Veterans will gather at a village churchyard today to pay tribute to a D-Day hero on the 80th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

To mark the anniversary of the allied assault on the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944, the Oxford branch of the Royal Green Jackets Association has invited former soldiers and members of the local community to gather at Clifton Hampden church, near Abingdon.

A service is being held at St Michael and All Angels Church to remember Major John Howard, who devised the daring glider raid on Pegasus Bridge to assist soldiers in the D-Day landings. His grave is in the churchyard.

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Terry Roper, of the Oxford branch of the Royal Green Jackets Association, said people would start gathering at the church about 11.30am for a service shortly after noon.

He said: "Some members of the association won't be there as they have travelled to Pegasus Bridge.

"John Howard is a local hero."

Oxford Mail: Laying a wreath for John HowardThe wreath-laying ceremony for the inspirational leader first took place at the church near Abingdon in 2014, to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

Veterans will gather again to remember the former Oxford city policeman who led 2nd Battalion D Company to secure the two vital bridges over the Caen Canal.

Shortly after midnight on June 6, 1944, soldiers landed next to bridges over the river and canal at Benouville, Normandy, France.

Capturing the two bridges, codenamed Ham and Jam, was a key part of the D-Day operation, as it hampered movement of enemy troops and enable the Allied forces to press forward from the beaches.

Dropping on French soil minutes into D-Day, parachutists and gliders from the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and the Glider Pilot Regiment joined the Royal Engineers, who were towed across the Channel in 28-men Horsa gliders, pulled by bombers, before gliding to their small landing area with pinpoint accuracy from 6,000 feet.

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The bridges were captured after a battle lasting under 15 minutes in which two soldiers were killed and 14 wounded, including Herbert Denham ‘Den’ Brotheridge, who led the troops across and was the first British soldier killed in action in the Normandy campaign.

Oxford Mail: A wreath for Major John HowardWhen mission commander Major John Howard transmitted the Ham and Jam code to signal their success it marked the first British objective to be achieved on D-Day.

Major Howard retired to Burcot near Abingdon after the war with wife Joy and he died aged 86 in 1999.

38 Group RAF, 6th Airborne Division and The Glider Regiment were stationed at RAF Harwell, and flew ahead on the eve of D-Day.

An 80th anniversary commemoration event will be held by Harwell British Legion at the Memorial Stone, at Harwell Campus, at 5.30pm on Saturday, June 8.

The memorial stone stands at the end of the main runway of the former RAF Harwell, from which aircraft took off carrying troops and towing gliders as part of the D-Day operations on June 5.

A fly-past will also take place.

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About the author 

Andy is the Trade and Tourism reporter for the Oxford Mail and you can sign up to his newsletters for free here. 

He joined the team more than 20 years ago and he covers community news across Oxfordshire.

His Trade and Tourism newsletter is released every Saturday morning. 

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