A unique war for a unique British Army parachute unit -
The 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade.
Michael Bond, Spring 2015
Most war veterans are reluctant to talk about their war experiences. They prefer to move on from those terrible times, so it's taken me decades to piece together the basics of my own dad's World War II experience from his occasional hints, and according to all I've heard from him over the years he and his mates appear to have taken a different journey in World War Two.
I'd like to share my discoveries with you and tell you a little about a side of that War we don't much hear about - Welcome To The Sunshine Tour.
My dad's participation in the Sunshine Tour began somewhere deep in the mists of the 1940s
Along with thousands of other blokes he'd signed up to fight for King & Country and promptly been taken to a big flat piece of land outside Manchester called Ringway where he and his mates were thrown out of aeroplanes. There were allowed to take very big handkerchiefs with them so they didn't break when hitting the ground at speed.
They were then given little wings, which were only a few inches across and totally useless for flying.
Following their training-in-how-to-fall-out-of-things my dad and his mates were loaded up on a bunch of ships and sent on a wonderful southern cruise along the coast of Europe and Africa. They even had some very nice men from the Navy to follow them with bunches of enormous guns. So that was nice of them.
Having spent a delightful cruise along the coast of both West and East Africa at the King's expense (yes, I know, jealous or what?) they arrived at a nice little town called Alex. Alex was a nice girl but they couldn't find her as they were shunted off to take a tour of other parts of that beautiful and ancient country of Egypt. Managing to take the occasional leave of the rest of their mates he and his mob enjoyed many of the wonderful cultural sights and sounds of Egypt, the pyramids, Alex's other girlfriends and some Ice Cold beer (go see the movie).
From Egypt they joined a bunch of Desert Rats to drive their way across the whole of North Africa in a very big road rally against the German team. My dad and the Rats won that one.
Bored with Africa my dad and his mob took a brief budget airline flight across the sea to Italy. I say budget airline because the airline, Allied Budget Airways, couldn't even afford engines for my Dad's plane so it had to be towed by another one. And you think modern budget airlines are cheap.
Eventually my dad and his mob ended up in Southern Italy around Naples and spent a gay (and I mean the old, proper, meaning of gay) time grumbling at the weather and volcanoes.
Bored with Italy my dad and his mob were given a little two-week summer trip to Southern France. Once again the Allied Budget Airline was involved and they eventually arrived with a bump in the beautiful French countryside miles from anywhere.
Unfortunately my dad and his mob weren't allowed to enjoy the scenery for too long before they were given another sea cruise to the beautiful romantic city of Rome and spent a week there before travelling down to the scenic southern city of Taranto.
After a month tidying up and polishing stuff (the military love a good polish) my dad and his mob were given yet another free Budget flight on the Sunshine Tour - to Greece.
Greece provided another opportunity to experience the hospitality and sunny disposition of Southern European people, providing substantial humanitarian aid for Athens and helping the people of Greece with the rebuilding of their country over the following months.
From here the mob were shipped back to England in anticipation of a tour of the Far East but the war ended before they could begin a new tour and thus ended my dad's Sunshine Tour of WWII.
I've never pried into his memories but from other research and piecing the clues together I've discovered that the only unit to have been involved in these theatres of war was the British 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade, a detached unit which was posted around the region for their own special missions independent of the main armies and theatres in Europe.
They took part in the landings in Italy and the battles up through the country until reassigned to support the American invasion landings in the South of France in July 1944. From there they returned to Italy and prepared later in the year to invade Greece, initially on their own, to help drive the invaders out and bring much relief to that country, where they effectively ended their war when their planned move to the Far East was cancelled.
What is especially interesting historically is that this Brigade was the only parachute unit to survive after the demobilisation at the end of the War and formed the founding formation of the modern British Paratroop forces.
2nd Para Brigade survives in my dad's memories and in the inheritance of the British Army today through today's Parachute Regiment.
Perhaps one day I may take my dad's story and the history of the 2nd Brigade
as the basis for a TV drama series.
Keys: 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade, Parachute Regiment, World War II, parachute veteran, G. Bond, North Africa, Italy, South France, Greece, Royal Artillery, Ringway Airport, parachute training. Film production, TV war drama.