We try to support each other in times of trouble and need. It is a bit difficult because being ex-services, we have our pride, so it is trying to get past that barrier to give people some help and visit them in times of need.”

Fred Holborn, Terry Bullingham, Ron Malyan and John Wingate during the meeting. Picture: Steve Robards SR1808089

Fred Holborn, Terry Bullingham, Ron Malyan and John Wingate during the meeting. Picture: Steve Robards SR1808089

The branch was launched by Alec Braybrooke, who has since moved north but is still a member and attends when he can.

Membership covers from Chichester to Rottingdean and north to Burgess Hill and Henfield. Meetings may include a speaker on a topic of interest and outings to places like the Bluebell Railway and Fishbourne Roman Palace.

John Cotton, 91, from Patcham, who served as an air mechanic (engines), has been a member since the first meeting, held at The Black Lion in Patcham.

He said: “It has kept me in touch with all my old mates.”

Fred Holborn from Brighton was also an air mechanic (engines) and served during the Second World War. He joined some time later, having seen a newspaper advert, when the branch met at Shoreham Airport.

Dick Searles from Henfield said having all ranks together made the association special.

“I could not contemplate having such an association, or such a good time, with the people I worked with in the Navy when I became a civilian,” he said.

“I never guessed we would get together and enjoy ourselves like we do here. It is quite a contrast because it consists of ex-ratings and ex-officers and in the 1960s, when I served, the gulf between us was tremendous.”

Terry Bullingham, 73, from Telscombe Cliffs has been a member for two years and said he came ‘for the fellowship’.

He joined the Royal Navy in 1960 and served until 1984. He was left totally blind when a cannon shell hit him while he was on the HMS Antrim in the Falklands but retrained and ended his Navy career as an information officer at the Fleet Air Arm Museum.

John Wingate from Chichester also served in the Falklands during a 30-year career in the Navy, which included maintaining helicopters and later flying them.

He said: “For me, one of the excellent things is the Royal Navy makes the most of people. I went to school in Chichester and bumped around at the bottom.

“I started in the Navy as a very nervous young man with no qualifications and ended up flying. I had a good career, so I totally endorse the service for everybody.

“I joined as an artificer and served a five-year apprenticeship. You learned to rely on people and you could trust them.

“At the end of the career, I had a job working on flight simulators and for me it was doing what you love and getting paid for it. I loved the Navy.”

Ron Malyan from Saltdean joined the Navy as an air radio mechanic and served from 1957 to 1969. He then became an academic and retired 11 years ago. He has been a member for a year, having been encouraged to join by Terry.

Mike Maddox, treasurer, from Brighton said being in the Fleet Air Arm was a demanding and interesting job.

“To achieve what we achieved could only be done with a huge amount of teamwork, trust and experience amongst a whole spectrum of people,” he said.

“I believe that makes the Fleet Air Arm special, which is why we have special people around this table today. We have a huge amount of respect for each member of the team.”

Mike Priestley from Shoreham joined the Navy because of the Sea Scouts. He said he took up the opportunity to learn to fly and achieved his private pilot’s licence before he learned to drive.

Carole Sharpe, secretary, from Worthing is also a member of Blind Veterans UK and will be doing a zip wire challenge at its centre in Brighton during the weekend April 21 and 22.

For more information on the branch, contact Gerry Mitchell, email gerry.mitchell@talktalk.net or telephone 07792609685.

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