Great Britain

Ex-England footballer becomes first ever female officer to be selected for the paras after beating scores of male rivals

AN EX-England footballer has become the first-ever female officer to be selected to lead the Parachute Regiment.

Hannah Knapton will join one of the Para's battalions later this year after beating scores of male rivals at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

Knapton is expected to wear her new Parachute Regiment beret after she completes her final exercise.

The historic decision was made earlier in the year after Knapton was interviewed by a board of Para officers.

Knapton, from Hampshire, was a talented athlete before joining the Paras.

She previously played for England Under-17 girls and continued her career in football in Sweden before coming back to the UK.

"This is a remarkable achievement," a Sandhurst source told the Mail Online.

"For any officer, commanding paratroopers is a daunting prospect.

'BEST OF THE BEST'

"The pressure is huge because the regiment's standards are so high – and if an officer is not cutting it the blokes won't respect them."

The source went on to say how the role will take a lot of courage and composure but that Sandhurst chooses the "best of the best".

"To be the first woman to find herself in this role, that's going to take a lot of courage and composure on her part," the source said.

"The regiment is fortunate that it can select its officers from the cream of the crop at Sandhurst, the best of the best. So she must be performing very highly there.

"Only eight cadets from scores who applied were invited to interview and Hannah is one of five to go forward from there.

"They wouldn't be putting her forward if they didn't think she's got what it takes."

The Parachute Regiment was formed in World War II under a decree from Winston Churchill and has been in action since.

Nicknamed the "Red Devils" by the Germans in North Africa, the soldiers have done stints in Normandy, Afghanistan and the Falklands.

To date, only one woman has passed the brutal entry test known as "P Company" which is the toughest military selection outside the Special Forces.

Captain Rosie Wild, then 28, of the Royal Artillery was presented with her beret last year.

In 2018, the Defence Secretary announced that women could apply to any role in the military.

The then secretary Gavin Williamson revealed that women already serving in the Army are able to transfer into infantry roles - including the Special Forces.

The Royal Armoured Corps was the first ground close combat branch to open its doors in November 2016 to female soldiers and officers, followed by the RAF Regiment in September 2017.

280 paratroopers jump onto fields at Sannerville, Normandy, as part of 75th D-Day anniversary commemorations

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