(Translated from the original Dutch article on Renkum Nieuws NL available here)
Three veterans of the Glider Pilot Regiment are coming to Arnhem and Renkum for the commemorations and will fly gliders in Dutch skies once again.
On 15th September, weather permitting, they will land on the Renkum Heath.
September 17, 1944
The first wave of Airborne troops arrived on 17th September, 1944. Among these soldiers were the legendary glider pilots of the Glider Pilot Regiment. Flying in huge gliders they transported countless soldiers, many vehicles, guns, weapons and other important equipment directly into enemy occupied territory.
This year, 73 years later, a group of these veterans, who are all in their 90s, will take part in a glider flight over the area which they fought so hard to liberate in 1944.
Frank volunteered for the army at 18 years of age. After going through the intense training required to become a Glider Pilot, he was assigned to ‘A’ Squadron as second pilot to Bernard 'Lofty' Cummins. On 18th September 1944, they took off as part of the 2nd lift of Operation Market Garden with a Jeep, a trailer of equipment and four soldiers in their Horsa Glider.
The landing went perfectly. The next day, he and Lofty were separated. It was not long after that Frank, together with three other pilots, found themselves in the Bernulphus Church in Oosterbeek, surrounded by Germans. From there they fired at the Germans who, due to the British pilot’s concealed position, could not work out where the shots came from.
They were there for three days until the 22nd, when they were discovered and captured. Frank later discovered that Lofty died that same day.
Denzil was part of ‘B’ Squadron of the Glider Pilot Regiment. He was 2nd pilot to Squadron Sergeant Major Bill Watt and together they participated in D-Day, 6th June, 1944. Within two days they returned to England, ready for the next operation, but they had to wait until September 1944.
Together they took off on 17th September bound for Arnhem. In their glider they carried a jeep, a trailer, a motorcycle and 6 men from the 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment.
Denzil fought for nine days in the vicinity of Oosterbeek. On 25th September, he received the order withdraw back over the Rhine. For his part in D-Day he was awarded France’s highest award, the Légion d'Honneur, during the commemorations in France this June.
Roy did his flight training with Frank Ashleigh. However, while Frank was taking part in Operation Market Garden, Roy was lying injured in a hospital due to an earlier accident. This is his first trip to Arnhem, to see his comrades who fell during the battle.
Frank was captured and survived the war, yet Frank and Roy they have not seen each other since their training days. That they can now take part of this historic flight and be reunited after nearly 74 years makes this a truly special occasion.
Gelderse Gliding Club
The flights have been made possible thanks to the Gelderse Gliding Club, using their modern sailplanes and most experienced pilots. The veterans now have the opportunity to fly over the Arnhem and Oosterbeek area, this time in peace, and land at the same landing zone where hundreds of military gliders landed 73 years ago.
This time they will not welcomed by enemy fire, but by the local, free people who are still grateful to them.
The glider flights will be coordinated with the parachute drops of Pathfinder Parachute Group, and will make for a memorable day. The parachutists will dropped from a Dakota plane and will also make a number of tandem jumps from high altitude.
Dr David Pasley, secretary of The Glider Pilot Regiment Society, said: "The trip is primarily about remembrance of those who never returned from the battle and gives our veterans a chance to pay their respects to the friends and comrades who were lost. However, it is also about showing our respect for the achievements of these men and to be able to afford them the chance to fly again is an honour for all involved. We are extremely grateful to all of our members, friends and sponsors who made this trip happen."
The Glider Pilot Regiment
The Glider Pilots had their own Regimental Association until last year, but with the declining number of veterans and a lack of support they were forced to wind it down. The children and grandchildren of these men wanted to keep the memory of the Regiment alive and, at the same time, create a support network for the veterans who are still with us.
In January of this year, they formed a new civilian society; The Glider Pilot Regiment Society (GPRS). It gives family members free access to research and keeps the memory of the glider pilots and their regiment alive. In addition, they organise events in the UK and visit commemorations in other countries.
With the help of the Society’s growing number of members and friends, the generous sponsorship of KLM Airlines and DAX Touring Vans for the veteran’s travel to and around the Netherlands, and the Postillion Hotel Arnhem for providing accommodation, it has allowed the Society to help this group of veterans to come to Arnhem and Renkum for the commemorations.
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