The 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment.
Foreword from Webmaster
Bryan (Tab) Hunter was working for the Rank Cinema chain when he was called up for National Service to The Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment which was based at Maidstone, Kent.
He soon found him-self in Germany pratrolling the East German Border but an opportunity came up to transfer to the Parachute Regiment. At the end of his two years service 1955/57 he returned to his civilian job managing Odeon and Gaumont Cinemas but left in 1962 to work for London Transport. When he retired at age 56 he was a Senior Manager based above Victoria Coach Station..
Paperwork to post Tab Hunter to Royal West Kent Regiment at Maidstone
He enjoys a very active lifestyle which uncludes his PRA Branch, Moderator of large Military Forum Site, walking his dogs, photography, computer website design and writing a book. He very much enjoys the yearly Parachute Reunions and meeting his old pals and being invited by their old regiment to try their modern weapons.
We were issued with these some weeks before Suez 1956. At this time we all had to put our mail to be censored, and we were assured that whatever we wrote would remain confidential and if it was non military would be passed with out comment. Well as you can imagine this had to be tested to the full, so we set about abusing our officers and NCOs in our letters home, well you can just imagine the names that they were called and it was not long before people were getting bawled out for it, so we were reminded that anything we said of a non military vein would not be mentioned, so for about 2 months all we were allowed to send home was these things, real passion killers.
I was first sent out to Cyprus by troopship on my first trip out there, this journey took over two weeks to complete, but that is another story. After we had been out there for a while and Suez crisis loomed on the horizon the powers to be decided that we had better get some parachute training in and thought the quickest way to do this was to bring us back to England. Well they did not want to waste a lot of time with us sitting in a troopship for weeks on end, so some bright spark had the idea of using a couple of squadrons of Avro Shackletons that did not have a lot to do, to ferry us around.
Well these planes were never designed for carrying troops, there was one small chemical toilet for the crew half way down plane, the planes were not pressurised and when you crossed the bomb bay you could see the ground through the gaps in the bomb bay doors. Well as you can guess the planes had no heating, no seats and with holes in the floor were bloody drafty and cold. These planes were descended from the WW2 bomber the Lancaster, and came into service for Costal Command at the end of WW2 and continued in service with RAF until the 1990’s
Now on trips back and forth we had to try and fly over the Alps, which meant flying above 20,000 feet, the crew were fine they had oxygen but us poor sods had to breathe the best we could. On our return trip to Cyprus it must have been about September, we had by now learnt to stack our gear in the front of the planes bomb bay to allow us to pee in the rear part of it and let it drain out, and with about 40 squadies to plane tanked up on beer before they left it was in constant use. It often crossed my mind what the people of Europe thought on those warm summer evenings as they looked up at the aircraft passing over head and thinking good god it’s raining and not cloud in sight, well that’s paratroopers for you.
On this return leg we had brought back so much extra gear that planes could not get over the Alps so they flew down the Canyons and Gorges in the moonlight, such a sight could put you off flying for life, as the wings at times appeared to be scrapeing the side of the mountains. One bright spark had the idea of sitting in the rear gun turret to have a bit more space and for the view. Well even in September at that height it is bloody cold over the Alps and well below freezing in fact we had learnt on earlier flights to wear as much as possible to try and keep warm in fact we all looked like the advert for the Michellen Men. Well we got to one of our refuelling points and the chap in the rear gun turret had to be lifted out as he was frozen almost solid he was carted of to hospital but we never saw him again nor could find out just what had happened to him.
It was while we were out in Suez did we realize just how poorly the British Army was equipped in many area’s. During this time we had the Lee Enfield’s Rifle .303, this was a very accurate rifle and in good hands was deadly and most of our lads could shoot very well with it, you crash it and bash it and throw it around and it would always work. The problem was that this rifle had hardly changed in the last 80 years, it was bolt operated and a magazine that held just ten rounds. You can imagine our surprise as we walked around the streets of Suez and we were picking up AK 47 and boxes of ammunition which the Egyptians had thrown out the back of lorries hoping that the local population would pick them up and help fight the foreign invaders with them.
Now these weapons could be fired on single shot or automatic and had a magazine that held 30 odd rounds, the bullets all had different coloured tips on them. Now if I can remember rightly that far back, red was for tracer, green was for an explosive bullet and blue was for amour piercing, and some times you would find some that had a mix of colours on them, also these guns had a sprung loaded bayonet built on to them, the metal the bayonet was made out of was rubbish but if you did not twist it as it went in it worked fine. Well as you can gather we were rather taken with these weapons and soon we were all equipped with them, we acquired a large Mercedes saloon car as our platoon transport and slung all our old rifles and much of our other kit in the back and as much ammunition for the AK 47’s as we could find. Well no sooner had we got our self’s settled and ready to take on any one, the news came that we were to be withdrawn to cover the withdrawal of the British forces as the fighting had now come to an end.
Well I think it was the next morning we were marched down to the docks to board an aircraft carrier for our return to Cyprus and we told to leave all our ill begotten gains on the quay which we took to be our beloved Mercedes. Well as we left it there one of the lads turned around to a sailor and said to him “What ever you do be careful with that car as it belongs to our CO”. Well we had not moved far when we saw the sailor sticking a label on the windscreen and we did not think much more about it.
On our arrival we were met by a number of military police and people in civvies who wanted all captured weapons and military material turned over to them for assessment, so we lost all our AK 47s, well I think some of the lads shed a tear or so to lose such a nice bit of kit. As soon as we were back in camp we were informed that as from the next day we would be training for an airborne assault on the Egyptian Barrack at Ismailia, and if any thing went wrong with the withdrawal or if there was an attack on our troops then we would have to take this key point. Now we had seen a few photo’s of this place and felt it could be a tough nut to take if the Egyptian troops stood and fought.
Well the next morning we were given our duties and I had got the short straw. My job in this attack was to go forward with engineers to the barb wire and when they had exploded the Bangalore torpedoes [steel tubes packed with gun cotton] and had blown a hole in the wire I had to run through the gap with two haversacks of hand grenades and hurl them into and at every structure. I had to keep the Egyptians heads down while the rest of the Battalion made the main assault. Now there were about 10 of us in what I termed the suicide squad much to annoyance of our sergeant. Later in life talking to some of the lads I found that every one chosen for this assault was a National Serviceman, well. I could only conclude that the reason for this was that in the 50’s you could not get married until you were 21 with out your parents consent, so all the chaps would have been single and the Army would not have to pay out any pension or child allowance or a widows pension. We practiced this assault a number of times in Cyprus and to say the least I was pleased when we were all stood down and this assault was became nothing but a memory to us.
A few days later the CO was in a right flap, it appeared he had a message from the docks saying that his Mercedes car was there ready for collection, from what his clerk told us he tried to disown it but was told, it was down to him and he had to collect it. His driver went over and brought it back, he had in his possession a bit of rather expensive loot that he did not know what to do with, and as he had been threatening all men with a fate worse than death for looting he was now the worst offender. He decided to sell it and put the money into Battalion funds so that if anything happened at a later stage he could say he did not profit from it. So ended 1 Para’s involvement in the Suez invasion of 1956.
During the last five years the Regiment has been kind
enough to invite us old boys back to the Barracks, the members of
the old D Company from 1955/57.
Our OC is Sir James Spicer MP and former Minister of Defence. Our Platoon Officer a Bob Hennessy a NS man, after leaving the Regiment he got bored and joined the Australian Army and became the most decorated Australian since WW2. He went on to become a full Colonel and ran their Staff College for a number of years. Lt Taylor another Platoon Officer and NS man joined the Canadian Army after leaving us and he went on to run the Canadian Staff College and became a Lt Colonel, and so it went on along the ranks, with nearly all the men making a good showing on every thing that they undertook.
They even let us loose with the latest toys and a play on the ranges. The chap grinning like mad dressed in Blue is me, the other chap in the red and white anorak was our company clerk Big Mac who now owns a large Security Firm in Edinburgh, the chap next to him is our company poet Blue Lomax, who had a book of poetry published and then donated the proceeds to cancer relief, which ran into tens of thousands of pounds. The other photo is of the RSM of 1 Para and Sir James thanking him before we got to pissed to do it for a great day.
Big Mac and Blue Lomax
Sir James Spicer MP and RSM of 1 Para
Next June we have another great piss up in London where our old CO is attending a chap call General Rose.
Well thats about it for now.