ALDRIDGE, William Thomas, Warrant Officer (524776) – Parachute Training School, Ringway – Parachute Training School, Ringway – Air Force Medal – awarded as per London Gazette dated 1 September 1944. He had made 70 descents. Information from Spink catalogue of 25 July 2013. The recommendation states:

‘Flight Sergeant Aldridge has served as an instructor with the Parachute Training School for two years and proved himself to be a first class teacher who instills great confidence into his pupils. Prior to the invasions of Normandy, this airman was attached to the 6th Airborne Division to assist in the final training of the airborne troops. He frequently accompanied them on their exercises and, during the invasion, flew as a despatcher with the airborne troops. His courage and efficiency have contributed much to the building up of confidence and morale among airborne troops’

524776 Warrant William Thomas Aldridge, A.F.M., a native of Wolverhampton; joined the Royal Air Force for service during the Second War, and commenced training as a Parachute Jump Instructor in ‘B’ Squadron, Parachute Training Squadron, Ringway, Manchester; he made his first parachute descent, 5.7.1942; qualified as Flight Sergeant, Parachute Jump Instructor, 27.7.1942; and over the coming months made demonstration, training, container and night descents, air experience flights and despatched trainee parachutists from balloons, Whitley and Harrow aircraft at 500-800 feet; he jumped with both ‘old’ and ‘new’ parachute packs from Whitely floor and rear gunner exits; in late 1942, he trained Belgian, Czech and Polish paratroopers at Ringway; by the end of that year, he had completed 21 descents and over 36 flying hours; throughout 1943, he continued instructing troops, including No. 12 Commando, Combined Ops, Canadians, Norwegians and Free French soldiers; on 10.2.1943, he made an experimental jump in a 20-man stick from a US Army Air Force Douglas Dakota, and on 3.12.1943, he jumped as 6th man in the first experimental jump with kit-bags; by the end of the year, he had completed 62 descents and over 100 flying hours; posted to Bulford in the first week of January 1944 to train parachutists of 6th Airborne Division in preparation for the D-Day Operations; on the 8th- 14th January, he ran a balloon programme, when the following occurred, ‘the powerful influence of an experienced and determined instructor is illustrated by a report which I received concerning Flight Sergeant Aldridge:

‘If a man refused to jump or asked to be taken off parachuting during his basic training at Ringway, no stigma was attached to him and he was merely sent back to his unit… Once he had completed his training and accepted the badge and pay of a qualified paratroop, it was a different matter and refusal to jump – unless there was a genuine and acceptable excuse – meant a court martial… I had been asked to send two or three experienced instructors to Bulford to set what they could do with a number of men who had let it be known that they didn’t intend to do any more parachuting. Such gossip did not of itself constitute a refusal to jump, but it was bad for morale and had to be stopped one way or the other. Bulford was the camp occupied by the Airborne Division and a balloon similar to those in use at Ringway had been installed there.’

Flight Sergeant Aldridge was one of the instructors selected for the duty. He was a sturdy man experienced in obeying orders and equally competent at seeing that orders he gave were acted upon. In due course, he was shown a small group of men and told that they were being “difficult” about parachuting. They were already fitted with parachutes, jumping overalls and rubber crash hats, so he wasted no time in getting them into the balloon car, hooking them up and giving the word to the winch operator – “Up 700 – 4 down”, which, being interpreted, meant that the balloon was to go up to 700 ft. and that four men would be jumping. Flight Sergeant Aldridge was on his mettle!
There was a certain amount of muttering among the men when the balloon started to rise, but as the ground receded and the feeling of security decreased, they huddled in the corners of the car and relapsed into silence. At last, the winch stopped and, having satisfied himself that everything was in order, Aldridge and in a quiet but very firm voice “Now look here, you fellows, you’ve all been to Ringway and you all know how to jump – so don’t let’s have any damned nonsense. When I say go – I mean Go.”

A small balloon car, the floor of which is mostly hole, swaying uneasily 700 feet above the earth, is not a good place to start an argument and numbers one, two and three went out like “good-uns” on the crisp words of command. Number four, however, showed no inclination to take up position and strongly protested that he wasn’t going to jump. Aldridge thought otherwise and as he moved across the car, he muttered viciously: “Now then, you blighter, one last chance – are you to jump or aren’t you? Action stations – Go!” and go the man did. Looking over the side at the scrabbling mass of arms and legs, Aldridge, fired his parting shot: “That was a ruddy awful exit – you’d better do better next time”.

A few hours later, Flight Sergeant Aldridge was surprised to receive instructions that he was to report to General Gale, the Divisional Commander. After some preliminary talk about parachuting and the good work down by the P.T.S., the General Said: “By the way, didn’t you take up some men this morning who were expecting to refuse?” “Yes, sir,” answered Aldridge proudly, “but they all jumped – it just depends on how you treat them”. “How very true,” observed the General with a twinkle in his eye. “It may interest you to know that one of our pupils was an officer of the Provost Marshal’s department who had never previously made a parachute descent and who went up as a witness in case any of the men refused to jump. I gather that he didn’t altogether appreciate the experience”.

Aldridge’s normal ruddy complexion flushed a few shades darker as he answered: “Well, sir, nobody told me who he was and he looked like a paratroop.” “And so, he ought to be,” said the General greatly amused, “and even if he didn’t like it, the men did. The story is all over the camp and doing any amount of good.”

The period training the 6th Airborne Division was hectic, and drops included balloons, single up to 250 aircraft drops, using Albemarle, Stirling, Halifax and Dakota aircraft; Aldridge trained and despatched troops from a multitude of units including from 3rd,5th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 12th and 13th Battalions Parachute Regiment, 1st Canadian Para Battalion, Independent Para Company, and 224 Para Squadron; on 18.6.1944 he took off from Tarrant Rushton in a Halifax of 644 Squadron, from which he despatched an operational stick of troops in action over France; after the D-Day ops, Aldridge was awarded the A.F.M. and promoted Acting Warrant Officer; on his 77th descent, he was dropped very low and landed in twists, injuring both knees and arms; having recovered, he continued to train on water and land descents, and spent November 1944 training the 2nd SAS Regiment and the Free French to jump from Stirlings; by the end of 1944, he had completed 83 descents and over 188 flying hours; during 1945,
Aldridge continued normal training duties but also instructed aircrew, observed gun and jeep dropping trials, experimented on low level container drops into water, took part in glider-borne exercises and even despatched a stick of 10 SAS troopers with their dog; he completed 100 descents by VE Day, 8.5.1945; he despatched and jumped from a balloon during the 1945 Battle of Britain Day Parade; by the end of December 1945, he had completed 114 descents and over 245 flying hours; post war, he moved with No. 1 PTS to Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire; normal instructing duties were punctuated by demonstrations for the Chinese Military Mission, GOC Indian Para Division and a Pathe film crew; Aldridge’s workload increased with the establishment of Territorial Army Para units in 1948; he was also involve with demonstrations for the Swedish Army, and despatched for Operation Mephisto which involved dropping a Jeep, 25 pounder gun, 4 canisters and 6 Paras from each Halifax; by the end of the year, Aldridge’s total was 135 descents and 302 flying hours; he was involved in an accident, 10.10/1949, when he parachuted (his 151st descent) from a Dakota; he got two thrown lines and a badly torn canopy which resulted in a very fast descent from which he was lucky to emerge without serious injury – even more so since at this time, there were no reserve parachutes; awarded with his L.S. & G.C. 1953, he retired Warrant Officer, 1958; he resided in later life at ‘305 Pen Road, Wolverhampton.’

Approximately 259 A.F.M.’s were gazetted between 1940-45, with very few being awarded to Parachute Jump Instruction.