Storrington war veteran John, 95, returns to the skies

You would have thought that on reaching the grand old age of 95, most people would be inclined to put their feet up - not John Bell.

The decorated war veteran defied his advancing years when he was propelled thousands of feet above the West Sussex countryside in a glider.

Duncan Stewart, pilot and John Bell. Photo: Steve Robards SR1820449

Duncan Stewart, pilot and John Bell. Photo: Steve Robards SR1820449

The retired Wing Commander, and recipient of the DFC, MBE the Legion D’Honneur, was special guest at an event at the Southdown Gliding Club last Thursday.

Keen not to miss out on the action, Mr Bell was quick to take his seat in a glider and was launched high above the baking hot airfield at Storrington.

Following his accompanied 10 minute flight, the veteran of 50 operations during the Second World War, simply said of his return to skies: “It was nice to get the breeze.”

Mr Bell had been invited to the club along with Air ACES, a dedicated group of aviation enthusiasts, who meet up once a month in Chichester.

Mr Bell, who lives in Storrington, has twice spoken at the ACES’ monthly meetings, which are held at the Chichester Park Hotel, and is due to return later this year.

Mr Bell, who was a bomb aimer onboard Lancaster Bomber, served with both the 619 and 617 Squadron, in which he reported to the legendary Leonard Cheshire.

During the war, Mr Bell and his comrades were tasked with bombing German weapons sites, U-boat pens, bridges and viaducts.

Mr Bell says he enjoys talking to groups and the general public about his career and wartime experiences. He said that the public needs to hear the story of the war first hand. He said: “In 1945 nobody wanted to talk about the war and how dreadful we had been to them (the Germans). Strange isn’t it?

“The public treats the veterans much better now, because once we have gone, our story is on file.”

David Batcock, the chairman of the Air ACES, was pleased Mr Bell could join him and nearly 20 members of the group, who live across Sussex and the wider region.

The gliding club is the oldest in the country and the largest to be run by volunteers. It boasts 264 members and recently one of then travelled 800km to Sheffield and back in day.

For more information contact the gliding club on or 01903 742137.

For the Air ACES contact or Mr Batcock on 01243 823007.

Our video shows action from the Air ACES day.

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