Charles joins glider veteran in cockpit during Arnhem commemorations

The Prince of Wales joined a Second World War veteran in the cockpit of a replica glider plane as he toured the southern Netherlands to mark the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden.

Charles sat with 94-year-old Frank Ashleigh at the controls of the Horsa glider on display outside the Airborne Museum Hartenstein near Arnhem on Saturday.

Mr Ashleigh, from London, was a glider pilot during the largest airborne assault in history in September 1944 and survived being captured by the Germans.

During the operation, around 600 gliders landed in the area of Renkum, next to Arnhem, transporting soldiers, vehicles and supplies.

Prince Charles
The replica Horsa has been reconstructed over several years (Steve Parsons/PA)

Members of the Assault Glider Trust have spent more than a decade reconstructing the replica Horsa at the RAF Museum Cosford, Shropshire.

Partially built from original parts, it was transported to the Netherlands to join a host of commemorative events marking the anniversary.

Charles, colonel-in-chief of the Army Air Corps since 1992, met soldiers from 1 Regiment Army Air Corps, who fly the Wildcat helicopter, in a temporary hanger erected for the glider.

Inside the glider cockpit, he played with the plane’s controls, before being joined by Mr Ashleigh who he spoke to for several minutes.

Richard Westmaas, 66, from the Netherlands, the driving force behind the plane’s construction, also showed the prince around the glider.

Frank Ashleigh
Frank Ashleigh meets nine-year-old Lucas van Der Wal during the Operation Market Garden 75th anniversary commemorations (Steve Parsons/PA)

Afterwards, he said: “The whole story getting up to the Netherlands was an amazing story and this is the cherry on the top.

“We just had a short conversation [about] just how exceptional the plane is. The veteran told him the whole of the flight plan he had.

“He took a lot of interest in how the plane was built and how you can fly with it.”

Mr Ashleigh said the replica glider was “perfect”, recalling that the plane had been “beautiful” and “very docile” to fly.

Commenting on Operation Market Garden, he said: “We were told it was going to be a fairly easy operation, it was in fact very tough, we were outnumbered and gunned.”

Arnhem glider
Charles tried out some of the cockpit controls, and was also given a tour of the full aircraft (Steve Parsons/PA)

Mr Ashleigh flew a jeep and two trailers into action, and after they were unloaded he volunteered to go on a scouting mission looking for Germans.

His small group of glider pilots soon found themselves surrounded by the enemy and took shelter in the belfry of a church, where for four days they went without food as they fired upon the German positions.

Mr Ashleigh said that as their ammunition ran low and their numbers dwindled due to injury, the Germans entered the church and called out to them “in perfect English” to surrender.

Remembering the moment he said they called out: “Gentlemen we know you are there, we’ve got men positioned on the stairs above you and below you, there’s no way out, you have five minutes to come down with your hands up or we start throwing grenades.”

Prince Charles
Charles also unveiled a plaque at St Eusebius Church in Arnhem (Steve Parsons/PA)

Mr Ashleigh said he and his fellow soldiers were taken prisoner and later force-marched for 87 miles to prisoner of war camps in Germany in temperatures that fell as low as minus 20C.

Charles received a warm welcome from Dutch citizens as he earlier toured the region around Arnhem, meeting veterans and attending memorial services.

In Arnhem city centre, he visited Eusebius Church, greeting the crowd of several hundred people outside before unveiling a plaque commemorating the church’s renovation.

Inside the church an organist played Handel, one of the prince’s favourite composers, as he met with town dignitaries.

Charles spoke with 24-year-old Bob van der Linde, the youngest employed carillonist in the Netherlands, who rang the bells of the church as the prince arrived.

Prince Charles
The prince bows his head after laying a wreath during the Polish Airborne Commemorative Service in Driel (Arthur Edwards/The Sun/PA)

In 1994, the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem, Charles helped raise funds for the re-casting and re-hanging of the bells in the church tower.

Mr van der Linde said: “He was asking if they were still working as they should.

“I told him they were still ringing every Saturday across the city. He was happy to hear they were still ringing. I used them to welcome him here.”

One local girl, 11-year-old Jorinde Van Regeteren, handed the prince a small gift – postcards of artwork created by local schoolchildren which are on display in the church.

Teacher Bernadette Ten Have, 56, said: “We pass on the stories from the elderly people to the new generation, and that’s important.

“And when people like Prince Charles come, especially to our exhibition, it gives it importance.”

Afterwards, Charles travelled to the nearby town of Driel to attend a memorial service dedicated to the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade who also fought in the operation.

The prince also sat down with three Polish veterans aged in their 90s – Henryk Kybinski, Tad Cisek and Konstanty Staszkiewicz.

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