VETERANS gathered at the RAF Harwell Memorial Stone from where the fallen comrades they remembered and honoured left British soil to fight in D-Day.
More than 350 people attended Saturday’s service, which took place at the stone marking the end of the runway of the former Second World War airfield from which six RAF Albemarle transport planes of the No 38 Group took off on the night of June 5.
The standards are paraded
They carried 60 paratroopers from the 22nd Independent Company the Parachute Regiment, which served the 6th Airborne Division.
The first Allied troops to land in Normandy, they marked out drop zones and set up radio beacons for troops who arrived later.
On June 6, planes towing 30 gliders left RAF Harwell carrying members of the 2nd Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry who captured the bridge across the Caen canal at Benouville – later renamed Pegasus Bridge.
Peter Clarke, 93, was a 23-year-old glider pilot in the G Squadron Glider Pilot Regiment at RAF Fairford, in Gloucestershire.
He was detached to one of RAF Greenham Common’s satellite airfields at Hampstead Norris in April 1944 before being briefed for Operation Overlord. But Mr Clarke missed the Normandy landings because his co-pilot Jimmy Roberts was taken ill with jaundice and glandular fever the day before D-Day.
He said: “We had been briefed as to where we would land – just east of Ouistreham, which was the port for Caen – and we were all ready to go.
“But then my second pilot Jimmy Roberts was taken ill with jaundice and they stopped us.
“I stayed behind and was rather fed up. Quite honestly we’d trained for it and we had been looking forward to being used.”
Mr Clarke, who now lives in Abingdon, said that he still regrets not completing the flight, but added: “It was just one of those things that happens. Some go and some don’t.”
Rev Pam Rolls conducts the service
Fellow veteran Ken Frere, who was based at RAF Brize Norton, was also waiting for D-Day as a heavy bomber pilot at RAF Broadwell, near Burford.
He served with 296 Squadron RAF which later formed 38 Wing and then expanded to create No 38 Group RAF.
The 91-year-old said: “I was standing by in case they needed any replacement pilots. They did need a reserve, and a colleague of mine went. He was shot down. One of the reasons I’m alive is because he went instead of me.”
The Abingdon resident said: “You just accept what life dishes out.
“At the time your only option was to believe that it’s not going to happen to you.”
The service saw Oxfordshire’s Lord Lieutenant Tim Stevenson, local officials, veterans and school children lay wreaths on the stone.
Didcot mayor Scott Wilgrove said: “It’s very important to remember D-Day. It’s not going to be long before there are no veterans left.”
The event organiser and parade marshall Peter Davies said: “It was amazing to see so many people and children taking part. It’s about linking the past to future generations.”
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