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'C' Coy, 156th Para

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Arnhem, September 1944 - a British officer is wounded and captured.  During this traumatic episode a Trans-Jordanian flag is lost.  Forty-six years later a new Jordanian flag is presented to The Parachute Regiment by the then Prince, now King Abdullah of Jordan.  Why was a Trans-Jordanian flag present on a Dutch battlefield and what is the link between the famous 'Red Devils' and the Arab Legion?

The story begins at a desert fort, early in 1943.  Brigadier 'Shan' Hackett was commander of a new parachute brigade, the 4th.  The brigade was formed with 156th Parachute Battalion as a nucleus and early in 1943 it was decided that Palestine offered better training facilities for the new brigade. Before the war, Hackett had served with the TJFF and it was through this connection that 'C' Company, 156th Parachute Battalion came to fly the Trans-Jordanian flag as its standard.  The story is told by Harry Bankhead in his history of the battalion, Salute to the Steadfast, reproduced below.

" ‘C’ Company of 156 Para was invited to lay on a parachute operation for the Emir Abdullah of Trans-Jordan and the officers of the Arab Legion, then led by Glubb Pasha. The target was a Beau Geste type fort manned by the Arab Legion at Es Shune, situated a mile east of the Jordan at the Allenby Bridge on the road to Amman. Having dropped a mile to the north from RAF Hudsons and USAAF Dakotas, the company launched a frontal ‘attack’ and captured the fort from its Bedouin defenders clad in flowing robes criss-crossed with bandoliers of ammunition and wicked-looking daggers in their belts. Thus assailed, they hauled down the their flag, and the Union Jack was hoisted on the ramparts. 

Honour was satisfied when the Arab Legion ‘counter-attacked’ with armoured cars, and the fort again flew the Trans-Jordan Flag on its flagpole. The benign Emir, dressed in the uniform of an Air Commodore, inspected the company commanded by Major Powell, and presented him with the flag his company had captured.

This Trans-Jordan Flag became the ‘Standard’ of ‘C’ Company and was flown in camp, not only in Palestine, but in Tunisia, Italy and the United Kingdom. It was carried at Arnhem by the acting 2 i/c of the company, Lieutenant Kenyon-Bell, being last seen in action at Oosterbeek. I noticed the lieutenant was wearing it when at the start of the 4th Parachute Brigade’s hasty withdrawal towards the Wolfheze level-crossing, he received an order to ‘Liaise with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and move last’. Later Kenyon-Bell was wounded and captured, probably the occasion when the flag was lost. But the tale has a happy ending. In May 1990, long after the remnants of the 156 had been absorbed into 1 Para, Prince Abdullah of Jordan, then a student at the British Army Staff College, heard directly from Geoffrey Powell and John Waddy how the flag had been presented by his great-grandfather, the Emir Abdullah. Sensing this was an auspicious time to restore the Parachute Regiment-Jordanian relationship, the Prince presented a new ‘Jordanian Flag’ to the Regiment. Currently this is borne by ‘C’ company of the 1st Parachute Battalion, as being the logical ‘descendants’ of the former 156 company."


Salute to the Steadfast, from Delhi to Arnhem with 151/156 Parachute Battalion is written by Harry Bankhead and published by the Ramsay Press.  It may be purchased from Derek Hayles Military Books.

31 January 2002


Contact Steve Rothwell with comments and additional information