In June 1945 my father was 18. He wrote the letter below to my mother, his then girlfriend with momentous news. He had undertaken his first parachute jump preparatory to being admitted as a member of the Parachute Regiment. He was many things in his life but nothing gave him more pride outside of his family than that.
I’ve made it! – my first jump, I mean. Yesterday morning in the pale, cold light of dawn I diced with death, in other words, I jumped from a balloon at 800 feet yesterday morning. Oh boy, Barbs, it’s the greatest thrill you can imagine. One minute you are hurtling down through space and the next your shute opens and you are floating gently to earth. It is no use my saying I was not scared. I have never felt so awful in my life as I did when I stood at the door and looked down, waiting for the instructor to tap me on the shoulder and say “Go”. I have now 2 more balloon jumps to make (one at night) and then 5 jumps from a Dakota aircraft. Weather providing we’ll get them all done this coming week and get our wings next weekend. If this happens it means I shall get leave in about 10 days time. Sixteen glorious days, during which, of course, I must see you if you can make it. I can’t say definitely if this leave is exactly 10 days time or not, because as I said it all depends on the weather. However, I’ll let you know as soon as I can and ring up your Mama she will perhaps be able to let me know if you are likely to get home or not. I must see you because although the b…. fool Army says I am too young (too young! Me!!!) to be sent abroad, nevertheless I can, I think, volunteer for Active Service abroad, and, of course, I intend to. So maybe this will be my last leave in England, and if I left without seeing you, Barbara, I guess I would be a pretty sad and lonely soldier.
I wrote to your mother just before I left Hardwich but I haven’t received a letter yet from her. Of course, I know she is very busy being a manageress of a Naafi must be a really full time job. I’ll write to her again soon because I think she’s great and a damned good sport.
Here at Ringway we are billeted in Nissen huts and have a wireless in every hut. Honestly, it’s the cushiest joint I’ve ever been in, the only trouble being the pretty tough mental strain before doing a jump. However, that can soon be overcome and I wouldn’t change my life for anything now that I know the wonderful thrill of a jump. And besides, I want to get that little pair of wings on my right shoulder. I am doing my second jump tomorrow at 5.30 of all outrageous times, so here’s hoping the weather remains good.
Well, darling child, I must close and try and get some sleep now, reveille is at 2.30!
All my love
P.S. Please write soon.
Later he did jump from the Dakota and obtain his ‘wings’
His fears, expressed above were captured in a poem he sent to his mother and then my mother later that year
A Paratrooper’s Prayer
When I’m flying at seven hundred
And the red light flickers on
I know I’ll tremble and start to sweat
But, God, let me be strong.
When I look down through the hole, God
It’s like I’m standing by a grave
And my knees go weak and I can’t speak
Then, God, please make me brave.
And if it be Thy will, God
Part of Thine own Great Plan
That my life should stop, then on that last long drop
Oh God, let me die a man!
While I’m waiting to emplane, God
And checking my jumping kit
Though I laugh and jeer I’m full of fear
But, God, don’t let me quit.
When the kite begins to move, God
And take off time is near
Then my heart grows cold – God, make me bold
And drive away my fear.