first hand account ... The lead-up:-
Some in JPC had already completed a parachute course through Abingdon 1964, 603 Sqn.
Although only 4 jumps at the age of 15. After the following two years a number of us progressed on to various platoons through depot and I ended up in 289
Plt. Due to damaging my leg in Brecon, I was set back by two weeks. I then went through P coy with 290
Plt and eventually ended up doing our course in Abingdon two weeks behind 289
Plt, RAF Sqn No – 622, and once again met up with mates that I spent 2 years with from JPC.
We did 2 balloon jumps that morning 07.45 and 09.00 hrs. 289 & 290 (with attachments) including 10 para, along with some PJI’s lads - were scheduled for the Hastings [TG577] that afternoon.
289 Plt were falling behind on their jumps due to poor weather, and it meant that 290
Plt were catching them up. We all fitted chutes and proceeded to embark toward the aircraft when the order was given that the jump had been cancelled, and that priority was given to others.
“Which others we asked”? This got us angry to say the least, why the heck is it that the RAF have to have priority over us, we said. ''What a load of barstewards'' we thought, they can jump anytime. (Hey we were young).
We wanted the Hastings because we thought it to be the ‘nearest type of aircraft’ to what the WWII lads had jumped from.
As it happens some of my mates from 289 Plt I had gone through JPC with and one in particular was R. Andrews, Andy as I knew him by, was standing at the door of the hangar
and had his chute fitted, with a big smile on his face, and 2 fingers up at me, I then hit him on the shoulder and said “you lucky barsteward Andrews” as I stepped back from him as he tried to hit me back.
I would like to mention that Andy at the age of 18 had achieved his PTI crossed swords, not the junior but of the highest grade.
He shouted at me, “Wait until I get back Dwyer” but was laughing and happy at the same time, then the doors to the hangar closed.
It was around 16.00 hrs that we were in the cookhouse and has we were eating proper food;
a whisper went from table to table of “don’t say anything but the Hastings has piled in”. This we couldn't believe, then we heard the camp siren
sound, we all jumped up and ran to the side windows and then a few minutes later the ambulance belted past, we then realised it was not a rumour.
The next morning we 290 Plt were ordered to attend the crash site to help the RAF / investigators. We did not say much in the anticipation of what we were about to experience. We arrived at the barley field got off the RAF coach, were given rubber gloves, wellies and large plastic bags.
Then a quick brief by, we presume an RAF investigations inspector, and told us to split into pairs, given a section of the aircraft area to search for anything that did not resemble an aircraft? What do you mean anything that does not resemble an aircraft, I asked? Well, some sort of metal he said, did they believe there could have been a bomb on board I thought? When we got to the aircraft the only recognisable part was the tail plane.
Another thing we noticed was that half the chutes had been pulled out, with some seat belts undone. We were told that there was a possibility that some were hooked up and ready to go prior to reaching the DZ. Did the pilot try to get them out because he knew something was wrong? One will never know.
After a while we went back to camp, feeling drained and completely confused and at the same time relieved that we were stood down from that jump.
I then saw another JPC lad who was my friend in JPC from '1963, Tom Astle whom I thought may have also been on that flight, what a relief it was to see him.
That early evening some of us went to the 101 club to try and find some sort of solace. Someone kept on putting the same record on the juke box, I will never forget it, (The Shangri – Las, The Leader of the Pack) .
The next day it was a stand down and as phone lines were chokka - blocked. My parents were in Aden and my dear ole mum and dad were going frantic as they knew I was in Abingdon at that time and heard on the BBC world service of the crash. It took 4 days for them to receive a message from HQ confirming that their son was not on that particular manifest. There was a double manifest which after the accident caused complete confusion! The reason; apart from the phone lines being jammed, the RAF placed a black out on all communications for 4 days.
When we went back to training 9/7/65 and jumped from the Argosy, we approached our RAF PJI and wanted explanations on why they stated parachuting was 99.9% safe,
questions of what happened and why? The PJI was almost in tears as we surrounded him, but he composed himself and stated; ''It was a freak accident and the servicing did not, and could not include the bolts that sheared off, it was not part of the regular service to the aircraft.''
Another fact not mentioned was – we were told that the regular servicing on the aircraft did not include the bolts that were sheared off, that caused the accident – because they were in an inaccessible part of the fuselage / tail plane that no one could get to. A design fault perhaps??? He again composed himself and said; 'lads may I also point out there were more RAF than airborne soldiers who died.'. We then realised what we were doing and said no more.
But just think of it this way; if they had not cancelled and 289 & 290 and all attachments that had been stood down, it would have been the biggest airborne loss in peace time for the airborne since WWII. I am not sure when the Hastings was grounded, but believe it was only a few months afterwards, except for commercials.
Since that time we have all had a cross to bear, mine was to do the best I could to being a soldier in the Btn, and always thinking of them lads that would have given anything to be in my boots. One of the 290
Plt lads said the other day that after serving he would never fly again. To this day, he never has. Another stated that the smell of aviation fuel always reminds him of that sad day. Myself….. well, I try to forget like most, but cannot.
What I would also like to say is;
We were only boys, 17 – 19 year olds, some never saw death until that day, and certainly should not have happened in peacetime, and not only did we have tremendous support, but some who held us together at that time, was our
Plt Cpl’s ; Scouse Simpson MM, ex 1 para, (who later became RSM of 2 para), Jimmy Hand (RIP), and Tommy Morrison.
Thank you gentlemen.
To all those lads, RAF and Airborne who lost their lives all those years ago, may god bless you, and rest in eternal peace.
Special thanks to Bob Hulme & John Dwyer for the above
first hand account of that tragic day, to contact John ---> email@example.com