Towards the end of October 1961, we had managed to build the parachute training school and the first troops from the Rhodesian Army arrived to be trained as paratroopers. They would form ‘C’ ( Rhodesia) Squadron of the British 22nd SAS Regiment.
Its a long wait. Sitting in the Dakota before take off for the first demonstration jump the staff of Parachute Training School find it a little difficult to relax.
From left to right: Flying Officer R.T.D. Smith and Flt/Sgt R.R. Robinson, both of the R.A.F; Sergeants N.A. Suttie, D.J.G. de Kock T.P. Smith, R.M. Tomson, and Flt/Sgt W.P. Maitland, all of the R.R.A.F.
At the beginning of every parachute course in Rhodesia the PJI's would jump to demonstrate the parachuting techniques, including the pulling of the reserve and the carrying of suspended loads. This gave the students an opportunity to actually see a parachute and what to expect when they made their parachute descents. It also allowed the PJI's to gain more experience and build up their jump totals. It must be remembered that in these times few people in Rhodesia had even seen parachutes.
On November 1, 1961, we took off at 0530 hours in Dakota #153 piloted by Flight Lieutenant George Alexander to do our first parachute descents in the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. This was supposed to be a demonstration for the first course to go through the school. It was also our first parachute jumps in Rhodesia and our first jumps out of a Royal Rhodesian Air Force Dakota.
Everybody, including the press, was on hand to witness the occasion. The aircraft took off with us on board but had to return to base because of low cloud. This was a little nerve wracking but we were the experts and nothing was supposed to faze us! We waited until approximately 0800 when the cloud lifted and we were able to get airborne again. I was tasked to demonstrate the PWC (Parachutist Weapons Container) which, in fact, was a lump of concrete weighing approximately 30kgs. The PWC was a suspended load attached to the main parachute harness with two special hooks. It was lowered on a suspension rope 15 feet long after the parachute had deployed. The idea was for the load to land first, thus allowing the parachutist to land unencumbered and, hopefully, slower. On this occasion all went well. I was No.2 in a slow pair with Mercer Thomson. I soon realised that there is a big difference in the rate of descent at sea-level and 5000 feet above sea-level, especially when using a 28-foot flat canopy X type parachute the British had given us. It was later determined by a stopwatch that the average rate of descent on the DZ at Salisbury Airport, using these X-type parachutes, was 22 feet per second. This is fast. By the end of 1961, I had managed to do a total of 38 parachute descents. Whilst at Abingdon we were surprised to find few people had done more than 100 military parachute descents, so we were well on the way to catching up with the British experts.
This photograph shows the Station Commander of RRAF New Sarum Gp/Capt A.O.G. Wilson (Archie) holding a glass of ale. Flt/Lt R.T.D. Smith O/C P.T.S. holding a Silver Parachutist which had been presented by G.Q. Parachutes on completion of the first 1000 parachute descents carried out at the school.
The station commander at New Sarum was Group Captain A.O.G. Wilson, who had the most bone-crushing handshake I have ever come across. Of course, Archie (as he was known to one and all), was not going to miss out on doing a parachute descent onto his turf. I was given the task of training him, after hours, during the first week of #1 Basic Course. On the 9th November, 1961, we took off with the first course and, of course, the Station Commander. He was certainly not going to miss out on this opportunity and we were all sworn to secrecy. Being the station commander of New Sarum it was unlikely he was going to get any flak from the Commander of the Air Force, Air Vice-Marshall Bentley. Any problems arising were probably going to come from Mrs. Wilson (Lorna).
We took off and dropped a PJI drifter, who landed on the DZ. On the next run in, I called Archie up to action stations. When the red light came on, I yelled “Stand in the door,” which Archie did with great force. I had hold of his parachute harness, and it was a strain to keep him from going out. When the green light came on, I just let go and he shot out like a champagne cork. He damn near took the door with him. We had to land and have it repaired before the course could do their first jump. I subsequently found out that this was not Archie’s first parachute descent, as he had bailed out from his fighter aircraft during the second World War, and in fact, was a member of the Caterpillar Club. I, fortunately, never qualified for a Caterpillar because all my parachute descents were deliberate, and therefore did not count.
During these early days, the end of the parachute course also indicated the final phase of SAS selection, and as usual in most military circles. a party was held. The new members of this elite band were required to drink a yard of ale which was timed.
#1 Basic Static Line Course started training on 31st Oct. 1961 and completed training on 17th Nov 1961.
Back Row L. to R L/Cpl Des Tomes Pvt. Sandy Saunders Pvt. Ken Webster Cpl. Cecil Fraser (Sigs) L/Cpl Harry Bodley Cpl Jan Cilliers Cpl Bill Richardson L/Cpl Karl Van Heerden L/Cpl Mike Higgins Pvt Chris Russell
Second Row L to R Sgt. Billy Herman L/Cpl Jannie Boltman Sgt Terry Hagan (R.A.F. PJI) Sgt Norman Suttie (R.R.A.F. PJI) Sgt Mercer Thomson (R.R.A.F. PJI) Sgt Trevor Smith (R.R.A.F. PJI) Sgt Derek de Kock (R.R.A.F.PJI) Cpl Kevin Lithgow Sgt Jock Hutton
Seated L .to R. Flt/Sgt R.R. Robinson (R.A.F. PJI) Lt John Rowette Flying Officer R.T.D. Smith (R.A.F. PJI) OC PTS Flt/Sgt W.P. Maitland (R.R.A.F. PJI)
Sergeant Jock Hutton had originally completed his first parachute course and RAF Ringway during World War 2 and did his first operational jump into Normandy on D-Day 1944. In 2014 he again jumped into Normandy with The Red Devils, aged 90." Jock you are a legend not only with the British but with the Rhodesians as well."