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The Black Hole: Parachute Training at Ringway

by swallow

Contributed by 
swallow
People in story: 
Peter Faggetter
Location of story: 
Ringway, Manchester
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A2807282
Contributed on: 
04 July 2004

On arriving at Ringway, Manchester, in mid July 1945 for my parachute training at the famous No. 1 Training School, the first things to take my eye were the three dozen olive brown Douglas Dakotas scattered about the airfield or coming and going. It was Saturday afternoon and we trainload of tainee paratroopers had just arrived from the awful Hardwick Hall physical training centre - a very hard affair indeed. But now the 'Hardwicks' and other 'bashings' were behind us and we could at last begin that which we had volunteered for.

Our para course would consist of 3 descents from tethered barrage balloons and 5 from the marvellous Dakotas - the twin engined aeroplanes that I'd fallen in love with long before seeing the first one flyhing high over Reigate Hill in 1942. By the autumn of 1944, I had seen them swarming overhead by the hundreds as the battered and tatty remains returned from the fearfully costly D Day and Market-Garden-Arnhem operations. Perhaps it was as well for me that the WAR was nearly over, for after-war revelations 'rang' of utter stupidity.

However, there was not only the inviting Dakotas to be seen for, apart from a few new Avro Tudor airliners sitting outside hangers on the far side of the airfield, but every hour or so a Fairey Firefly would buzz into the circuit, land, then taxi away into the far distance and completely disappear - vanish!!
Now this to an out and out aeroplane enthusiast was very intriguing to say the least; so next morning - our rest day Sunday - I walked the long long perimeter track to reach and investigate this apparent 'black hole'.
The shocking surprise awaiting my walk was enough to make my heart explode, for here was an enthusiast's NIGHTMARE of stupifying magnitude! Yes - I was looking at an aircraft graveyard! Dozens and dozens of beautiful American built Mustang fighters - clutters of the ungainly, awful looking and cumbersome Fairey Barracudas, and stacking up on a daily basis were the Fireflys. All these lovely aeroplanes with Rolls Royce engines being gathered together for a scrap metal merchant with a mighty 'chopper'!

How could it happen!! - Baracudas yes, - even Fireflys, all shortcomings considered - but Mustangs with Merlines!! - They must be going stark looney!! I'd have given an arm for one (After doing my para jumps) - then rake up perhaps twenty quid for the sheer fun of owning an ex Fleet Air Arm Fairey Barracuda. There never was a more cumbersome, ugly, aeroplane fitted with a Rolls Royce engine. Yet!! - I could probably get a million quid for it today!!

But that was British thinking all over: the saving of some war planes and ships for our heritage sake was not part of our 'Masters' thinking. Yet after the First War experience you'd think saving for exhibitions would be a priority. After all there was plenty of spare hanger storage space.
Luckily there were a lot of Spitfires in service throughout the World for us to buy back in later years or we would be lucky to find one for the Battle of Britain flight. The Australians kept many of their wartime planes; they didn't just 'chop 'em and chuck 'em', and if I'm not mistaken the Lancaster still flying came back from Australia. And of the thousands of Blenheims made there's only one flying today - and most of that cannibal job came from Canada.

It's the same story regarding our great warships: our Governments would sooner get the measly scrap money than run a famous battleship ashore - up a creek for posterity. They have in America. And the 'VICTORY' wasn't the only great Warship worth saving; and that was ancestal foresight, as was Cutty Sark. (the Warrior and Brunel's Great Britain got lucky too).

Taxpayers and lottery pay countless millions restoring old buildings and a Brighton pier that became delapidated through lack of use and demand, yet will watch the Services discard our heritage for more scrapyard money. Then they'll build replicas! Build replicas for film-making. How many Ark Royals has the Navy sailed? Four or five? - big aircraft carriers too! And I bet the current smaller one will follow its ancestors to a scrap yard; but at least it was a misconception from the word go; it would be no great loss. The talk today is for much much larger, American sized carriers. That proves the current carriers were misconceived - all three of them. (We told 'em so).

end

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