ONE of Britain’s greatest war heroes, who led the daring raid to capture Pegasus Bridge on D-Day, is to be remembered at a wreath-laying ceremony.
The ceremony on Friday, the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Landings, has been organised by the Oxford branch of The Royal Green Jackets Association, to honour Major John Howard who died aged 86 in 1999. He retired to Burcot near Abingdon after the war with his wife Joy, and is buried at St Michael and All Angels Church in Clifton Hampden.
The Normandy landing
The early hours of June, 6 1944 saw 180 troops of the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry, from the 6th Airborne Division, commanded by Major Howard, capture the River Orne bridge at Ranville and the bridge across the Caen Canal at Bénouville – later re-named Pegasus Bridge in honour of the troops who wore the Pegasus insignia on jackets .
Taking the Germans by surprise by landing in Horsa gliders just metres from their targets at 16 minutes past midnight, they then held the bridge until relieved later that day by troops making their way inland from the Normandy beaches.
Mike Marr, treasurer of the Oxford branch of the Royal Green Jackets Association, said: “Taking Pegasus Bridge was crucial for the D-Day Landings – had they not done so it would have been an avenue for the German army to come across.
“The ceremony will be a fitting tribute to Major Howard, on this 70th anniversary.
Maj Howard leading the 2nd Battalion past a saluting base in St Giles, Oxford, during a parade just before the June 6, 1944, assault
“We are proud that a company of the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry, commanded by Major Howard, was the first in on D-Day and seized Pegasus Bridge, an act that was so important to the success of the landings.”
Major Howard was awarded the DSO and the Croix de Guerre avec Palme.
His story was immortalised in the film The Longest Day, in which he was played by Richard Todd.
The wreath will be laid at Major Howard’s grave by his cousin, Derek Chivers, and a ceremony will be conducted by the Rev Anne Ilsley.
A wreath will also be laid in memory of those who died in the two world wars.
Ingram Murray, 77, a former Colonel in the Royal Engineers, is secretary of the Friends of The Ox and Bucks Light Infantry, and a volunteer at the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock.
Ingram Murray, left, and David Innes of the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum at Woodstock with a collapsible bike that was dropped with the Ox and Bucks troops
He will also attend the service for Major Howard saying: “The museum is due to open to the public on Sunday, June 15, and we have been gathering together D-Day-related artefacts from the collection, including a collapsible bicycle and a section of a Horsa glider.”
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