Service Honours Anniversary of Airborne Operation
Soldiers past and present joined together to commemorate the anniversary of the largest airborne operation of the Second World War. Operation Varsity saw 40,000 British and American troops landed by glider and parachute in March 1945 to successfully secure a bridgehead across the River Rhine, opening the way for the advance into Germany.
A service at Earls Colne Airfield in Essex – where some of the aircraft involved took off from – marked the 68th anniversary of the mission and particularly the Glider Pilot Regiment’s involvement. The Regiment, which was disbanded in 1957 and absorbed into the AAC, had 98 pilots killed and 77 wounded on the operation. Of 416 British gliders that took part, only 88 were undamaged.
Soldiers from 16 Air Assault Brigade were on parade, with their maroon berets of Airborne Forces and light blue of the AAC matching the headdress of veterans attending the commemoration. The service included music from the Band of The Parachute Regiment and a flypast by an Apache attack helicopter.
David Brook, who is chairman of the East Anglian branch of the Glider Pilot Regimental Association, suffered shrapnel wounds when the glider he was piloting was hit after it landed near a German artillery position. The 90-year-old said: “The importance of this service is to honour our colleagues who didn’t come back, particularly as the number of veterans left gets less and less each year. It’s wonderful to see so many soldiers on parade and to know that the Army keeps alive the memory of what we achieved on Operation Varsity, which was a massive success.”
4 Regt AAC, based at Wattisham and flies the Apache, organises the annual commemorative event. CO, Lt Col Chris Bisset said: “It is a real privilege for the Regiment to serve as the custodians of the memory of Operation Varsity. It is hugely important that our soldiers have the opportunity to mix with veterans, learn about their experiences and understand the proud history of Airborne Forces. Second World War gliders were made of wood and had crude instrumentation, yet the pilots were still able to deliver their troops where they needed to be on the battlefield. The presence of an Apache helicopter, which is a hugely sophisticated machine, brings out the advance of technology and shows the magnitude of the Glider Pilot Regiment’s wartime achievements.”