ORIGINS OF THE NO. 1 PTS MUSEUM
Service biography compiled by Graham Hand*
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…During his time as RO, George started to assemble documents, artefacts and records as exhibits in a project to establish a museum within the PTS HQ. This idea had its genesis when Squadron Leader Ron Smith, a Ringway PJI veteran, and George had worked together at Aldershot. George continued this labour of love, both as RO and later as a civilian, well into his retirement years. The task involved voluntary working weekends to extend the range of exhibits and information boards and maintaining the integrity of the inventory. The PTS Museum became a popular focus for PTS visits and for historical research projects and was later to be named “The Sizeland Room” in his honour…
The PTS Heritage website comprises a selection from the Museum archives in digital form.
This website also gratefully acknowledges the unstinting assistance provided by Michael and Adam Threlfall, père et fils, PJIs both, currently (2020) serving at No.1 PTS.
Royal Visit to Brize Norton 21 November 1991
STM COURSE RAF ST ATHAN CIRCA 1952
STM COURSE RAF ST ATHAN AUGUST 1959
CANAL ZONE FERRY POINT 1953
Swiss Army Mountain Rescue Team Course September – October 1954
There were also visits from various film companies. We acted as stand-ins for Alan Ladd (The Red Beret), Virginia McKenna (Carve Her Name with Pride), George Peppard (Operation Crossbow) and Brigitte Bardot (Babette goes to War), the latter comedy involving a balloon programme on the airfield. It was blowing about 20 knots, the cable was at a ridiculous angle and the exit height was about six hundred feet, but we all survived the subsequent dragging and were each £5 better off for the experience. Brigitte was scheduled for the Officers Mess for lunch, but was hijacked by Jock Fox to No. 2 Sergeants Mess where she perched herself on a bar stool, surrounded by PJIs and press photographers, with a pint of bitter in her hand and listening to our chat-up lines until we all had to head off back to work.
SPECIAL FORCES DUKE OF YORKS HQ circa 1967
FALCONS 1972 8 APRIL AMPUGNANO
The Parachute School suffered another hammer blow in April. The Falcons were over in Italy for pre-season training using a 46 Squadron Andover at the Siena/Ampugnano airstrip. After a final demonstration jump on the 8th, the team emplaned for the return flight to Pisa and thence to the UK. The aircraft suffered an engine failure on takeoff, cartwheeled, then caught fire. Two crewmembers were killed, as were PJIs Squadron Leader Bill Last and Sergeant Ron Bullen. Ron had survived the water at Akrotiri six months earlier, but for him, this time, it was not to be.
Bob Souter remembers it thus:
“The Day I Got Lucky…
My account of this aircraft crash is dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives on this day April 8th 1972. Sqn Ldr Bill Last P. J. I. Sgt Ron Bullen P. J. I. A. L. M. Brian Barnstable. Sgt. . . . Ground Engineer.
The Falcons were off to Pisa for pre-season Parachute Training 1972. It was our first time training in Italy, care of the Italian Air Force. There was always a buzz of excitement about a new venue. I was 23 years old, it was my second season of Falconry.
Duly billeted and admin attended to, we started jumping from our Andover. It was a good jump platform, ideal for a small Detachment. The ride to altitude took about 20–30 mins, everyone liked to have their own piece of “aircraft space,” I took up a seating position forward on the starboard side, towards the nav’s desk, over the wing. In between rehearsing the jumps in my mind on the way up, a lot of banter with others was the order of the day. I noticed opposite me was an emergency exit sign, which read. . . . In case of emergency lift flap, turn handle, push out window. I would look at this sign a lot. My gaze was turned to this on about every occasion whilst getting to altitude.
The Detachment was going well, jumping underway and the Italian weather was behaving. A demo was arranged for the locals at the D. Z, which was a small airport, Ampugnano. It was ideal, as the runway on site, allowed quick turn arounds between lifts. We were due to fly back to base after the demo for lunch. A good demo completed, we embarked for the journey back to Pisa. The loadmaster Brian Barnstable, told us to strap in as the Skipper was going for a “Tac Take-Off” on departure. Strangely, I strapped in on this occasion, something I never bothered to do, it probably saved my life. The aircraft lined up at the end of the runway with engines revving. Brakes off, we started to accelerate down the runway on full power. I gazed out of the overwing porthole window as we sped along towards take off. With the aircraft only just airborne, I realised something was not quite right. All of a sudden I saw the wing tip crumple and starting to smash into the runway distance markers alongside of the runway… . I suddenly realised what was about to happen. . . we were going to crash… .
It was a weird sensation, everything started to happen in slow motion, I committed myself to die, thinking how it would be and that my head would be sheared off by the parachute static line attachment cable above me. I clung onto the ditching curtain for dear life. I heard the ground engineer seated opposite me yelling out “Oh No!! Oh No!! No, No.” He was to die during the crash.
All hell broke loose, we were being beaten, bashed and pulverised as the aircraft crashed and went into its death throes cartwheeling down the runway nose over wingtip. Quite extraordinarily, everything stopped as soon as it started. I may have been unconscious, I don’t know. As I came round, I opened my eyes, questioning myself if I was still alive, or was I dead, very strange. I tried to get up… . I was strapped in of course, thank the heavens. There was so much dust and debris about; everything was just a tangled knot of mess and broken metal. Acrid smoke filled the air. I heard others about and saw them through the murk further back from me. They seemed panicked, shouting and screaming. I remember shouting “Don’t panic, don’t panic there is a gap,” I had noticed shafts of light forward of where I sat beaming down through the huge amounts of dust. At this moment, maybe I could have done something… . Could have, should have. Remembering the sign… . In case of emergency lift flap, turn handle push… . Doing this was not in my thoughts. It certainly was not in my head; even though I had read it to myself many times before… . No one was paying any attention to me anyhow, that’s if they even heard me. Thank
God that further to the rear of the fuselage Davy Ross had the presence of mind to push out an emergency exit porthole window. Quite a few of the lads got out there.
Suddenly a thought completely overwhelmed me, she is going to blow, the whole lot is going to explode. It was time to leave, and quickly. I probably panicked. I fought my way forward through the tangled mess of metal wires and cables, towards the shafts of sunlight and fell out onto the grassy ground below. I bumped into the Aircrew, who were trying to do their best outside saying “is everyone out?”, we all seemed dazed, in shock by what had just happened. Someone needed to get a grip of the situation. I felt better now, out in the sunshine; I could even hear the birds singing, how strange. The aircraft was starting to smoke and crackle quite badly now,
Team Leader Gwynne Morgan had lads grouped around him 50yds away, they shouted to me “Come over here for a head count Bob!” I looked towards the rear of the wreckage and noticed some lads spilling out. I ran to the area, and looked into a crack in the tail segment. Sid Garrard had just extricated himself, I looked into his eyes and shouted “Is there anyone else still inside Sid?” His eyes were dazed wide shut, as he scrambled out and away. Others got out from this crack in the tail.
A feeling of total shame and guilt overcame me. I was out in the sunshine, were there any others still inside? We had to restrain Chris Buchan who wanted to scramble back in to look. We reluctantly joined the main group, feeling totally useless as we watched the Aircraft burn. Someone said they saw Bill Last and Ron Bullen trying to open the rear door, but they also heard a very loud hissing noise as if the survival dinghy had burst open and was inflating right by them at the rear of the aircraft. Later, nobody said they saw the Loadmaster Brian Barnstable, we all thought he also died during the crash. The Airport Fire Truck had arrived by now at the scene after trundling out of its shed, the other side of the strip. It was obviously antiquated. It started on an angle, from the runway towards the wreck, which was burning away quite fiercely by now… . It immediately bogged down in the soft ground.
We all tried to push it out, no chance, it was up to its axles in mud. Its foam was turned on, but dropped woefully short of the wreckage well alight by now. The firemen in their firesuits and head protection were banging on the outside of the wreck with their pickaxes and turning around putting their arms up into the air in a sign of hopelessness and despair. It was all over, we all watched as the wreck popped and burnt away. We were lucky,
we were alive. The head count revealed there were 4 unaccounted for out of 22 airmen. None of us sustained serious injury, only superficial cuts and bruises. No Sqn Ldr Bill Last, Sgt Ron Bullen, A. L. M. Brian Barnstable or Ground Engineer Sgt… .
A feeling of relief was experienced by all. We were alive, we were o. k. No matter how this had happened, it would become clear later, we all felt the same; we were the lucky ones.
The Italians did those four Airmen proud, holding a Service of Remembrance in the local Cathedral. All four coffins were draped in Flags of the union. When we got back to the U. K. if a demo was scrubbed with the team on board the aircraft, the aircrew stopped any low flying in respect. Someone said they saw the Skipper at a Drop Zone, years later. For still a young man, he seemed totally broken, carrying a huge burden.”
(Brevet pp. 141-144)
Minor Units Dining Hall Competition Winners December 1973
PTS Staff Abingdon 1974
Epilogue – April 1978 Operation Guardian Angel. Prince Charles and Prince Andrew para trained at Brize Norton
Prince Andrew TA3A/78
Prince Charles, Colonel in Chief the Parachute Regiment, Course 841A/78 Basic
Former OCs PTS at presentation of Whitley oil painting Brize Norton 7 October 1989
PJI Canopy Club Association