VETERANS will gather today to pay tribute to Major John Howard, who masterminded the daring glider raid on Pegasus Bridge for soldiers in the D-Day landings.

The wreath-laying ceremony for Major Howard, at his grave in Clifton Hampden, near Abingdon, first took place in 2014 to mark the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944.

Major Howard retired to Burcot near Abingdon after the war with his wife Joy, and following his death, aged 86 in 1999, was buried at St Michael and All Angels Church in Clifton Hampden.

Veterans from the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry will gather for the fourth year running, at St Michael and All Angels Church, to remember the former Oxford city policeman who led 2nd Battalion D Company to secure two bridges over the Caen Canal.

Wreaths will be laid by the Oxford branch of the Royal Green Jackets Association, at Major Howard’s grave and a service will be conducted at the graveside.

Terry Roper, chairman of the Oxford branch of the association, said: "The action at Pegasus Bridge was vital because it denied the German army a route to threaten the beach landings.

"By gathering here each year we will never forget the sacrifice made by the allied forces."

Mr Roper said he hoped 'one or two' D-Day veterans would attend the service, which takes place at noon in the churchyard.

He added: "If D-Day veterans can't attend themselves others will join together to remember their bravery.

"John Howard was an inspirational leader and the glider landings closed off a crucial route for German reinforcements.

"It could have gone badly wrong but it was brilliantly executed by the soldiers, and the pilots who flew the gliders."

Mr Roper said Brigadier Robin Draper, president of the Oxford branch of the Royal Green Jackets Association, will address those gathered at the churchyard.

The early hours of June, 6 1944 saw 180 troops of the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry, from the 6th Airborne Division, commanded by Major Howard, capture the River Orne bridge at Ranville and the bridge across the Caen Canal at Bénouville – later renamed Pegasus Bridge in honour of the troops who wore the Pegasus insignia on their jackets.

Taking the Germans by surprise by landing in Horsa gliders just metres from their targets at 16 minutes past midnight, they then held the bridge until relieved later that day by troops making their way inland from the Normandy beaches.

One of the veterans who attended last year was Frank Hall, 93, from Stonesfield, near Witney.

He was a private in the 52nd battalion, Ox and Bucks Light Infantry regiment and arrived on Sword Beach shortly after John Howard’s men secured the bridges.

He said at the time: "I think I’m the only D-Day veteran here – I’m glad I could make it to represent the others who couldn’t be here today."