Russell John Wood 379761
36th MAHRATTAS PARACHUTE ANTI TANK REGIMENT
2ND INDIAN AIRBORNE
Born: 4th June 1926 at Pontypridd, South Wales
Age: 80 years
John attended the CoedPemmaen Primary School in his early years and then studied at Cardiff University reading Engineering.
ROYAL AIR FORCE
Whilst at University in 1943, John volunteered for the RAF, and was duly accepted to train as a pilot. He went to the Grand Hotel in Torquay for his interview, which included five days of medical, and aptitude tests. The Air Ministry at that time of the war, thought they would lose more aircrews, which never really materialised and therefore potential pilots such as John, never entered into service.
In 1944, John returned to University, and whilst there a Brigadier came seeking volunteers for the Indian Army. On the 2nd of November 1944 he was sent to Brancepeth Castle, the Headquarters of the Durham Light Infantry for his basic 6 weeks training. For the first 2 weeks they were not allowed out of barracks, and had to concentrate on drill and weapon handling. John remembers being allowed out on one solitary occasion during this period, which was a church parade. The RSM gathered all the recruits together and asked for their respective religious persuasion. There were Catholics, Jews, Protestants and would you believe just one Welsh Methodist…John WOOD. He was singled out by the RSM on the fall out after the parade with a command "Catholics, Jews, Protestants and the Welsh Methodist, FALL OUT" John has never forgot that moment as there were some 2,000 recruits on parade.
TRAINING AND EMBARKATION
After the initial training course had been completed, John was sent to Mark Eaton Park in Derby in the early months of 1945 where he was skilled in Special to Arms gunnery training. He was given a spot of embarkation leave before he was sent to India.
He arrived in India at DEOLALI the name may sound familiar as it is sounded DOOLALI, the name given to the mental state of an individual that originated from the town. He was made an Officer Cadet and travelled to Bangalore. It was at this time that he temporarily lost his sight in his left eye. He was admitted into COLABA hospital where he was diagnosed with Corneal Ulcer of the retina, an unusual infection that was to reoccur for many years thereafter. On release from the Hospital, he commenced training of Infantry Officers in India.
At that period of the latter stages of the war, there was a real shortage of trained officers in Signals and artillery, so John was sent to the School of Artillery for 6 months in 1945. Whilst there Army Psychiatrists brought in mental testing as part of the course, to see which unit the officers would be transferred to on completion. One test he remembers vividly was placing pegs into holes. The units that were on offer were 7.2mm Howitzer/3.7mm Howitzer or the 6 pounder, Parachute Anti Tank Regiment, and these depended on your peg score.
30 correct pegs would find you in the 7.2 mm unit. 50 correct pegs would find you in the 3.7mm unit; however, as John had achieved 72 correct pegs he was personally selected for Parachute Training.
On the 1st of January 1946, John now a Lieutenant was commanded to attend the initial Parachute School at CHAKLALA in India, run by the 28th Transport Group, Royal Air Force. He became a fully-fledged parachutist but remembers stories in the build up to the training. One such incident was where a full briefing to all ranks by an RAF Group Captain was given, on the detail of Parachuting. He told of how the Dakota was to level at 1000 feet and then drop to 800 feet for the actual dropping of trainees. One Indian Havildar (Sergeant) stepped forward and asked a question. "Sir Why don't we drop from 300 feet"? The bemused RAF Officer replied that the chute would not deploy fully and other known facts and dangers of jumping that close to the ground. The Indian Sergeant then replied in a serious tone "We get Parachutes as well????"
The head gear in those days was a cork helmet, not metal, and the troops jumped in Plimsolls not boots. The RAF ground staff also made them all aware in the training that, should any one get a Roman Candle they MUST adopt the following two safety methods:
1. Point your toes and cross your legs and place your arms out by your sides, so that when you hit the ground and cork screw into the deck, the rescue teams can simply unscrew you from the ground.
2. Draw your legs up to your chest and curl up into a ball. This would ensure that you lived, but it would break every bone in your body.
INDIAN RANK STRUCTURE
British Officers held the Kings Commission, whilst the Indian Army called their rank structure VCO's Viceroy Commissioned Officers. These ranks lay between the British equivalent of WO1 (RSM) and 2Lt. They were:
Of course these ranks were unique to the Indian Army and respected by their rank structure.
The weapons issued to all troops in those days in India were the Sten Gun, .303 Lee Enfield Rifle and the .38 Pistol.
FIRST HEAVY DROP PARACHUTE TRIALS
Following his successful Parachute Course, John as the junior Parachute trained officer was selected by his then OC Major Jones, to test and trial innovative ways of despatching men and vehicles more effectively from the Dakota, by removing panels from the chute. This was required due to the uprisings in India at the time of Independence, and mostly the resistance of the Sikh community who were carrying out massacres of innocent civilians, but were also killing Indian troops with weapons last used in the 1890's which looked like elephant guns, with which they were very good marksman. The fear was that if Paratroopers were in the sky too long, they would present targets for longer periods to these insurgents.
John was responsible for these trials on the first PX Mark 1, thirty-foot diameter Chute, and was responsible for establishing that a Jeep would need 7 parachutes and a gun trailer would require 4 chutes. These two items would be trailed on a 2000-foot webbing strap below the aircraft after deployment, and the gun crews would jump immediately after the equipment had gone. Some of these techniques, still used today come from the brave efforts of Lt John Woods and his team, and their respective findings to safely deploy and deliver items classed now as 'Heavy drop'.
Independence was granted to India in 1947 after many turbulent and dangerous years. A parade in front of The Earl Mountbatten of Burma was held, and then, as part of the official handover, all training was taken over by the Indian Army, and effectively the British rule came to an end, and British troops such as Lt John Woods were sent back to England.
John's last eight months in India were spent at the Combined Operations Base at Lake KARAWASLA outside POONA.
John returned to England and the Royal Artillery school at Larkhill, where he joined the Territorial Army on his demob in February 1948 and went straight back to University, to now learn some new subjects for civvy street. He took on Geology and Economics. The TA unit John went into, was the 664 Glamorgan Yeomanry Coastal Defence, using 6 inch guns.
On the 5th of February 1949 John married Enid at what was to be the first Military wedding at St Margaret's Church, Cardiff.
FIRST CHEMICAL TESTS - WINTERBORNE GUNNER
John whilst at University was still in the Territorial Army's Royal Artillery. Whilst in the unit, John became a volunteer to test the first Dosimeters and the effects of Nerve Agent poisoning on the body, being among the first tested to counteract this with Atropine. He remembers, that Royal Navy staff was given 3 extra beers a day if they would allow Nerve Agent testing to be carried out on them. The other benefits were that extra pay was given to him to carry out the Nerve Agent tests. His pay per day was £6 at the time, and he was given £85 for these trials, which he remarks was worth the extra at the time. He continued with the TA until 1952
ATOMIC ENERGY - SELLAFIELD
John left University, and took a job at Sellafield as a Chemist. In 1953 with a private company he went to Sierra Leone seeking out enriched ore and Iron for Ford Motor Company. He was also tasked with locating and prospecting deposits of Titanium. The Company was the Sierra Leone Development Company part of the William Baird Company.
In 1960 he moved to SQUIBB's of London a Pharmaceutical Company and progressed to Area Manager.
Between 1965 and 1975 he worked for ELI LILLEY where he conducted symposiums and lectures on various cancer and Chemotherapy treatments for children, and travelled as far as Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge, Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital and many others.
In 1978 John and Enid started a Newsagents in Warrington. Sadly in 1979, he suffered a heart attack and moved to Colchester where he remained.
In 1991 he and his wife had earned a justifiable retirement. He is a member of the East Anglian PRA and continues to assist in anyway he can for his fellow Airborne Brothers.
It was a pleasure to interview John about his years in the Army, and especially to talk to someone who pioneered parachuting techniques that we still use today, with very few modifications, except the latest chute technology, and those early days of Chemical Warfare trials and there effects on the british soldier
Lt. Russell John Wood