RAF colonel to parachute into Normandy with veteran’s medals
A Royal Air Force colonel will parachute into Normandy clutching the medals earned by a relative who fought in D-Day 75 years ago.
Andrew Jackson, deputy commander of the Parachute Regiment’s 16 Air Assault Brigade, will be taking part in the drop on Wednesday afternoon.
As he lands in Sannerville, he will be holding the medals earned by 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.
Col Jackson will be one of the first to descend out of a Dakota before two fearless D-Day veterans aged in their 90s follow in a tandem jump later on.
The service medals he will hold, earned by Lt Prince for his part in the campaign and conflict, include the 1939-1945 star, the France and Germany star for the 1944-1945 campaign, defence and victory medals, as well as a general service honour for his work in Palestine.
Speaking from Le Havre Airport in Normandy on Wednesday morning, Col Jackson said: “He came in on D-Day and was wounded in action on June 17.
“I’ve got his medals with me and my father-in-law asked me if I would jump them in 75 years after the owner first arrived here. It’s a real pleasure and honour to do that.
“My wife will be in the drop zone today to see it.
“The opportunity to jump from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Dakota is just something else.
“There are so few left flying and they are so precious.
“Today is all about the veterans who make it what it is within our history.”
Harry Read, 95, and John Hutton, 94, will also take part in the descent to commemorate the anniversary of the landings.
Col Jackson had huge praise for the veterans, saying: “I think it’s pretty brave of them, to say the least.
“It’s a real privilege to have these guys out here.
“As they have got older, fewer and fewer have been able to parachute.”
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.
Mr Hutton – known by his friends as Jock – was 19 when he served in the 13th Lancashire Parachute Battalion.
Among some 280 paratroopers, the pair will board a Dakota aircraft in Duxford, Cambridgeshire, and fly to Sannerville with the Red Devils, where they will perform a tandem jump and land in fields used as a drop zone for the 8th (Midlands) Parachute Battalion, who went on to destroy bridges in a bid to restrict German movements during the missions.
Flight Lieutenant Paul Wise, who will pilot the Dakota leading the fleet of aircraft before dropping the military parachutists, said of the veterans: “It shows the strength, courage, determination, camaraderie – everything we are all about.
“We want to show the next generation what these gentlemen did.”
In true tribute to the circumstances 75 years ago, the weather will still be watched closely and is a big consideration as to whether the drop will take place, he said, adding: “It will be an absolute privilege and highly emotional.
“The heart is going to be pumping a bit.”
Seb Cox, chief historian for the Royal Air Force, said paratroopers played a vital role in Operation Overlord by ensuring the beaches had safe exits for soldiers and also taking hold of all the bridges so they could advance while causing “havoc” for the enemy.
He said: “This caused such a confusion and panic for the Germans.
“If they didn’t hold the bridges, there were barriers preventing them from advancing.
“One of the things people don’t understand about D-Day – they think it’s just about June 1944 and landing craft on the beaches.
“But for the air force, the Battle of Normandy started in March.
“They had already suffered 12,000 casualties by this time (D-Day).”