A 95-year-old veteran said it was “wonderful in every way” to be able to parachute into Normandy 75 years after he did so for D-Day.
Harry Read took part in a tandem jump with the Red Devils after a display of some 280 parachutists in Sannerville on Wednesday afternoon.
Mr Read and John Hutton, 94, took off from Duxford in Cambridgeshire and flew over to France, landing in fields overlooked by poppies which was the original drop zone for the 8th (Midlands) Parachute Battalion, who went on to destroy bridges in a bid to restrict German movements during the missions.
They were the first two out of a Cessna aircraft at between 800ft and 1,000ft followed by a 5,000 sq ft Union Flag.
But their jump was in danger of being cancelled after being fraught with delays and technical difficulties when there was a problem with civilian Dakota aircraft “availability”.
When another aircraft was found it was a race against time to get into French airspace in time in order to get clearance from the authorities to land.
Now a retired Salvation Army officer living in Bournemouth, Dorset, Mr Read was a 20-year-old wireless operator with the Royal Signals who had a battery the size and weight of a toolbox strapped to his right leg when he was pushed out of the plane in the early hours of June 6 1944.
He told reporters afterwards: “I feel good. My health is good and my mind is still ticking away very nicely.
“I thought the jump was brilliant. I just had thoughts of anticipation after looking forward to it.
“Everything is worth the wait. The jump was wonderful in every way.
“I couldn’t believe the drop was going to be postponed in any way because I had his assurance from God.
“If that had happened I was going to be examining my faith.
“I don’t think I’ll do another jump again.”
Mr Hutton – known by his friends as Jock who was 19 when he served in the 13th Lancashire Parachute Battalion – said it was “great to be back on French soil”.
He said: “It’s such a relief to get the 75th out of the way.”
However, the former paratrooper said he was concerned the jump would not go ahead.
He said: “We were looking out of the window all the mist was coming in.
“All this bloody way and we’re not going to get out of the aircraft!”
However Mr Hutton, who thinks “he should have more sense at 94”, said the landing was not as smooth as he had hoped, as he joked about a sore backside after he “landed on a bunch of boulders”.
Reflecting on his jump in 1944, Mr Hutton said: “I enjoyed the fall, I had done a lot of free falling.
“But [the French] thought that we were German soldiers on exercise.”
Royal Air Force Colonel Andrew Jackson, Deputy Commander of the Parachute Regiment’s 16 Air Assault Brigade, parachuted in clutching the medals earned by a relative who fought in D-Day 75 years ago.
As he landed in Sannerville, he had with him the medals of his wife Kate’s great-uncle Lieutenant Richard Prince – who jumped in on D-Day as part of the 7th (Light Infantry) Parachute Battalion.
The unit was tasked with relieving the glider troops who captured Pegasus Bridge but he was injured a few days into the campaign and later served in Palestine and Malaya after the end of the Second World War.
After the jump, Col Jackson said he pictured the bravery and efforts of those fighting on D-Day as the aircraft flew over.
He said: “It was really emotional actually.
“As we flew over the coast I was thinking it was the first time this had been done and it is really special.
“Seeing how many people were watching was quite humbling.”
D-Day veteran John Eden, 94, who lives in Lancashire, watched the parachute drop after missing out of jumping out of a glider as part of his role on June 6 1944 with the 12th Devonshire Regiment.
The plan was abandoned at the last minute and they were sent over on landing craft instead.
He said: “I was little sad not to get the chance. It was great to watch them today and celebrate the success of D-Day and to remember those who died.”
The first parachutist out was Brigadier John Clark, commander of the British Army’s 16 Air Assault Brigade.
He said: “Having been up there I can pay testament to the skill of the pilot and the bravery of those who jumped out.
“It was a real privilege for me to do that and reflect on the bravery of those who fought for freedom on this soil.”