WHEN Derek Sherwood was a glider pilot in the Second World War he never got to use his parachute.
So yesterday, to celebrate his 90th birthday on Thursday, he jumped out of a plane for the first time in his life.
Mr Sherwood, a retired police officer who lives in sheltered accommodation at Emden House in Headington, jumped from 10,000ft over Redlands airfield, near Swindon.
He said: “For my 80th birthday I drove a steam engine through the Chilterns.
“The other thing I might have done for this birthday was abseil off the John Radcliffe Hospital, but I’ve already done that three times, so what else could I do?
“It was super fun, they said it was the best weather they’ve had this year. I might do it again for my 91st.”
He was joined on his adventure by daughters Sue Norton and Heather Hughes.
Mrs Norton, 62, who lives in Sandford-on-Thames, said: “He’d never done a skydive before, and at that age, if that’s what he wants to do, that’s fine. He has definitely had quite a colourful life, but he’s a brilliant dad.”
Born in Lancashire, Derek was 16 when the Second World War broke out. As soon as he turned 18 he joined the RAF, and after training in Arizona for a year, was stationed at Brize Norton.
- The pair in mid air...
He said: “When we got back we were all gearing up to fly Spitfires or Lancasters.”
But weeks after the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944, Mr Sherwood and his fellow pilots were told they would learn to fly troop-carrying Airspeed Horsa gliders, to make up for those lost at Arnhem.
In the Glider Pilot Regiment stationed at RAF Broadwell, near Burford, he was assigned to Operation Plunder in March 1945, the crossing of the River Rhine at Wesel in Germany, part of the successful British invasion.
But his role was cancelled at the last minute when British ground forces took the field he was to help capture.
- ...and a safe landing
Mr Sherwood, who left the air force as a flight sergeant at the end of the war, said: “I was one of the lucky ones”.
After the war, he helped run a farm in Burford, then served as a constable with Thames Valley Police for 25 years in and around Oxford.
Mr Sherwood’s wife of 64 years, Joan, died in October after a long battle with dementia.
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