Beaut’ blooms help lift the mists of time
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’.