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Tuesday 16 September 2014

A 5,000ft jump at 89? No problem, says Jock at D-Day commemoration

Gordon Rayner and Neil Tweedie

Published 06/06/2014 | 02:30

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A parachute drop near Ranville in Normandy.
Royal Marines take part in a display during a D-Day event in Portsmouth June 5, 2014.  Ceremonies in Portsmouth, the embarkation point of much of the invasion force in June 1944,  marked the 70th Anniversary of D-Day on Thursday.   REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth (BRITAIN - Tags: ANNIVERSARY MILITARY POLITICS)
Royal Marines take part in a display during a D-Day event in Portsmouth. Reuters
Jock Hutton (89) and Colour Sgt Michael Blanchard.

ONE 89-year-old D-Day veteran wound the clock back 70 years yesterday by parachuting into the same field in which he landed during the Normandy invasion.

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Jock Hutton said it was "no problem" to jump from 5,000ft, strapped to a member of the Red Devils parachute display team, landing 30ft from the watching Prince of Wales.

After brushing himself down and putting on his Parachute Regiment beret to go with his borrowed Red Devils jumpsuit, he joked: "At my age, life tends to get a little bit boring, so you've got to grab any chance of excitement you can."

Asked if he had found the experience frightening, he said: "Once I stuck my head out the door and I got a heave from the back I was away. During my lifetime I have never been terrified. I'm just a vicious little Scotsman."

Told that he and his tandem jump partner, Colour Sergeant Billy Blanchard, had landed closer to the 'X' target marker than several of the young, full-time Red Devils, Mr Hutton said with a twinkle in his eye: "Aye, that's experience."

Mr Hutton, from Bridge of Weir, near Glasgow, was a 19-year old when he jumped into the same field on the outskirts of Ranville, which his regiment had been ordered to take on June 6, 1944.

"It was dark, obviously, raining slightly and the moon was bursting out of the clouds, so I had quite a cushy jump," he recalled.

Mr Hutton, one of the last survivors of his regiment's jump on D-Day, joined the Black Watch in 1939 before transferring to 13 Bn, The Parachute Regiment.

He said: "We were jammed in and really it was a bloody pleasure to get out of the aircraft after the discomfort and so on.

"It was a wee bit difficult in the dark, moving around, trying to speak quietly, and meantime there's machine guns blasting. The 13th Bn was a highly jacked-up unit. We were extremely fit. We were all young and we were full of fight."

At the going down of the sun last night, veterans were remembered, the scale of their sacrifice symbolised by a mass of Union flags fluttering in the breeze on Gold beach, Normandy.

Cyril Ager, an 89-year-old former Royal Engineers sapper who landed on the beach at 7am on D-Day 70 years ago today, stood to attention as he surveyed the 22,000 flags planted at the quiet resort of Asnelles.

Each of them carried a message to those who took part in the greatest amphibious assault in history. Most were simple expressions of thanks from strangers, but some were very personal, to relations who had failed to return.

"My dad was killed on 21st June and my thoughts are with him," wrote one. Another paid tribute to Jack Hornby, a veteran who died a week short of his 90th birthday on April 22 this year.

The flags, which were planted by the Royal British Legion, roughly equate to one flag for each British soldier killed on D-Day and in the days that followed. Some 17,769 of the men are buried in military cemeteries in Normandy.

Mr Ager, from Sunbury-on-Thames in Surrey, was on Gold beach on the first of two days of official commemorations, for which 650 British veterans of the invasion force have made the journey to Normandy.

When he landed on the beach in 1944, he was a 19-year-old sapper with the Royal Engineers and had the job of ensuring vehicles and heavy equipment could get off the beach.

"My first night I came up the beach and saw this heap of blankets and a load of people laid along the beach," he said.

"I just grabbed a blanket and got myself off to sleep and in the morning I pulled my blanket off and asked someone where I could get breakfast.

"I think the bloke got a terrible shock because I was the only one that got up, all the others were bodies that had been laid out. I thought they were all asleep."

The commemorations started at Pegasus Bridge near Ranville, where the action began on D-Day as 181 soldiers landed in gliders next to the bridge at 12.16am to secure the easternmost flank of the landing beaches.

The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, which took the bridge with the loss of just two men, were the first to be honoured, at a brief ceremony. Wreaths were laid and a handful of surviving veterans observed a minute's silence after a bugler played the Last Post.

None of the men who captured the bridge are still alive, but George Talbot (91) was a 21-year-old private in the Ox and Bucks who landed in a glider at 9pm on D-Day as part of a force sent to relieve Major John Howard and his men.

"I haven't been back here for about nine years, but this commemoration is incredibly important," he said. "It's history and it's history dying if no one knows about it."

Alex Reith (92), a staff sergeant who landed at Ranville at around the same time as Mr Talbot, had come from his home near Durban in South Africa for his first visit to Normandy since 1944.

He said: "I joined the South African Air Force Association a few years ago and when they realised I was their only member who had landed on D-Day they offered to raise some money to send me over here.

"I have never been to any of the other commemorations and I don't think I will be around for the 75th, so I thought I'd better come this time."

The ranks of the Normandy veterans are thinning. Seven decades on, the youngest are in their late eighties. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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