Monday 24 January 2011

First Women Parachutist of Rhodesia

Stew Robinson sent ORAFs a photo from a newspaper cutting, of his Mother and him celebrating the first parachute jump by his Mother, who was one the first three lady parachutist in Rhodesia and ORAFs would like to share this information and memories with you all. Please note to reduce the file size I have recompiled the text from the relevant newspapers.

Photo 1
This Mum Will Jump Ahead in Service
Sometime soon, 20 month old Stewart Robinson's grandparents are going to be asked to baby sit while his mother keeps a date.

But they won't mind for the date to not a frivolous social engagement, but one which might lead to attractive 22 - year - old Sybil Robinson saving someone's life one day.

For years Rhodesian born and bred Sybil, now working as a Salisbury office clerk, has had a secret ambition — to parachute jump. Now she has the chance to realise it.

She is one of the first women members to join the Salisbury branch of the Central African Parachuting Association.

"I think a parachute rescue service is essential in a country like ours," she said. "Apart from jumping as a hobby, I hope I shall qualify for a rescue team, I know It will mean a lot of practice and training, and swotting up first aid, but I am looking forward to it.

And she isn't the only one of the Robinson family to feel this way. Her husband Army Sergeant "Robbie" Robinson, a well-known Salisbury motor-cyclist, is also joining the club.

Photo 2
Hitchan - Caption
Triumphant after her first parachute drop, 23-year-old Salisbury mother, Sybil Robinson, Is shown Immediately after her Jump over Mount Hampden airfield yesterday. Together with two other Salisbury girls, Maureen Boardman (18) and Barbara Norman (19), Mrs. Robinson made history for Central Africa in the first parachute drop by women.

Photo 3
Evening Standard Reporter

MRS. SYBIL ROBINSON, 23-year-old member of the Central African Parachuting Club, has been criticised for taking part in a dangerous sport.

She said today: "Some people have told me that I shouldn't take part in parachuting when I have a two-year-old son. I reply that parachuting is no more dangerous than crossing First Street at the height of the traffic rush."

"I think it is -unfair of people to pick on sport and overlook dangers elsewhere."

Mrs., Robinson became one of the first three women to jump by parachute in the Federation when she made a 2,000-feet descent in Salisbury on Sunday.

Her son, Stewart, and her husband, Sgt. "Robbie" Robinson, who is in the Regular Army, watched her jump.


Sgt. Robinson docs not object to his wife's sport. He can't — he is a member of the Parachuting Club himself.

Stewart seems to love everything to do with aircraft and parachutes.

Mrs. Robinson said she first thought of parachuting when she heard Sgt Jock Hutton, of the Rhodesian and Nyasaland Army Service Corps, discussing the Parachuting Club. She and her husband decided to join.


Of her first jump she said: "It was one of the most exciting things I have ever done. It all happened so quickly that I didn't have time to get frightened.

Perhaps I'll be a little scared next time I do it."

She added: "The free-fall, before the ripcord is pulled, is wonderful."

Now all she is waiting for is her second jump, this woman who is not afraid of- flying, not afraid of parachuting — and not even afraid of mice.

End of Article

Comment by ORAFs
ORAFs was fortunate enough to make contact with Sybil Robinson (now Nelson) and she afforded additional information:-

The date of the News Paper, The Rhodesia Herald was Monday the 15th June 1959.
So the jump would have been on Sunday the 14th June 1959.

By the way we were trained by Jock Hutton and boy it was over the top. Jumping off the backs of moving trucks etc. and yes it is true it was the best and most exciting day ever in my life then and since.

The second jump was at an Air display in Gwelo. Again very exciting. All of us girls were spoilt rotten.

I then fell preggie with Linda and it all came to an end for me.

I believe Barbara Norman broke her leg soon after that. Never saw Maureen Boardman or Barbara again.

Our little Club house was at Mount Hampden.

We jumped from a Cessna

On two occasions I visited the Para club. Once on the road between Epworth and Ruwa and the second time at a club house near the Old Gatooma road. I was disappointed to see that there were no references to the original members who started it all at Mount Hampden.

The Parachute was an Irvin and in turn Bill Shepard who owned M & S Motorcycle Shop in Pioneer St. gave me his much loved book called “The Caterpillar Club.” Stories of people who’s lives had been saved by the Irvin Parachute. I stand to be corrected as they might not have all been Irvins.

End of Article

A photo of the First SAS Jump Course can viewed on

ORAFs compiled and article on The Caterpillar Club which features Air Marshall A.O.G. Wilson. It and be viewed on

A photograph of the Founding Members of the Parachute Training School can be viewed at:-

Recompiled, by Eddy Norris, from scanned copies of newspaper cutting made available to ORAFs by Stew Robinson

The recompilation was done for no or intended financial gain but rather as a ORAFs initiative to record the memories of Rhodesia.

Special thanks to Sybil Robinson (now Nelson) for supplying further information and to her son Stew for the initial contact.

Thanks to:-
My son, Paul Norris, for the ISP sponsorship.
Paul Mroz for the image hosting sponsorship.
Robb Ellis for his assistance.

Should you wish to contact Eddy Norris please mail me on

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At 24 January 2011 at 17:58 , Blogger Unknown said...

I recall Maureen Boardman, one of my brother Keith's friends. I am fairly certain that I remember that her parachute failed to open. All those years ago. Can anyone recall more about this tragic incident?

At 20 February 2016 at 09:33 , Blogger Neil said...

From an email my mother sent to Eddy upon learning of this story:

My son has just sent me a link regarding the 3 ladies who did the first parachute jumps in Rhodesia.

I never broke a leg but I had a bad landing in Gwelo and cracked my spine. I recovered and jumped again afterwards.

Maureen was not the one whose chute failed to open it was a young girl who jumped the day of her birthday (in those days there was an age restriction to the sport) and she failed to pull the rip cord. This happened in front of her parents, can you imagine how they must have felt.

Maureen became a 'parachute packer' in the RRAF and married an airforce pilot - Mees Nederlof. They had four daughters and I think moved to New Zealand.

I saw recently on FaceBook Jock Hutton, who trained us, is in the UK - still going strong and running (would you believe) every morning to keep fit.

I married a farmer and we farmed for 45 years in Doma/Mhangura before having everything taken. My husband died shortly after we had to move into Harare.

I now live in Australia with my daughter.

Barbara Thomas (nee Norman)

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