Peter Cun­dall:

Beaut’ blooms help lift the mists of time

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - NEWS - with Peter Cun­dall

Some things we never for­get and oc­ca­sion­ally we re-live al­most for­got­ten ex­pe­ri­ences, es­pe­cially when our mem­o­ries are jolted by cer­tain places or dates.

So I’m sud­denly re­mem­ber­ing a weird and won­der­ful gar­den­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that oc­curred more than 70 years ago. It be­gan as a freak ac­ci­dent one Au­gust day dur­ing World War II while train­ing with the Bri­tish Para­chute Reg­i­ment.

Sta­tioned at Manch­ester’s Ring­way air­port, we were car­ry­ing out prac­tice jumps, first from a bal­loon, teth­ered about 300m above the ground, then as we pro­gressed, in full bat­tle or­der with weapons we leapt from Dakota air­craft.

The last train­ing jump was the most dif­fi­cult be­cause a bulky kit­bag filled with a mix­ture of straw and sand and weigh­ing 30kg was strapped to one leg. When I dis­cov­ered that most of the sand had drib­bled out of some kit­bags I grabbed the light­est – but also the

I was there long be­fore the gar­dens were opened to the pub­lic and can truth­fully boast that ‘I just dropped in’.

bulki­est – think­ing it to be a smart move. It hap­pened to be a big mis­take

I also en­tered the air­craft first, so I would be the last of the 16 trainees to jump. Once over the drop­ping zone we lined up and vir­tu­ally pushed each other from the air­craft. As I emerged, the slip­stream caught my light­weight kit­bag and spun me round like a top.

As my para­chute opened, I re­mem­ber look­ing up, won­der­ing why I was al­ready well be­low the oth­ers, de­spite be­ing last out. Then I no­ticed my rig­ging lines were mas­sively twisted mak­ing the para­chute canopy dan­ger­ously small. Af­ter some fran­tic kick­ing they sud­denly un­rav­elled,

caus­ing the canopy to open so rapidly it ‘pan­caked’. This not only stopped my rapid de­scent, it ac­tu­ally re­versed it.

That’s when a wind caught it, blow­ing me well away from the oth­ers. Af­ter man­ag­ing to avoid a large, or­na­men­tal lake I fi­nally landed on a huge lawn, partly sur­rounded by gi­ant rhodo­den­drons, most at least 10m in height. Nearby was an old manor house fea­tur­ing a walled veg­etable gar­den and some care­fully es­paliered fruit trees.

I wan­dered around quite hap­pily, even pock­et­ing as many ap­ples and pears I could stuff into my kit­bag. Fi­nally a jeep ar­rived to take me back to my unit.

I had long for­got­ten this brief ex­pe­ri­ence 60 years later when vis­it­ing my fam­ily in Manch­ester. Some­one pro­posed we visit the fa­mous gar­den at Tat­ton Park – a place I’d long wanted to visit – so I en­thu­si­as­ti­cally agreed.

When we en­tered the gar­den I was puz­zled be­cause ev­ery­thing looked oddly

fa­mil­iar, es­pe­cially the walled kitchen gar­den, lake, lawns and mas­sive rhodo­den­drons. It made lit­tle sense un­til I spot­ted a statue at the end of the long lawn.

It was a rock partly carved to dis­play a fully-equipped para­trooper and just be­low a panel ex­plain­ing that Tat­ton Park had been used to train mem­bers of Bri­tain’s Para­chute Reg­i­ment, the S.A.S and Spe­cial Agents dur­ing World War II.

Tat­ton Park gar­dens have now been com­pletely re­ju­ve­nated, pro­vides valu­able hor­ti­cul­tural train­ing and at­tracts hun­dreds of thou­sands of visi­tors ev­ery year.

Per­haps I can be for­given when I point out that I was there long be­fore the gar­dens were opened to the pub­lic and can truth­fully boast that ‘I just dropped in’.

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