6, 1944, was D-Day when hundreds of thousands of British, US
and Canadian troops invaded Normandy to liberate occupied France.
Among them was
Alf Wilson (right) of Bloxwich, a glider pilot, delivering a group
of soldiers into a Normandy meadow. He recalls his part in one of
the most important days of the 20th century:
"We all knew
it was dangerous. We knew they always aimed for the pilot. Kill
the pilot and you've killed the glider.
"You felt pride
in your regiment and pride in your army. But it was what you trained
for and what you got paid for. We trained very hard in the Glider
Pilot Regiment. By the time we finished training I could land my
glider on a sixpence - and it was huge, with an 88-foot wingspan.
in Adelaide street Brierley Hill after a Halifax bomber crashed
there in 1944
"My job on D-Day
was to land my Horsa glider near the River Orne, inland from the
invasion beaches in Normandy. We were towed from Brize Norton by
a Halifax bomber. We cast off higher than I expected and I headed
straight for the city of Caen, trying to lose speed and height.
But there was a burst of ack-ack fire and it made a hole in the
"I looked for
somewhere to land. There were dozens of gliders already on the ground
but I saw a spot and I was hedge-hopping towards it when suddenly
there was one hell of a bang. Another Horsa had crashed into us
from above. Hell of a bang.
"It was hinged
in the middle and as it shot past I could see it beginning to open
up. Thankfully, we both got down without any injuries.
"I was carrying
a gun team and they unloaded. I made my way back to the invasion
beaches. On the beach there were lines of British dead. I walked
past to see if I knew anyone but I didn't."
All the big
plans failed, but it could have been different'
Eric Brady of
Penkridge has researched a litle-known escape by German prisoners-of-War
from Camp 194 at Penkridge. This is his account:
1944 the general feeling was that the Second World War would soon
be over. But the Prisoners-of-War in Camp 194 in Penkridge, close
by the Wolverhampton-Stafford road, had other ideas.
were still convinced that, somehow, they would still win the war.
The reports of German reverses broadcast over the Camp loudspeakers
were dismissed as lying British propaganda.
them to plan escapes were rumours that there was a Plan' to co-ordinate
them into something bigger. There was a plan for the mass escapes
to capture weapons (including tanks and possibly planes) to link
up as far north as Oldham and then swing southwards to attack London.
Penkridge would have been on their route.
the hardliners' determination to escape increased, fed by the news
over their illicit radios of the initial successes of the Ardennes
"Under the cover
of thick fog and noise created by other prisoners, 13 men slipped
out of the huts, met by the wire and cut through it. They scattered
in twos and threes. Not knowing how far they had got, the rest kept
up the noise .
"The duty officer,
well used to noisy POWs, wasn't worried at first, but as it went
on he sent a squad of armed guards to make a hut-by-hut search.
"In spite of
the obstruction given, they found 13 men had gone. Two were quickly
recaptured in Wolverhampton, two more in Walsall, six in Derby and
two in Liverpool. One disappeared and, apparently, had not been
heard of again. "The morning after the escape a Luftwaffe officer
led a mass escape attempt. Some armed with coal shovels, the POWs
surged towards the gate. Halt,' bellowed the sergeant-major in command
of the guards there. The order was ignored.
"They were only
yards away when the sergeant-major levelled his Sten-gun to chest
height. Prepare to fire,' he ordered the guards quietly.
their rifles at chests. There were going to be no warning shots
over heads. When I order - fire,' he shouted loudly, for all the
PoWs to hear. Facing the unwavering guns the advance slowed and
"Get back to
work,' snapped the sergeant-major. They did. Despite the escape
failures and then the collapse of the Ardennes offensive, the POWs
were determined to try again. This time through a tunnel. And for
100 of them to go. For months they dug, aiming to go during Easter
"But early on
Easter Sunday the guards moved into Hut 4 again, going straight
to the tunnel entrance under a bed.
"With only a
couple of feet left to dig, the plan had been to break out that
same night. All the big plans had failed. The Ardennes offensive,
the mass escape by POWs, the attack on London. But so easily, so
much could have been different."
had I seen such intense firepower' Some
official records claim that the US 82nd Airborne Division seized
the crucial bridge at Nijmegen in the ill-fated battle for Arnhem
in northern Holland. Not so, says former Grenadier Guardsman Jack
Pritchard of Willenhall.
The bridge fell
to a troop of tanks of two Grenadier battalions, a feat now recorded
on a plaque at the scene. He recalls:
the Americans captured the bridge? Why did they give us the false
information that the equipment for blowing the bridge was in the
post office? Were they planning to blow the bridge themselves from
that position, to save their own troops in case the German annihilated
the British at Arnhem?
"The tank of
Lieutenant Prescott spearheaded our attack.
"Never in my
experience of previous battles, had I seen such intense firepower
as there was on the streets of Nijmegen that day.
we came to the bridge, the more resolute became the opposition.
"My luck ran
out. The force of the bullets hitting my legs and right arm flung
me headlong through an open doorway, my Tommy-gun spinning to the
other side of the room.
"It was some
time later, and with great difficulty, that I was able to struggle
to one foot. I was stretchered on to a Dakota aircraft and flow
to Brize Norton in England.
operations in the military hospital at Stratford-upon-Avon for the
extraction of scraps of German metal from my arm and leg, I was
finally allowed out of bed.
"On the day
I was permitted out of hospital for the first time, with the help
of an orderly, I made my way to the banks of the River Avon.
"It was here
that, one at a time, I threw 30 rounds of Tommy-gun ammunition into
the flowing waters. It was a symbolic gesture, for never again was
I to handle lethal ammunition."
Pritchard's book, From Dunkirk to Nijmegen (Force & Corporate).
News in brief:
a visit to Wolverhampton School of Art in July, top designer Norman
Hartnell predicted that women would soon be wearing clothes made
from parachute silk.
Major General Sir Donald Banks was revealed as the man responsible
for the latest flame throwers used by British troops.
A Cannock man
was fined under the Official Secrets Act for showing classified
items to his chums.