A Weekend at RAF Brize Norton by Michael Stables
“RED ON! … GO!” shouted Flight Sergeant Baron, in his sharp Scottish accent. With my hands slightly shaking, I slapped my left hand on to my right wrist. All ready to jump out of the Hercules simulator – fixed 30 feet in the air.
(many hours earlier)
It was a fresh Saturday morning in Crosby when my father and I pulled into the St Mary’s school car park. The school’s CCF office (or ‘hut’ as the St Mary’s cadets called it) was opposite the car park. We were early so that we made a good first impression by not turning up late. There to greet us was the CCF’s Sergeant Major Tom Barny, an ex-paratrooper who was able to set up the weekend. After more paper work was signed, and the rest of the cadets had shown up the parents took their leave.
The group was to make the 4-hour journey in a mini-bus. Classic cadet transport. In the mini-bus were 12 people in total (10 cadets, 1 officer and 1 senior NCO) and everyone’s luggage. The cadets consisted of: myself, Dominic Hodkinson, Ben Foskett and Will Surridge. We were the Merchant Taylors’ School CCF attachments. The rest were from St Mary’s. From St Mary’s there was: Tom Huges. George Clarke, Sean Dwyer, Ben Holdem, Talitha-Kay Greatorex and Leah Lovelady. The adults on the trip were Captain Elaine Overend and, as I previously mentioned, Sergeant Major Tom Barney.
The drive down was useful in learning everyone’s names. But in truth the time seemed to fly by.
When we arrived at RAF Brize Norton, we were met at the gates by Warrant Officer Class 2 Kevin Almond, who was going to be our host for the weekend. Rank worn on the wrist, polished boots, impeccably moulded and old beret and deep booming voice. He looked like a stereotypical sergeant major. Through him we were waved through the gate and dropped off at the Parachute Training Support Unit Centre (PTSU). Located next to Number 1 Parachute Training School (No.1 PTS).
WOII Almond gave a very quick brief before he marched us over to No.1 PTS. This place was like sacred ground to the Parachute Regiment. It was where they earned their coveted parachute wings. Merely the chance to see it was something to behold. It wasn’t much on the outside. It looked very much like an ordinary aircraft hangar. But on the inside was a whole other story. The hangar was stocked with parachutes, simulators and other various bits of jump equipment (including harnesses and helmets).
Strolling over with a hot cup of tea in his hand, came Flight Sergeant Baron. One of the most senior PJIs (parachute jump instructors) of the school. His instructor’s jacket was covered with various parachuting badges. Flt Sgt Baron came across as quite a relaxed man. He never had to raise his voice or start shouting the entire day. We conducted interesting warm ups/drills prior to the 3 30 foot jumps. The training was excellent and so were the officers and NCO (non-commissioned officers). After the training we were all awarded honorary Army or RAF parachute wings. It is a shame we are not allowed to wear them on our uniforms.
Everyone was tired; the group went to the Parachute Training Support Unit Accommodation, kindly provided by WOII Almond. First job was to make the beds, then have a shower before meeting a World War 2 veteran, Private Steve Morgan(2 PARA), who was the last British solider off the bridge at Arnhem, Holland.
The drive to Private Morgan’s house was very short. We were greeted at the house with open arms. Literally. The man hugged all of us as we came through the door. He was very open to tell his story to us because he believed that we, as the next possible generation of HM forces, needed to know of the history that our predecessors fought to create. Meeting him was an immense honour and listening to him talk about such events in so much detail was incredibly interesting.
The day ended with some light-hearted bowling and me in my bed at 22:15.
The next morning was a rather fast process. The shower, then breakfast, then packing up and tidying the room seemed to blur into one. Low ropes and command tasks were on the agenda for the day. Sadly, there was not enough instructors for the high ropes.
The first test of the day was when we were told to stand on a 1.5 metre pedestal and fall back. The aim of the task was to see if you trusted in your team to catch you. I am not going to lie. But I was wondering whether they would make the catch. Never the less I fell back and the caught me. The other command tasks were done in apparently base record-breaking times.
The final event involved us listening to WOII Almond explain his time in the army and us being able to ask questions about careers in the forces. After thanks were exchanged and goodbyes were said, the group boarded the bus for the final time. Destination: home. The drive back up north was filled with laughter and Captain Overend’s disco tunes.
Overall the weekend down at RAF Brize Norton was an eye-opening experience which none of the Merchant Taylors’ cadets will forget. In this report I would like to thank the St Mary’s CCF and its officers for setting up and inviting us on the weekend.
- External Examination results arrangements
- MTGS Choir Italy Tour
- CCF Army Annual Camp
- School shortlisted for innovation award
- Anniversary service at Liverpool Cathedral
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