In 1963 sport parachuting was in its infancy, but within airborne forces most units had formed small freefall clubs. Parachute displays were relatively novel events but were in increasing demand at both civilian and military shows and so clearly had considerable recruiting potential.
During the summer of 1963 Lt Edward Gardener, Major John Weeks and Corporal Sherdy Vatnsdal spent several evenings discussing the prospects of forming a full time Regimental display team. Lt Gardener set to writing a paper on this subject which eventually led to the Regimental Colonel, Glyn Gilbert (the newly appointed APA chairman) giving the venture his full support. On January 1st 1964 Edward Gardener assumed the appointment of Officer Commanding The Parachute Regiment Free Fall Display Team (the name Red Devils came later) with a small office in Regimental Headquarters in Maida Barracks Aldershot.
His first problems were recruiting a team, gaining equipment and obtaining display bookings, all three Battalions provided differing levels (due to operational commitments) of manning and a 17-man team was formed. The provision of parachutes and other personal equipment was regrettably a simple problem. There were no funds available and no one was prepared to sponsor an unknown quantity. Team members therefore had to purchase their own kit! Jump platforms were provided by hiring the APA's Rapide or other civilian aircraft (again team members had to meet the costs) until Lt Col Gilbert came up with the unprecedented idea that the team needed their own Rapide. Funds were gathered as interest free loans from the three Battalions and by mid-June the team had purchased their own fully overhauled aircraft brought back from Beirut (and that's another story)! This original Rapide was named "VALKYRIE"
The aircraft was flown then, as now by volunteer civilian and military pilots, with the assistance of Major Peter Cockroft of RHQ Para. Around 50 displays were booked between May and October 1964 of which around thirty were completed. All fees went towards paying the aircraft purchase loans but by the end of 1964 the free fall team were well and truly established.
In following years the team was to cement a lasting bond with The Golden Knights, the US Army Parachute Display Team. The Golden Knights were instrumental in the team's early success by providing training for 15 members at Fort Bragg North Carolina. They made a total of 508 jumps and gained invaluable experience from world champion instructors. They also managed to broker the purchase of new team kit from the Knights and so became the best equipped team in the UK.
For more history information on the Red Devils please click on the link: http://www.red-devils-fft.com/