Veterans and school pupils gathered in a village churchyard to honour a D-Day hero.

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 invited former soldiers and members of the community to gather at Clifton Hampden church, near Abingdon.

The service was held today in the churchyard of 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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Victoria Campbell, a teacher at Clifton Hampden C of E Primary School, has just visited Pegasus Bridge near Caen in France, and brought pupils to pay their respects to Major Howard.

They talked to Brigadier Robin Draper, the former president of the Oxford Association of the Royal Green Jackets and The Rifles, and one pupil laid a wreath at the grave of Major Howard as the veterans sang the hymn Abide With Me.

(Image: Victoria Campbell) Ms Campbell said: "I have just visited Pegasus Bridge and I thought it was important that the pupils should come along today."

Tom Hamilton-Baillie, new president of the Oxford Association of the Royal Green Jackets, said Major Howard was a "natural gentleman as well as a national hero".

(Image: Andy Ffrench) He added: "Major Howard was an exceptional man and what he passes onto today's soldiers and anybody really is of great value."

The 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.

Major Howard led 2nd Battalion D Company to secure the two vital bridges over the Caen Canal.

(Image: Press Association) Shortly after midnight on June 6, 1944, soldiers landed next to bridges over the river and canal at Benouville, Normandy.

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.

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.

(Image: Andy Ffrench) When mission commander Major Howard transmitted the Ham and Jam code to signal their success it marked the first British objective to be achieved on D-Day.

John Walker, 84, from Oxford, served with the Dragoon Guards, now the Royal Dragoon Guards.

He said: "I met Major Howard at Pegasus Bridge in the 1990s - that was a huge honour."

After the war, Major Howard joined Oxford city police. He retired to Burcot with wife Joy and he died aged 86 in 1999.

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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.

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