It is the beginning of the end for The Parachute Regiment. They have unfortunately become yet another victim of the brutal cuts brought on by our mighty British government in their ultimate crusade of cutting the savage deficit.
The Parachute Regiment is the youngest of all British Army units and the fiercest. They have a similar reputation to that of Millwall Fans with their mantra: ‘No Body Likes Us & We Don’t Care’ and this is partly down to the fact that many young men have tried to join the illustrious Parachute Regiment in their youth, but had failed miserably, leaving a brutal personal angst because they ended up employed as a pen pusher at the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall.
I was an 11-year-old kid listening to Madness records and smoking Benson & Hedges en route to Secondary School when the idea of joining the Paras began. The Falklands War had recently happened and we had given the ‘Argies’ a kicking – A BBC1 program called ‘The Paras’ lit our living rooms with young men all keen to earn the red beret and fight for Queen & Country. So everyone knew who the Paras were from watching the TV. At Christmas my cousin visited us at home in Alty. He was with his friend who had just recently passed his Paras training. No one could get a word in edgeways and my father and Uncle reminisced about their time in the army. “Best years of your life” they said.
Months later we moved to a Wimpy home in Warrington New Town. On the way home after detention I walked in front of a bus only to get hit by a van, loaded with building materials snapping my femur off and putting me in Hospital, in traction for the next five months. Another 7 months followed hobbling around the neighborhood with a special plastic mold, being called ‘Peg Leg’ by all the kids on the estate.
Lunch times I went around a classmate’s house and watched The Paras on his VHS video recorder, he too wanted to join the Paras or the Marines. At school I was unable to catch up, falling lower and lower to the bottom of the class, spending time mostly doing lines in the remedial block. On my 16th birthday I was arrested for the alleged robbery of a car and spent the night in a Police cell. I was later cautioned on the grounds of joining the army.
Having passed the relevant IQ tests at the army careers office, I was given an allocated vacancy in the Parachute Regiment. My school felt it would be fitting for me to leave school early, not to sit my exams and go on an extended work experience. There was no future for me in Warrington New Town, most kids my age were either smoking scag and listening to UB40 or getting drunk and attempting to get into Mr. Smiths nightclub on a Saturday night.
August 1988 I enlisted in the Parachute Regiment. It was like a boys own adventure, the journey down south – meeting fellow like-minded 16 year olds on the way, all sticking out like a bulldog’s bollock with cropped hair, tight jeans, bomber jackets, desert boots and carrying Head Monte Carlo Hold-all bags. All laughing and joking about the time when we all watched The Paras on TV and here we are now –just like the TV series, joining up for real, filled with nervous apprehension.
During Recruit Company we always had to work as a team, anyone fucked up, we all suffered. Many of us knew it was going to be a hard vicious process, but that was the whole point. We would be stripped of our civilian identity and rebuilt month by month into freshly built paratroopers. It would be an epic twelve months before I was heading to No 1 Parachute School at Brize Norton – which took three psychotic attempts to finally pass the sadistic pre-parachute selection process called ‘P-Company’ before finally earning the right to wear the coveted red beret on my head.
There was a universal sense back then, that what we were doing was right, like it was something special perhaps. Early in my Junior Training my platoon sergeant would regularly say: “Switch on, stay alive… This time next year you could be in Northern Ireland”. Less than a year later I was posted to the Province with my fellow band of brothers to the 3rd Battalion who were on a 26-month residential tour. Looking back at my training in Pirbright, and Aldershot like it was the age of innocence in a brutal circumstance – when believing what I was doing was a just and honorable adventure.