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THE GUARDSMAN OF THE SKY MEMORIAL
by Colonel P S W F Falkner OBE
formerly The Life Guards
President Guards Parachute Association

Guardsman of the Sky Memorial

On 8th October 2021, a memorial commemorating the links between the Household Division and Airborne and Special Forces was unveiled at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.  Entitled the Guardsmen of the Sky memorial, it sits, appropriately, adjacent to both the Household Division and Airborne Forces Memorial.  The memorial comprises a magnificent, larger than life-size, bronze statue by Jemma Pearson of a Guards Parachute Company non-commissioned officer in full battle order striding off a drop zone.  It is mounted on a Scoutmore Yorkstone plinth carved with explanatory script and parachuting depictions. In turn, the plinth stands on a stone base engraved with all Household Division regimental cap badges as well as the Household Division star and the Airborne Forces Pegasus.

The Household Division has made a major contribution to Airborne Forces and Special Forces over the past 70 years.  Major David Stirling SG founded the SAS in 1941, Lieutenant General Sir Frederick ‘Boy’ Browning GG commanded the 1st Airborne Corps at Arnhem and, at the end of war, 1st (Guards) Parachute Battalion was established under the command of Lieutenant Colonel (later Major General Sir) John Nelson GG.  After the War, it was to the Household Brigade that the Airborne Forces turned to form the elite Pathfinder Company for the Parachute Brigade which became 1st (Guards) Independent Company, The Parachute Regiment, a troop of which jumped at Suez with the French airborne forces, the balance of the Company beach landing with the UK amphibious forces.  During the Borneo Campaign 1963-66, 22 SAS, then only two squadrons strong, needed a third squadron, and the Guards Parachute Company was retrained as that third squadron, completing two operational rotations in the SAS role.  At the end of the campaign, the SAS asked the Household Division to raise a squadron of Guardsmen as G Squadron.  A troop of the Guards Parachute Company was despatched to Hereford to become the nucleus of this squadron.  In 1975, along with other cuts to Airborne Forces, the Guards Parachute Company was disbanded.  However, this did not stop the deployment of Guardsmen to Airborne Forces.  On the establishment of the new Brigade Pathfinder Platoon, several officers and other ranks of the Household Division served in the Platoon for a number of years in the 1980s and 1990s and The Household Cavalry had more than a hundred trained parachutists in the late 90s supporting the Lead Parachute Battalion Group with air portable and air-droppable CVR(T) armoured reconnaissance vehicles.  The close links continue to this day with the 6th (Guards) Platoon in 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment as well as those many Guardsmen serving in the SAS.

The brainchild of Lieutenant Colonel Jim Heycock, Chairman of the Guards Parachute Association, late of The Parachute Regiment and previously of the Welsh Guards, Guards Parachute Company and 22 SAS, the memorial, conceived, funded and erected under the auspices of the Guards Parachute Association, is designed to be a lasting memorial to all those Guardsmen who have served in Airborne and Special Forces from the Second World War onwards as well as a focal point for Airborne Guardsmen in the future. The funds required were raised from contributions from Headquarters Household Division, all Household Division Regiments, The Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces Charity, the SAS Association and the Clock Tower Fund of the SAS, the Remembrance Trust and many donations from Guards Parachute Association members and friends.


Major General Sir Robert Corbett and Canon Alan Hughes
at the dedication


WO1 (RSM) D Griffiths IG and WO1 (RSM) M Firth 3 PARA

On 8th October 2021, on a beautiful day, some 250 people, both serving and retired together with their families and friends, including many of the younger generation, gathered at the memorial to attend a service of dedication conducted by Canon Alan Hughes, a member of the Guards Parachute Association.  Enlisted into the Coldstream Guards, he served in Aden before leaving the Army to take holy orders.  He served as a TA member of the Parachute Regiment and although now retired, has recently become Honorary Chaplain to the Association. The memorial was then unveiled by Major General Sir Robert Corbett KCVO CB, the last officer to command No 1 (Guards) Independent Company, the Parachute Regiment, and who later became both Commander of 5 Airborne Brigade and Major General Commanding The Household Division.  He also founded the Guards Parachute Association. General Robert delivered a most moving address before unveiling the monument.

The band of the Scots Guards played at the service and also at the lunch reception afterwards where all the guests had a chance to hear from the sculptress, Jemma Pearson about the process of designing, sculpting and casting of the statue. The President of the Guards Parachute Association, Colonel Simon Falkner also spoke, welcoming all the guests and thanking them for their generous donations which had funded the project. These included The Major General and his staff who had been so supportive of the project from its inception, and members of all Household Division Regimental Headquarters, Regiments and Battalions.  We were also delighted to welcome the Garrison Sergeant Major, several Regimental Sergeants Major and other senior Warrant Officers, many of whom had previously served in either the Pathfinder Platoon or 6 (Guards) Platoon, B Company, 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment whose Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Will Hunt and RSM, WO1 Michael Firth were present.  There were many other guests including friends from The Parachute Regiment and 22 SAS, many members of the Guards Parachute Association with their families and members of 6 (Guards) Platoon. Colonel Falkner ended by inviting those present to join in a toast to the members of 6 Platoon as the flag bearers of a young but strong tradition.

It was a day enjoyed by all who attended where the ties between The Household Division, The Parachute Regiment and the Special Air Service were both reaffirmed and strengthened and where the old and young gathered with a common ideal. Along with the Guards Parachute Company Colour which hangs above the lectern and the commemorative window in The Guards’ Chapel, the memorial will be a place for Airborne Guardsmen, both present and future, to remember their compatriots, their shared experiences and above all to recall the lifelong bond and spirit engendered by service as Guardsmen of the Sky.


Lieutenant Colonel Jim Heycock, Canon Alan Hughes, Major General Sir Robert Corbett, The Major General,
Colonel Simon Falkner, with members of 6th (Guards) Platoon

Airborne Guardsmen - Past and Present

The wonderful atmosphere of the day was obvious to one guest with no connection to either The Household Division nor to Airborne or Special Forces who later wrote:

A number of things stood out for me. First, the evidently enormous sense of comradeship among the members of your Association. Secondly, the hospitality that they and others showed to me on the day. While an outsider I was regardless made very, very welcome by a most charming, engaging and witty cast of characters. Thirdly, the statue itself – a fantastic piece of sculpture, made even more special by the personal story behind it. And in such a great location. A grove of trees alongside the river, between the Household Division and Airborne memorials – perfect.

But, of course, all this was brought together through the most immaculate orchestration of a day which was reflective and honouring, but also joyous and underlined by that outstanding comradeship. I thought that the fact the final toast was to those carrying on the golden thread in 6 (Guards) Platoon of 3 PARA today was the cherry on the cake.

The memorial, as well as the many others at the National Memorial Arboretum, is well worth a visit for anyone passing through Staffordshire.

 

 

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