In the early hours of 6 June 1944 around 7,900 troops from the British 6th Airborne Division landed on the beaches of Normandy to begin the liberation of Europe in the largest amphibious assault ever launched.
Among them were the men from 9th Parachute Battalion (9 PARA). Now, 70 years on, the D-Day veterans of 9 PARA visited Colchester’s Merville Barracks to meet their modern counterparts from 16 Air Assault Brigade. The veterans climbed aboard a Dakota, the aircraft used for the Second World War parachute operations, and watched the troops prepare for a jump to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
Watching the soldiers prepare in the Dakota brought back memories of that day. ‘To see how the current soldiers train for parachuting is very interesting and it’s a lot more thorough than what we did in 1944,’ said Veteran Jeff Pattinson, 90.
Fred Milward, 91, was first in line to jump out of the door. He remembers being absolutely terrified. ‘The sky was pitch black but lit up by the explosions of anti-aircraft fire,’ he explained.
The event saw several hundred British, Canadian, American and French troops descend onto the drop zone used on D-Day, including a freefall display by the Parachute Regiment, accompanied by 87 year old D-Day veteran Jock Hutton.
Hutton celebrated in a unique way by parachuting to the same spot he landed on as an 19 yea -old, this time with a member of the Red Devils strapped to his back for safety.
Wearing a bright red jumpsuit, he touched down lightly on the grass just in front of the waiting Prince Charles, dusted himself down briskly and removed his helmet.
‘I was hoping there’d be some Calvados. At my age, life tends to get a wee bit boring. So you’ve got to grab at any chance at excitement,’ he said.
The achievements of 6th Airborne Division were vital to the success of the invasion and played a key part in building the formidable reputation of British airborne forces.