A fight to the end

The Parachute Regimentl Association Central Lancashire Branch are worried they might lose their standard because they only have a few members left.'Pictured with their Standard at members of the Parachute Regiment Central Lancashire Branch at the Royal Air Force Club, Leyland.'27th July 2015
The Parachute Regimentl Association Central Lancashire Branch are worried they might lose their standard because they only have a few members left.'Pictured with their Standard at members of the Parachute Regiment Central Lancashire Branch at the Royal Air Force Club, Leyland.'27th July 2015
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The proud Paras could be facing a fight to the death.

The Leyland-based Central Lancashire Parachute Regimental Association is in danger of folding because of dwindling numbers.

But the branch is determined not to surrender.

Behind that steely determination is the heartbreak ‘losing its standard’ would bring to members such as old warrior Leo Hall, 94, the branch’s oldest member.

Leo, of Leyland, is an Arnhem veteran - one of the last men off the bridge as the British 1st Airborne Division was forced to retreat, suffering heavy losses in the Second World War.

The Parachute Regiment, or ‘The Paras’- famous for their red berets - was formed during the war.

Designed as shock troops, they were dropped behind German front lines to capture

key positions then hold them until the rest of the invasion force could link up with them.

The branch’s membership has dropped from around 30 to just nine.

Treasurer and standard bearer Bob Thornthwaite, who was one of the original members of the branch, said he believed non-attending Paras had got the wrong idea about the group.

“It’s not a sergeant’s mess, it’s a social meeting,” he said.

“I think what’s happened before, lads have been ordered to wear blazers. It’s not like that, it’s more t-shirt.”

He explained: “We’ve got about nine members now, but we’ve got lads who come from Rochdale and we go to Rochdale to help them.

“It’s terrible really because if we have a Remembrance Parade, there’s six or seven ‘red berets’ from the Chorley, Leyland and Preston areas and they don’t come to meetings. They can’t be bothered. We’re trying to attract them by telling them it’s not a sergeant’s mess.”

Bob joined the branch in 1983 after leaving the army in 1972 following an accident.

The former branch vice-chairman said the majority who attend meetings - at the RAF Club, Station Road, Leyland - are from the Chorley and Leyland areas.

“It’s gradually diminished,” he said. “But they are out there, the guys are there.”

He said losing the standard “would be the finsih of the branch.”

He added: “We would either have to go to Rochdale, Morecambe or Manchester. But I don’t think that would happen, especially with the older guys like Leo.

“As a standard bearer, I’ve now joined the 55th Club and we go the funerals and mayoral events. That wouldn’t exist any more for us. That’s why we’re determined not to let it happen.” And for Leo? “It would break his heart. It would break my heart,” said Bob. “This could be our last big fight.”