Thorney Island Sailing Club
A brief History
The village of West Thorney, with its attractive Norman Church, was a remote marshland community of farmers and fishermen within Chichester Harbour for many centuries. It was separated from the mainland by Little Deep and Great Deep, which are still visible as marshland meres today.
Thorney Island came to the notice of the Air Ministry on 25th September 1933, when a Hawker Fury biplane fighter crashed, killing the pilot, Sergeant William Molesworth Hodge. The potential for the Island as an airfield was recognised during the subsequent crash investigation and, with war clouds gathering over Europe, the airfield was developed and commissioned in 1938. HM King George VI subsequently visited the Island on 9th May 1944.
Throughout the Second World War, Thorney Island, its aircraft and airmen, played a vital role in the air defence of London, Portsmouth and Southern England. Hundreds of missions were flown from Thorney over the English Channel and France; the RAF station played a major role in support of the D-Day landings in June 1944. After the war, Thorney Island Station served under Coastal and Fighter Commands and finally RAF Transport Command when the Hercules became a familiar site in the skies above Emsworth and its environs.
Thorney Island Sailing Club formed at the end of the war in 1945 under the Signals Officer, Wing Commander Hyde, with its inauguration and first official season in 1946. The Club facilities at that time consisted of a small wooden hut and a rather rickety jetty. The members were those who lived and/or worked on the Island and the Club fleet was six Hamble Star 14ft sailing dinghies. These hard-chined, gunter-rigged, heavily built craft designed in the mid 1920s were enthusiastically raced and cruised around Chichester Harbour together with three old 12 square metre Sharpies. The Clubhouse which we see today, unlike the land on which it stands which is leased from the Secretary of State for Defence, belongs to the members of the Club, having been donated by the Nuffield Trust specifically for its members in 1965. The building has been extended and updated over the years and the concrete slipway gives access to the water at all states of the tide. RAF Thorney Island was de-commissioned in 1976 but the RAF did not relinquish its association with the Island until 2007 when, following talks between RAFSA, the ASA and the Club, the decision was reached that it would be more appropriate for the Club to become affiliated to the Army Sailing Association.
The Royal Navy took over Thorney Island station for a brief period in 1976 and, in 1980, West Thorney became host to many hundreds of Vietnamese families, accepted by the United Kingdom for settlement in this country. It is interesting to note that prior to the Army moving to Thorney Island an RAF bomb disposal team was brought in to clear the island and discovered 12 pipe bombs which had been placed under the runways and taxiways by Canadian forces in anticipation of the invasion of the UK in 1940. All but one was defused successfully and extracted by armoured bulldozers, but the final one exploded under the taxiway very close behind the Officers Mess as it was being removed; fortunately the only damage was to the taxiway.
Thorney Island Station became an Army base (Baker Barracks) at the end of 1984 when it was chosen as the home for 47 Field Regiment Royal Artillery. 12 Regiment Royal Artillery joined in 2007 and further changes are planned with 16 Regiment Royal Artillery joining 12 Regiment on the Island in 2014 while 47 Regiment will move to Larkhill.
Since its inauguration in 1946, servicemen of all three services, veterans and civilians have continued to enjoy their sailing and club activities, playing a full part in the life of Chichester Harbour and its sailing fraternities.