It is one of the most sought-after prizes in the military and a Midland woman soldier has made history by claiming it.

The Army's motorcycle display team launched its season of exhibition riding with Lance Corporal Stephanie McGinn, from Cannock, Staffordshire, wearing its trademark white helmet.

The Royal Signals White Helmets display team performed in front of senior officers, sponsors and their families at Blandford Camp in Dorset to kick-start their public displays on Saturday, St George's Day.

L/Cpl McGinn, aged 26, and L/Cpl Julie Jones, aged 22, from Bury, Lancashire, completed a threemonth training course to become the first female soldiers to be presented with the team's white helmets.

Only two other female officers have worn the traditional headgear since the White Helmets were founded in 1921. Those were Captain Kyra McAnulty, who left the team in 2002, and Captain Lisa Giles, who left in 1998.

All 30 of the riders are Royal Signals soldiers who provide communication systems for Army operations.

Most of those who volunteer to join the team have never ridden a motorbike before they are trained to perform on the team's 30 classic Triumph Tiger 750cc machines.

The bikes, which weigh about 441lb (200kg) including the rider, are no longer being produced and were hand-built in 2000 using parts manufactured by sponsor LF Harris (International) Ltd and technical experts in the team.

L/Cpl McGinn, who signed up in 1998, is married to Ben, 23, and has a one-year-old son, Joshua, said: "I found out recently that females could actually try for the team and I decided I needed a challenge so I decided I would go for it and luckily I got in.

"I had never ridden a motorcycle before entering the team so it was quite a challenge.

"You are treated no differently than in any other part of the Army. There's lots of times where you are the only girl or one of a few so you just blend in. You are one of the guys."

Meanwhile, a Birmingham woman hoping to become the British Army's first female Para vowed to launch a new attempt to make the grade after a broken leg shattered her dreams of winning the coveted beret.

Lieutenant Jenny Hands, aged 23, suffered two stress fractures to her right leg less than a week into the gruelling P Company course, renowned as one of the toughest recruit training regimes in existence.

Lt Hands - who currently serves in the Royal Logistics Corps' 13 Air Assault Support Regiment - began the ambitious attempt last Monday to honour her grandfather George, who died of cancer 18 months ago.

Mr Hands had served in the Seventh Battalion of the First Parachute Regiment, between 1945 and


Lt Hands said: "I have been withdrawn from the All Arms Pre Parachute selection due to injury. I sustained a stress fracture to my right leg on day five of the course and was unable to continue.

"I am understandably disappointed at this time but it is my intention to attempt the course again when the injury has healed.

"P Company is an extremely tough course that places great physical demands on your body, and

I can now return knowing what to expect and how to best prepare for it."

The 5ft 3in keep fit fanatic is said to have impressed instructors at the Infantry Training Centre, in Catterick, North Yorkshire.

She is understood to have completed an eight-mile march on Monday, but struggled with an endurance march - a 20-mile hike over five hours during which soldiers carry a 35lb pack and rifle.

It is thought Lt Hands had been given a second chance to complete the stage on Thursday, but collapsed.

"The P-Company instructors were excellent, and I am happy to say that I was not treated any differently to anyone else," said the soldier.

Lt Hands had been warned to expect punishing trials such as a frantic one-minute boxing match known as "milling" and an aerial obstacle course.

But even if the logistics expert, based in Colchester, Essex, completes the course in the future she will not be able to serve in the infantry.