They conquered fear by jumping out of aircraft. That’s the way the old boys of the Parachute Regiment were once described by Field Marshal Montgomery.
In this area, members of the regiment are remembered by the Spalding branch of the Parachute Regimental Association, which is 70 years old this year.
The Spalding-based 3rd Battalion were the founder members back in 1946, when the survivors of Arnhem came back to this area.
Remarkably, among the group’s current membership of around 20 are three World War Two veterans, now sadly unable to attend meetings. They are Curly (Gordon) Harding, of Spalding; Tony Blackman from Weston, who was in the 12 Devonshire Battalion and landed by glider on D-Day – and was subsequently awarded the Legion d’Honneur by the French ambassador; and Peterborough man Geoff Roberts.
There were more veterans, but branch chairman Major David Allmond says: “One or two have left the district and joined other branches, but in the end these old boys were 19 or 20 years old in 1942, and some even older.”
By comparison, David is a spring chicken, and was only four in 1942 when the Parachute Regiment was first raised.
It has fallen to him though, and branch secretary Bill Morter, to organise 70th anniversary celebrations in the form of a dinner at Spalding Golf Club on September 24 for invited guests, including current and past chairmen of South Holland District Council.
At the dinner they will remember those founder members of the Spalding branch, the veterans who once lived in accommodation huts on Spalding Grammar School field, the site of the old Odeon Cinema and elsewhere in town.
After months spent training in weaponry, first aid, field craft and general fitness, they were deployed to the Battle of Arnhem, as part of the British First Airborne Division.
Other men went to North Africa, where they fought their way through Italy and Sicily before returning to the UK ready for the invasion of Europe.
The 6th Division were involved in the Normandy landings and fought their way through to the Battle of the Bulge.
The 1st Airborne Division were parachuted into Arnhem and, after ten days hard fighting, David says they were “either brought out, captured, wounded or killed”. Of around 12,000 men who went in total, just 2,000 came back – the majority died.
The Spalding branch, whose membership also includes those who fought in the Falklands and Afghanisan, arranged for a memorial window to the 3rd Battalion to go up in its regimental church, St John’s in Spalding.