Airborne Engineers Association

Pat Harkin

 

 

Pat Harkin

Pat Harkin was an early recruit to the new 300 Troop of 131 Independent Parachute Squadron after its down-sizing from 300 Squadron of 131 Regiment, and its move from Bog Road, Falkirk to Central Avenue, Grangemouth in 1967.

He was an easy recruit to train — keen and determined, rugged mentally and physically fit — but shy and quiet. After Recruit Training and Pre-Para selection, Pat earned his wings and wore them proudly. He gave the impression that parachuting was an entirely normal thing to be doing. Pat could always be relied on to attend, to learn and then get on with whatever was to be done. More than 10 years later, he passed the Lympstone Commando course on 300 Troop's move to 3 Commando Brigade.

In 1974, Pat was with 300 Troop on exercise with the 15 Parachute Battalion Battle Group which resulted in six deaths when men were dropped into the Kiel Canal with the heavy drop landing on top of them. He was then at Barry Buddon later in the same year when 300 Troop hosted an exercise for the Squadron's London HQ Troop, and Corporal Alan Paynter from HQ Troop was killed by parachute failure on the arrival drop. It was a sad period for 44 Parachute Brigade in Scotland.

Nobody could have been prepared for what was to happen in September 1975. Pat was the section commander of the section representing 300 Troop in the 131 Squadron weekend exercise "Trent Chase". The exercise was a combination of watermanship, map reading and water navigation on the River Trent. The lights on Cromwell Lock, to be left illuminated throughout the night by agreement with the Waterways Board, had in fact been turned off, and the 300 Troop section did not realise that they had reached the Cromwell Lock. Their assault boat went over the weir, an arm's length from the bank, but was instantly pulled to the middle by the concave design, which created a maelstrom. By daybreak, Pat was the only survivor of the boat's 11 man team.

Although the Inquest the following spring did not assign blame to Pat, he carried a personal burden of responsibility for the rest of his life. 300 Troop members did their best to support him both before and after he retired from the Troop, and he was courageous enough to attend memorial events and other reunions. He was the same quiet self he had always been, and his burden was not always evident to those who had not known him before that sad event. The same rugged determination, so evident in the new recruit, both saved his life and then carried him through the remainder of it.

Pat Harkin is remembered with both respect and sympathy.

 

 

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