Silent war-time heroes of the skies
LANCASTER Bombers and Spitfires are long considered the iconic aircraft of Britain’s victory in the Second World War.
But in those same skies another silent symbol played an important role in the fight against Germany – the military glider.
The huge transporters – some of which boasted wingspans of 70 feet – were used to drop infantry, tanks, guns and ammunition behind enemy lines.
One of the brave pilots whose role was to crash land the payload and then try and escape was Peter Davies.
Now aged 92, Peter, from Bollington, has vivid memories of the war.
A ‘boy soldier’ Peter was 17 when war broke out and joined the Royal War- wickshire (Infantry) Regiment, then the Royal Artillery.
But until March 1945, Peter’s role in the war was restricted to home soil.
He said: “Although I didn’t anticipate war breaking out I wasn’t phased by it. At that time it was about serving King and country and doing your bit. Because I was the youngest I was looked after. Because of that I would get away with murder and was always getting into scrapes.
“It’s true to say that because of my age they kept me away from the action for most of the war, but I did my job and worked hard.”
By the time he was 19 Peter was a Bombardier, in charge of a light gun unit of 12 men.
Bored of his role and with the war reaching a climax, Peter volunteered to join the glider pilot unit where he was trained to fly aircraft with wing spans bigger than a Lancaster Bomber.
Then on March 24, 1945, Peter came face to face with the enemy. Alongside nine battalions of the 6th British Airborne Division, together with six from the 17th US Airborne Division, he was involved in the final mass parachute and glider assault of the Second World War.
The aim of Operation Varsity was to drop thousands of men and equipment east of the River Rhine near Wesel to pierce the final physical barrier to a ground advance into Nazi Germany.
Some 1,300 gliders flew into the heart of German defensive fire and suffered heavy casualties. Around 3,000 men were killed during the mission.
Ultimately the operation was successful but at great personal cost to Peter.
He said: “I lost a lot of friends at Arnhem 1944 and at the Rhine in 1945. It was tough.
“One of the most vivid memories I have is watching a tank fall out of the back of a glider with the men sat on its side, and the glider break up in the air. Everyone died. It was a horrible sight.
“I was shot at, lost power and control, and had to make a controlled crash. The nose hit the ground and I was thrown through the window.
“I came to my senses behind enemy lines and under heavy mortar fire. I leapt up and legged it. After an hour of desperately trying to evade the Germans I came across a field where gliders were supposed to land.
“Many didn’t make it. I will never forget seeing so many dead bodies on the ground.”
Peter survived the war and after a long career in the military the greatgrandfather is enjoying his retirement with his wife of 70 years, Gina.
Every year Peter makes the pilgrimage to the Glider Pilot Regiment war memorial at Manchester Airport, where the first trials of gliders were carried out in 1940.
Peter said: “I campaigned and fundraised for that memorial. I am one of the last ones left.
“It’s important I go and remember those who weren’t as lucky as me.”
●● Peter Davies at the Glider Pilot Regiment war memorial and in uniform as a young man
●● One of the Second World War gliders flown by Peter and his comrades