In early 2011 the Airborne Assault Museum staff of Jon Baker and Becks Skinner travelled to Aldershot, from Duxford. The visit was sparked by the fact that all the veterans talk about their experiences there when they visit us. In addition it helped familiarise us with the landmarks that are mentioned in the archives.
The Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces had a long association with the town with Browning Barracks and Montgomery Lines housing the Parachute Regiment Battalions, Depot and Brigade in purpose built facilities from the 1960s. These are still in place and Browning Barracks still houses the Airborne Shop and a Medical unit. Denise, as ever, provided a friendly welcome and cup of tea in the Airborne Shop, before we headed across to the impressive Garrison Church.
The Church proved a poignant and fascinating place to visit with its heavy emphasis on The Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces, all carefully cared for. Maj Mike McRitchie MC kindly showed us around the church and the main items commemorating The Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces including the Rolls of Honour and panels recording all Airborne units located in the sides of the pews.
We then moved into the town and visited the Trafalgar Arms – otherwise known as the “The Traf”. The Traf is the last in a long line of Airborne Pubs in the town and is packed with photos, paintings, memorabilia and flags. Here we met our guide for the rest of the day, Tommy Simpson, who showed us around the sites of the town and we thank him for giving up his time to help us.
Tommy walked us up to Caesars Camp from where we had excellent views of the area and could still see the remains of the Airborne Forces presence in the area including all the training areas. We were glad we didn’t have to run up it carrying a Bergen and kit!
After a rapid descent we had a look at the site of where the Colours were first presented and just across the road the site of the prefabricated overflow accommodation, known as Pegasus Village – which is now home to a Military Driver Training Centre.
We then moved onto Montgomery Lines which is awaiting development and is now boarded up, but still provides echoes of its past. We paid our respects at the site of the 1972 bombing and it was interesting to note just how open the camp was back in those days.
We were most impressed with the logical layout of the camp and the various defined areas for specific Battalions, which provided quite a contrast with the present facilities at Colchester. The large number of Band blocks was also an eye opener given the reduction in Regimental Bands across the Army these days and gave some insight into its busy, bustling past.
We finished our tour in the Aldershot Military Cemetery where we spent some time viewing the graves of those who had fallen. The cemetery itself is lovingly well maintained and allowed for a moment of reflection remembering all of those who had served in the past.
We would love to hear from people who remember their time in Aldershot including the names and locations of all the Para and Airborne watering holes in the town, to help us record this most important part of Airborne history. Any images of the town, depot and barracks would be gratefully appreciated to cover the whole of the areas history from opening through to closure.