Robert Parry joined the Corps in September,1970, completing training in April
1971. After a couple of years with 41 Cdo in Bickleigh, Plasterdown Camp and Malta a return to Poole was requested by OC SBS as he was to be part of the Corps and Navy canoeing teams for a fortnight, which became 18 months. On completion of a JCC he then returned to Poole, wandered past the Fleet RSM’s office and was rewarded for his confidence with a job at Portland, training ships detachments in Internal Security. A wonderful job full of variety; 2500 Matelots, and Wrens, a C/Sgt RM and a Cpl RM. What a scenario.
During his quiet moments he would proceed to the ‘other’ part of HMS Osprey, the airfield. A conversation with a Winch Operator from the SAR squadron started the ball rolling; the aircrew decided to adopt the tame Bootneck and educate him in the ways of the aviator. Joy unbounded. He was lavishly equipped by the flying clothing store, his flying clothing book being secreted from prying eyes. Initially he was taken as ballast and used during winch training. Increasingly he was absorbed into the culture of 772 and taken for map reading instruction with winch-ops and then allowed into the cockpit of the Wessex 5. The matelot crews surpassed themselves, with the tacit approval of their boss. They taught him to fly a helicopter, hover, winch and even fly GCAs.
On return to the range one day he was confronted by his kindly C/Sgt, Jock Blair, who pointed out a new requirement for more SNCO pilots, some to be drawn from the pool of eligible JNCOs. Placed in front of the Gunnery Officer he affirmed it would take at least 18 months to get on to a pilots course. Chit signed. The pilots of 772 now realised they had an opportunity and spent all their spare time teaching ground school and when possible allowing him to fly.
A return to Lympstone for two weeks education, preceded the pilot tests at Biggin Hill and Middle Wallop. Prior to departure for Biggin Hill the Navy Schooly advised him that he was only being sent with the other 11 candidates to see how he would get on. The next day at RAF Biggin Hill on completion of all the known tests the candidates were mustered and told they were cheating barstewards, as they had all passed each test. They were then presented with another test, identifying similar type faces in columns. This bemused the other candidates, however Parry had been an A level Art student, specialising in Calligraphy. An hour later he was told he was the only one to pass. The next day was spent at Middle Wallop on similar tests, plus map reading and military knowledge. Sent on his way with a pass, he returned to CTC, entered the Schooly’s office and informed him of the result.
The pilots course for SNCOs of the Army and RM was preceded by a course designed to take students to the level of young officers in tactical awareness and knowledge. During the course he quickly linked up with a Tanky, teaching the tanky infantry tactics in return for tank tactics. This information was useful during a TEWT (Tactical Exercise Without Troops) when his overheard quote of “Bollocks” caused the instructing officer to ask why as an experienced officer he should not place infantry on a forward slope confronting tanks. Parry’s precocious explanation about reverse slopes, hull down tanks and OPs earned a quiet period from the glare of examination.
Flying training commenced in December 1975. Three months after promising the Gunnery Officer at Portland that it would be 18 months before a possible course. He enjoyed the experience, without exception. Jenks taught him the rudiments of life in a Chipmunk. Chris Tinkler and Hugh Colquhoun did the same for the G4 and basic rotary. A dispute about a rocking Sioux post an engine off resulted in a flurry of white gloves on white helmets from both sides of the cockpit, which amused those who could see from the sloping ground area. Hugh was always informal in his methods.
He was given to Chris Brotherton, as his first student when Chris finished his QHI course, subsequently being handed to Bob Rusk. On completion of advanced rotary 4th October 1976 he was once again given to a new RM instructor, Steve Bidmead, for his Gazelle conversion. A draft to Coypool and 3 Cdo Bde Air Sqn followed. Nobody at Middle Wallop or Coypool knew about the previous flying experience, or, more importantly, the second flying clothing log book.
Summer of 1977 was spent in Belfast with Montforterbeek flight, in support of the Battalions working in the city. The tour coincided with 45 Cdo taking over the Turf Lodge etc so many hours were spent in direct support of his colleagues, epitomising the ethos of flights working with their units. Returning to Coypool with a little more experience and knowledge he flew during the 1978 blizzard which hit Devon when the Sqn was in Norway. The following June 1978 saw a transfer to Dieppe flight and a return to NI this time at Ballykelly. Although it was a busy period it is true to say it failed to stimulate in the same way that Belfast could. An uneasiness also developed as life working under non-RM officers became disagreeable. On return he was advised by the Senior Pilot that his presence was expected at Arbroath, the following week. His reply is unprintable, comprising one word of a gynaecological nature. There were however, advantages. A trip to Saillagouse to relearn mountain techniques, followed by an exhilarating 3 months in Norway. Once again spare time was available; it was put to good use studying for a CPL.
Arrogantly, on reflection, he questioned many of the flying techniques utilised as ‘standard’ which were developed for use in piston engine aircraft which were underpowered. Demonstrating various ‘new’ options, in an attempt to stimulate progress and debate, drew the venom of the QHI and OC. One should leave these things to those who know what they are doing. The motto seemed to be, ‘Keep your head below the parapet and live quietly.’
Various decisions have to be made in life. He had decided that the time was right to advance his flying skills and abilities. Unfortunately the Royal Navy had no capacity to teach a Sgt pilot to fly Seakings, they would only accommodate Officers. A Corps Commission at that period would entail working as an MTO or Imprest Holder, with no guarantee of a return to aviation. The squadron was not to receive the Lynx, as it had not been cleared to operate with missiles. The future seemed dire, a return to soldiering, and possibly no more flying.
The CPL course and examinations at Oxford Air Training School were a tonic. Education proved a salve for the frustration of the previous 2 years. The urge to improve and increase his knowledge increased.
Leaving the Corps in Sept 1979 was a wrench. Immediately he commenced training on the S61N (think of a Seaking with an 8’ extension) at Aberdeen with Bristow Helicopters, with a move to the Shetlands to follow. Within five months he was P1 VFR on the S61, unimaginable in the airline environment of Aberdeen, but achievable in the less claustrophobic but no less demanding Shetlands. Pilots on the operation gave their advice freely, advancement and confidence were encouraged. Finally he had found an environment in which his skills could be utilised. He learned to winch and then passed his CAA Instrument Rating, this was the step to P1 IFR. In 1981 the family moved to Sarawak, where he flew the Puma; on return in 1984 he converted to the Super Puma. A new creature had been created by the helicopter companies, the North Sea Commander, a limited number were created, as an incentive for some and a block on others. Yet another step on the ladder. He spent a fascinating year in China followed by 6 months in Australia, prior to a return to the North Sea, in 1986.
Within six months of returning from Australia he noticed a noise which could not be stopped. Tinnitus and mild hearing loss had occurred, his balance had also been affected. A new career opened up as a gamekeeper, but this gamekeeper worked in the Bristow Simulator. Teaching instrument flying to CAA IR test standard proved to be one of the most challenging and satisfying of occupations. Pilots, in common with many professionals, never divulge their short-comings. Identifying, then replacing those short-comings with knowledge, was extremely satisfying. After 5 years this employment was also terminated when a back injury incurred as a young Bootneck, caused him to be made redundant. Once again a new career beckoned, this time as Housewife and superstar.
Two new knees, a fused spine and duff ears have not dimmed an enjoyment of life and Bootneck humour. He may be found moderating on the web site Once a Marine, Always a Marine. http://civviestreet.proboards19.com/index.cgi
One line from a lecture by Jim Tappin, then CSM Foxtrot Company, 41 Cdo, at a candidates training session has remained with him.
“Ignorance breeds fear, knowledge breeds confidence.”