‘My paratrooper training saved my life – 70 years later’

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SURVIVING a brush with death is a horrifying scenario that nobody would wish to experience.

But it is something that ex-paratrooper Henry Wells has tackled four times in a single day.

Henry Wells (89) from Portsmouth, who served in the Parachute Regiment between 1945-1948.''Picture: Sarah Standing

Henry Wells (89) from Portsmouth, who served in the Parachute Regiment between 1945-1948.''Picture: Sarah Standing

However, it was not on the battlefield where the great-grandfather of two defeated death – but on an operating table in Southampton.

The 89-year-old, from Portsmouth, was undergoing major surgery to fit a new valve into his ageing heart when his body nearly gave in.

‘I had a big operation three years ago,’ recalls Henry, of Crasswell Street, Landport.

‘I was lucky to survive.

‘It was my para fitness that got me through it.

‘I’m absolutely sure that’s what kept me alive.

‘I died four times on the operating table, but they brought me back each time.’

Henry was one of the first group of Parachute Regiment troopers to be trained when it was set up during the Second World War.

He was just 18 when he signed up for the fledgling unit.

And he was stunned by the brutality of the training.

‘The training was so tough, it really pushed us, not everyone made it,’ says Henry.

‘You just had to help each other out as much as you could to get through it.

‘At one point I remember carrying three or four rifles at once.

‘The training really developed a comradeship of brothers. It was very special.’

His training began with an 18-week course on the Isle of Wight.

He was then transferred to Hardwick Hall, near Chesterfield, in Derbyshire, where he learned how to parachute behind enemy lines.

After completing some additional training, Henry joined 9th Battalion, just after victory over the Germans in Europe.

But while the war was still raging in the Far East against the Japanese, Henry and his fellow paras were unsure if they would be called to action.

‘I was very. very lucky,’ he says.

‘If we had to go to Japan, I along with a lot more of my mates would have been killed.

‘I know it’s awful to say now, but the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan probably saved millions of lives.

‘I was very glad when the Americans did that and ended the war.’

Henry spent three years with the regiment and served in Palestine in the late 1940s.

After retiring from the army, he spent 25 years in the building trade.

But the regiment was never far away from his heart.

Henry is one of 56 members of the Pompey Paras, Portsmouth’s branch of the Parachute Regimental Association.

He adds: ‘I never have a bad word to say about the Paras.

‘I will always be a Para.

‘It is something that will never go.’