Douglas Dakota aircraft were delivered from the USA to the PTS from January 1944. These could carry twenty fully equipped paras, compared with just ten in the Whitley, thus greatly increasing the training rate. The Dakota was popular with trainees - particularly after the Dreaded Balloon and the Whitley Hole for the spacious fuselage and large side door facilitated movement inside the aircraft and allowed faster exiting. This was very important for it meant that the paras would not be scattered over a large area. The course at Ringway always finished with an exercise to discover how quickly a stick of 10 could exit the Dakota.

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Click for enlarged photo

During their pre-Ringway training all para recruits were interviewed by a psychiatrist in an effort to identify those who were likely to refuse when it was their turn to jump - and many recruits were RTU'd during the first few weeks when they failed the test. Despite regular checks there were still an occasional refusal amongst those who had survived the tough training and reached Ringway and on one occasion a psychiatrist decided to find out what happened when someone refused to jump.

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He positioned himself in the centre of a stick of twenty intending to refuse when he reached the door but he soon discovered that when the Green light went on the stick moved as one along the fuselage and nothing stopped this forward movement until the last man exited the aircraft. It was a case of jump or be pushed out of the door !
Numerous stories about the dreaded 'candle' circulated at Ringway and during the first descents from the Dakota it was not unusual for some "joker" to pass a small piece of candle around the aircraft during the flight to the drop zone. Needless to say this joke was not appreciated and the small offering was usually dropped like a hot brick!

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Click for enlarged photo

During the early days, paratroopers carried no more on a jump than they could carry inside a small pack suspended across the chest or inside the front body straps of the harness but John Rock experimented ceaselessly with suitable jumping apparel and airborne supply equipment. Finally, in 1941, the Denison camouflaged smock was issued which meant that normal battle equipment could be worn under the smock. Additional equipment was packed in a kitbag which was attached by rope to the paratrooper's lower right harness strap, and secured also to the body by an ankle strap to the right leg. The 20ft(6m) length of rope was stowed in an exterior pocket of the kit bag and paid out when the bag was released in flight by jerking out a pin on a cord attachment from the ankle strap. A spring device absorbed the shock of the mid-air fall of the heavy bag.
Bren & rifle valises, made of felt, were clutched to the body and secured and released in the same way as the kit bag. The prior landing of the kit bags and valises at the end of their ropes helped to absorb the shock of the paratrooper's body on the ground.

Once formally awarded your wings, you were deemed to have accepted, as long as you were medically fit to do so, the obligation to serve with a parachute unit on operations, and to carry out parachute descents when ordered to do so. For this, parachute pay of an extra 2 shillings a day was awarded - increasing the weekly pay-packet from 21 shillings(1.05) to 35 shillings(1.75). and future failure or refusal to carry out a parachute descent would almost certainly result in a trial by Court Martial.
The Irvin brooch on the right-hand side was presented by the parachute manufacturers to all successful trainees


12th August 2012