During April and May 1940, the
Germans deployed paratroopers and glider-borne troops in large-scale assaults on Denmark, Holland
and Belgium, using them to seize and destroy key targets. The subsequent collapse of the French Army
left Great Britain standing alone and although many British soldiers were saved by the miracle of Dunkirk,
all their equipment was lost and an invasion of Britain seemed inevitable.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill, set about instilling a spirit of defiance in the British people and the armed
services, too, were determined to hit back at Hitler and carry the battle back to Germany on our terms. Winston
Churchill issued one of his incisive memoranda, instructing that a force of 5000 trained allied paratroops be created
forthwith. A recruiting call went out to the Army on behalf of the new airborne battalions.
All the recruits to the parachute battalions were volunteers, although at only 2 shillings extra a day for parachute pay,
Browning had to rely on patriotism as opposed to the profit motive for providing an experience that has been
described as `dicing with death' and `the second greatest thrill in a man's life'.
A selection course was established at Hardwick Hall to sort out only the best parachute volunteers. Officers
and men alike were subjected to the same physical tests. Recruits were organised into small squads each under
an NCO for gymnasium, assault course and roadwork lasting a fortnight. The physical training instructor had
all the grace and tenacity of a choreographer trained in the boxing ring. All candidates but the brave and resourceful
were cast aside and returned with their kit bags to their parent units after only cursory examination.
The system was Prussian in its application but it worked, the failure rate at the Parachute Training School being
reduced to a minimum as a result of the Army's harsh selection methods.
There was no shortage of volunteers who came forward from nearly every regiment and corps in the British Army.
Those selected were made physically fit, toughened, and then trained to parachute by the Royal Air Force.
Battle training was tough and intensive for, from the very start, it was appreciated that airborne troops would have
to be capable of fighting and surviving against larger and more heavily armed formations until link-ups with
infantry or armoured formations could be effected. What they lacked in armour and firepower had to be made up in
extremely high standards of physical fitness and individual skills such as weapons training. The aim of such training
was to produce troops of such high calibre that they would be capable of taking on superior odds and holding their
own against them. Each man was to possess a high degree of courage, self discipline and self reliance
Battle skills were honed and tactics evolved to enable them to fight with only the support and equipment they could
carry with them and training exercises would be carried out by day and night and frequently end with long marches
back to unit barracks. The ability to cover long distances at high speed in full battle order became a matter of
pride to the newly formed parachute units - ten miles in two hours, twenty in four and, ultimately,
fifty miles in twenty-four hours.
This was the birth of Airborne Forces and of the Parachute Regiment. Major General Browning approved of the choice
of Pegasus as the proud emblem of Britain's airborne forces and the distinctive red beret as the most suitable item