Chris Gryzelka writes about the Parachute Squadron Royal Armoured Corps, 2001.

The year was 1969. I forget the date, it was so long ago. SSM Mac Evans, called six of us (Para Sqn RAC) into his office on a Thursday and told us not to organise anything for the weekend as he had a job for us. This peeved me as I was meeting my girlfriend on Saturday. No amount of pleading could get me out of this. We were to go to a place called Lichfield in uniform to a reunion of some old guys at an Army barracks, taking with us 2 GPMG’S (General Purpose Machine Guns) 2 SMG’s (Sub Machine Guns), full jump gear including parachute and reserve. We set off from Tidworth early Saturday morning in a land rover and trailer. Phil Jones, Paddy Irwin and myself, and I cannot for the life of me remember the three others. We arrived at the barracks, reported to the guardroom where we handed in the weapons for safe keeping as we didn’t have to set up the gear for the reunion until 1800 hrs. The six of us were then shown where we were sleeping for the night. It was a very large room that had twenty beds and lockers in it. All the beds except for six were made up so we all chose a bed and locker, dumped our gear, No 2 dress and civvies as nobody was about and went on a recce of the camp. After a quick recce of the barracks we found the NAAFI where we had numerous cups of tea, steak pies and NAAFI squares, and sat around watching TV. At 1700 hrs, we got changed into No 2 dress, collected the weapons from the guardroom and set the gear up on a six foot table in a room at the top of the NAAFI.

The NAAFI Manager had told us which room we were using. Shortly afterwards the old guys started arriving (they must have been in their forties). They were chatting away to each other and drinking as there was a bar in the room, totally ignoring us. I’d given up my weekend with my girlfriend and enjoyment to this! Being shunned we hadn’t even had a pint. Then everyone was asked to sit down for dinner. We didn’t know what to do until someone ushered us to the table. We had just sat down when everyone stood up and the guy at the end of the table (Freddie Gough I later found out) made a speech. Everybody sat down and dinner was served. Soup first. I noticed I had no eating irons (knife, fork and spoon). As I was sat next to Paddy Irwin, we shared his eating irons. First, he took a few spoonfuls of soup then passed his spoon to me to take a few and so on until we had finished. Next, dinner, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Paddy and I started with the same routine with the knives and forks, then someone opposite us (George Adams) shouted LOOK AT THESE TWO! Just like us at Arnhem, we shared everything. At that, a waitress came rushing over with a set of eating irons for me. What had said broke the ice and the guys were asking us who we were, what we did and so on.

After dinner the lads started looking around the equipment. They grabbed the reserve chute and started throwing it about to each other saying they’d never had one of these but then they wished some of their comrades had had one. Phil Jones asked for a volunteer to put on the main chute so we could deploy it and see the difference in design over twenty years. Freddie was volunteered by the masses. We helped him on with the chute and told him to run to the end of the room whilst we cut the ties in the chute to enable it to deploy correctly. This done (having had some ale,) the lads wanted to throw Freddie out of the window to see if the chute worked. The boys (have you noticed as I get drunker, the youths get younger) having been talked out of throwing Freddie out of the window, carried on talking about their experiences in life and especially Arnhem. By going from group to group, and listening to their conversations, I soon realised these men were something special (to go through what they went through at Arnhem took a special breed of men.) The Recce lads had been invited to the Sgt’s Mess for a drink. They somehow got us in to the Mess too after we changed into our civvies. (Remember not one of us was a senior rank) after more drink and more tales, I started to like these guys. It was their first reunion since the War. On reflection I take back what I thought earlier. Why should they talk to me? This was the first time they had met up since 1945. They had a lot of catching up to do.

It was getting late now but nobody seemed tired, just full of talk and beer. I decided to go to the toilet. As I got inside the door I could see a Sgt in uniform had hold of Pedro by the lapels. I though he was about to hit Pedro so I grabbed the Sgt, spun him round and told him to pick on someone his own size. He didn’t want any of it so he left the toilets. Shortly after this the bar was closed, but not before we had bought a good number of cans of ‘Party six’ (I think they were called) On leaving the mess someone had taken the RSM’s rubber plant and thrown it on to the floor in the foyer. The Sgt went crackers (anybody any ideas who attacked the rubber plant?) on the way back to the block, Chalky White spotted their Regimental flag was still flying and he wanted it. I tried the ropes to the flag but could not move them as they were tangled up and knotted. Not to be deterred Chalky produced a knife. The ropes were cut and we had the flag!

When we arrived back at the block, the party had already begun drinking and singing until the early hours of the morning, not stopping until the last dregs of beer had been drunk, and so were we. Next morning the Recce lads were up, washed, shaved and ready for breakfast when the door to the room was thrown open and a voice bellowed our ‘WHERE’S MY FLAG?’ It was the Sgt from the mess. Apparently, he was the provost Sgt and was making all kinds of threats. Four or five Recce lads ushered him out of the room and calmed him down by saying he could have his flag back if none of the incident was reported, or if he was going to report it he would never see the flag again. He agreed not to report it. They told him to wait, closed the door, came to my bed and I reached under my pillow and gave them the flag. They passed it on to him and he left.

After breakfast we all said our goodbyes and we headed back to Tidworth. But it would not be the last time we would meet this brave band of men. Later that year you were invited to Tidworth to watch us drop in on Everleigh DZ. Since that day all them years ago, we have held reunions together at Inns of Court, Union Jack Club, Tidworth and Bovington. Then about 15 years ago we stated holding separate reunions. I do not know the reasons for this but I for one would like to see joint reunions again. I would like to think I have made some friends over the years with the Recce lads. I have recently started attending your reunions at Sleaford and I hope in the near future to see the Recce lads at the Para Sqn RAC reunions. I wish you all the very best of health and will see you at Sleaford next year.

From the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron & Parachute Squadron R.A.C. Association. Newsletter, July 2001. Edition No 55.

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