Silent war-time he­roes of the skies

Macclesfield Express - - CHARITY ROUND-UP - STU­ART GREER

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

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