Andy Selfe serving in the British Army Parachute Regiment, in the Seventies.
Andy Selfe OD (F68) wrote in, in response to the obituary to the Late Ken Wilson (Staff) who was a former Royal Marine, which was published last week. He said: "Thanks for your story about someone I never knew, certainly he must have been one of a kind. I think I would have liked to have met him..... we had a grudging respect for the Marines in the Paras, here we had one on our basic course in ‘73" (see the names of the persons in the photograph, below).
Ken himself being a Marine, Andy then shared some experiences when he was in the army and I requested photographs and descriptions which I believe are of interest to our readers.
The above photograph (reproduced again) was taken by a colleague, of Course AVR 11/73, RAF Abingdon: The Royal Marine far right at the back is David Smith. The captain is John Booth (back, second from the left). Andy is in front, to the far right.
The above photograph is of Andy's way down on one of the Arnhem commemorative descents. (The Battle of Arnhem was fought between 17 September to 26 September 1944.). Not easy, as you only have about 45 seconds in the air! By luck Andy was facing the monument and the thousands of mainly Dutch spectators. This would have been taken in 1974 on the 30th anniversary of the Battle and the hardship thereafter would have been familiar to many of the spectators.
The photograph above was taken at RAF Gutersloh in Northern Germany. At that stage Andy Selfe held the rank of Lance Corporal. This was 1975. Here Andy is seen making up his CSPEP (Container Straps Personal Equipment Paratrooper) ‘container’, consisting of a rifle in a sleeve, strapped to his Bergen rucksack. The hank of rope is about 16 feet long and it’s connected to the parachute harness and it is released just after leaving the plane and it hangs below the soldier, rifle uppermost and hits the ground a moment before he does.
Here Andy is seen on top of the wall, a General Purpose Machine Gun has been handed up to him and he has been hoisted up there from below and will help pull up his mates one by one. This obstacle is part of a Battle March and Shoot competition, which his Company won. This was May 1974.
A bit faded, but Andy is on left as Officer Cadet and wearing US Army Parachute Wings, which some of them got by doing a conversion course at a US base in Vicenza in June 75. The three Hercs and no equipment means that they are on their way to Arnhem, emplaning at RAF Northolt in London, September ‘75. Capt Gerald Oliver in the middle and his oppo, O/Cdt Phil Hallett on the right. Note the light coloured Viyella Officers’ shirts.
RAF Northolt - the presence of Permanent Staff Instructor Colour Sgt Meek on the right dates it to 1975. ‘Meek’ he was not. There was a story that he was in Kenya during the Mau Mau rebellion and came in from patrol and found the guard at the post asleep as they returned. A grenade exploded mysteriously in the guard post......... nobody slept on guard after that! Andy's Coy Commander Maj Chappell has his back to the camera, then the big smile comes from Cpl Graham Sheeley, who later left to join the RAF, flying helicopters. He served in Northern Ireland and when the first ‘initiation’ (bomb/IED) went off at Warren Point on 27th Aug 79 killing 18 and injuring a number more Paratroopers, he was first in with his Wessex to collect wounded. He was knocked around by the second initiation (all they found of one LtCol was his shoulder tab and the divers found just the face
of another officer), Graham got his wounded away and was then attacked by the IRA on landing. He grabbed a rifle off one of the wounded or dying and defended the helicopter. For that bravery, he got the Air Force Cross. They don’t send those with the ration packs. He landed up a LtCol in the Army Air Corps and died of leukaemia a couple of years ago.
Andy continues: There’s still huge disdain about the Armour’s tardiness during Operation Market Garden, although the present shift in blame is on the US Paras worrying about being flanked from the East and forgetting to get to and secure Nijmegen Bridge. This is what Sandy said last week (he was there on a tour).
Sandy writes: I’ve just returned from a week long coach trip with my son Oliver. Normandy, up the long left flank to Belgium, Antwerp and the grinding battle to open up the Scheldt estuary then to Arnhem. A week before the 75th anniversary. There will be many historic vehicles. I expect the Guards Armoured to arrive the week following!
There was another story he told where recently some Paras were drinking in a pub in that area and some Irish Guards arrived, just after closing time and the proprietor refused to serve them. One of the Paras said, ‘What, late again?’ which led to a fight the police had to break up!
Thanks to Andy Selfe for the interesting account of his time of military service.