300 D-Day veterans gather in Portsmouth 75 years later

The only surviving member of the unit behind the daring Pegasus Bridge operation which paved the way for the D-Day landings today paid an emotional tribute to his fallen comrades.

Reg Charles, 96, is the last surviving member of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry which helped to secure two key bridges in Normandy, just hours before the Allied beach assault on June 6, 1944.

Some 18 men died in the raid codenamed Operation Deadstick, which aimed to land six Horsa gliders near two small bridges over the River Orne and Caen Canal in northern France, capturing them from the Germans. 

British D-Day veteran Reg Charles, 96, salutes during a memorial ceremony at the Pegasus Bridge Museum in Caen today

British D-Day veteran Reg Charles, 96, salutes during a memorial ceremony at the Pegasus Bridge Museum in Caen today

Mr Charles, the last surviving member of the glider assault unit on Pegasus Bridge, is embraced by singer Emma Brown today

Mr Charles, the last surviving member of the glider assault unit on Pegasus Bridge, is embraced by singer Emma Brown today

He is the last surviving member of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry which helped to secure the bridges

He is the last surviving member of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry which helped to secure the bridges

Troops cross Pegasus Bridge in northern France in 1944 following the raid which was codenamed Operation Deadstick

Troops cross Pegasus Bridge in northern France in 1944 following the raid which was codenamed Operation Deadstick

The gliders crash-landed just yards from the bridge at Benouville, now known as Pegasus Bridge, early on D-Day in June 1944

The gliders crash-landed just yards from the bridge at Benouville, now known as Pegasus Bridge, early on D-Day in June 1944

Mr Charles, who lives in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, arrived a few days after the glider invasion itself, but is the last surviving member of the unit. Today, he proudly saluted during a ceremony at the Pegasus Bridge Museum.

The last surviving officer to have actually served in the operation – which has been hailed as 'the single most important ten minutes of the war' - was Colonel David Wood, who died in 2009 aged 85.

Pegasus Bridge: Crucial raid by six gliders in the hours before D-Day

The objective of the raid codenamed Operation Deadstick was to land six Horsa gliders near two small bridges over the River Orne and Caen Canal, capturing them from the Germans.

Holding them would stop German tanks reaching the beaches on France's Normandy coast where Allied troops would land the next morning.

Some 380 British soldiers faced the Nazis' 21st Panzer Division, which had 12,350 men in the area, 127 tanks and 40 self-propelled guns.

At 12.16am on D-Day the gliders crash-landed just yards from the bridge at Benouville, now known as Pegasus Bridge after the 7th Parachute Battalion's winged horse insignia, carrying troops from D Company, 2nd Ox and Bucks Light Infantry.

They were later reinforced by the Paras' 7th Battalion. After a short firefight both bridges were taken.

It has been hailed as 'the single most important ten minutes of the war' and featured prominently in the 1962 movie 'The Longest Day'.

Other veterans today spoke of their pride at attending the D-Day 75th anniversary event in Portsmouth along with world leaders, describing it as an emotional chance to remember their comrades who did not return.

The 300 veterans were joined by more than 4,000 personnel involved in D-Day events in the UK and France today in what is one of the biggest mobilisations of the UK Armed Forces in recent history. 

The memorial in Portsmouth featured an hour-long production telling the story of the invasion and a spectacular flypast by RAF warplanes past and present, including a display by the Red Arrows and Spitfires.  

Other events included a ceremony at Pegasus Bridge in France - the scene of a 15-minute skirmish to take hold of the pathways over the Caen Canal and River Orne, and one of the first places British troops liberated on D-Day.

This was attended by D-Day veterans including Reg Charles, 96, the last surviving member of a heroic glider assault on the bridge. 

The event also saw four veterans receive the Legion d'Honneur - radio operator Marie Scott, 92, RAF flight lieutenant Donald Mason, 98, Alfred Nutbein, 93, and Len Trewin, of 8th Battalion, Parachute Regiment.

This afternoon, veterans Harry Read, 95, and John Hutton, 94, will parachute into Normandy in honour of comrades they lost when they first made the descent 75 years ago onto fields at Sannerville. 

They will follow US Second World War paratrooper veteran Tom Rice, 97, who served with the 101st Airbone, who landed safely today following a commemorative parachute jump over Carentan on the Normandy coast. 

A veteran wipes his eyes during the ceremony in Portsmouth this morning to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day

A veteran wipes his eyes during the ceremony in Portsmouth this morning to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day

Veterans who survived D-Day were guests of honour at today's commemorations in Portsmouth attended by world leaders

Veterans who survived D-Day were guests of honour at today's commemorations in Portsmouth attended by world leaders

US Second World War paratrooper veteran Tom Rice, 97, from 101st Airbone, lands following a jump over Carentan today

US Second World War paratrooper veteran Tom Rice, 97, from 101st Airbone, lands following a jump over Carentan today

Mr Rice smiles as he is applauded after taking part in the parachute drop over Carentan in north-western France this morning

Mr Rice smiles as he is applauded after taking part in the parachute drop over Carentan in north-western France this morning

A veteran of the 6th Airborne Division puts his head in his hands during a ceremony at Pegasus Bridge in France today

A veteran of the 6th Airborne Division puts his head in his hands during a ceremony at Pegasus Bridge in France today

D-Day veteran Donald Mason salutes after being awarded the Legion d'Honneur medal near Pegasus Bridge in France today

D-Day veteran Donald Mason salutes after being awarded the Legion d'Honneur medal near Pegasus Bridge in France today

Mr Mason is awarded the Legion d'Honneur medal this morning as countries commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day

Mr Mason is awarded the Legion d'Honneur medal this morning as countries commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day

The Portsmouth memorial today featured a flypast by RAF warplanes past and present, including a display by the Red Arrows

The Portsmouth memorial today featured a flypast by RAF warplanes past and present, including a display by the Red Arrows

The Red Arrows flypast takes place, watched by attendees of the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Portsmouth today

The Red Arrows flypast takes place, watched by attendees of the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Portsmouth today

The Red Arrows fly over Portsmouth in 9 Arrow Formation in Portsmouth today. This photo was taken from Red 8's aircraft

The Red Arrows fly over Portsmouth in 9 Arrow Formation in Portsmouth today. This photo was taken from Red 8's aircraft

A US Lockheed C-130 Hercules airplane and Boeing-Bell V-22 Osprey aircraft fly over Carentan in Normandy today

A US Lockheed C-130 Hercules airplane and Boeing-Bell V-22 Osprey aircraft fly over Carentan in Normandy today

In Portsmouth, Sergeant John Jenkins, 99, did a reading at the National Commemorative Event attended by the Queen, US President Donald , Prime Minister Theresa May and leaders of other involved nations. 

The veteran received a standing ovation from the President and the Queen as he led tributes.  Mr Jenkins, who is from Portsmouth, was serving with the Pioneer Corps on D-Day and landed on Gold Beach on June 8 in 1944. 

He said: 'Obviously I will think of all my mates that didn't come back. I can't say any particular one because we were all comrades together, that was the thing. We were all comrades together and that's what carries us through.

'The comradeship was really something quite marvellous.' Mr Jenkins said he felt 'overwhelmed' to be at the service and to be chosen to do a reading. 'It is something that will last in my memory for a long time,' he said. 

Royal Navy Hawk T1 aircraft take part in the flypast over Portsmouth today, as pictured from the public viewing area

Royal Navy Hawk T1 aircraft take part in the flypast over Portsmouth today, as pictured from the public viewing area

Royal Navy helicopters also take part in the flypast over the D-Day commemoration service in Portsmouth today

Royal Navy helicopters also take part in the flypast over the D-Day commemoration service in Portsmouth today

An RAF Spitfire (top) and Hurricane (bottom) take part in the flypast over Portsmouth for the world leaders to view today

An RAF Spitfire (top) and Hurricane (bottom) take part in the flypast over Portsmouth for the world leaders to view today

A Royal Air Force Voyager plane in the flypast over Portsmouth today, performed for veterans, world leaders and the public

A Royal Air Force Voyager plane in the flypast over Portsmouth today, performed for veterans, world leaders and the public

D-Day veteran John Jenkins (pictured above) on stage at the commemorations at Southsea Common in Portsmouth today

D-Day veteran John Jenkins (pictured above) on stage at the commemorations at Southsea Common in Portsmouth today

As Mr Jenkins gave his speech in Portsmouth today, he was given a standing ovation by both the Queen and the President

As Mr Jenkins gave his speech in Portsmouth today, he was given a standing ovation by both the Queen and the President

Mr Jenkins, pictured on stage, had previously said that his message to the next generation was for there to be no more wars

Mr Jenkins, pictured on stage, had previously said that his message to the next generation was for there to be no more wars

A French army general shakes hands with a British D-Day veteran during a ceremony near Pegasus Bridge in France today

A French army general shakes hands with a British D-Day veteran during a ceremony near Pegasus Bridge in France today

US veteran paratrooper Vincent Speranza attends a parachute drop from seven C-47 aircraft over Carentan in France today

US veteran paratrooper Vincent Speranza attends a parachute drop from seven C-47 aircraft over Carentan in France today

A British Second World War D-Day veteran takes pictures with a camera during a ceremony near Pegasus Bridge today

A British Second World War D-Day veteran takes pictures with a camera during a ceremony near Pegasus Bridge today

He added: 'I was terrified. I think everyone was - you don't show it, but it's there. I look back on it as a big part of my life, it changed me in a way - but I was just a small part in a very big machine.  

A collection of Dakotas that dropped paratrooper heroes on D-Day flew from Duxford in Cambridgeshire from 1.40pm

A collection of Dakotas that dropped paratrooper heroes on D-Day flew from Duxford in Cambridgeshire from 1.40pm

'You never forget your comrades because we were all in there together. It's right that the courage and sacrifice of so many veterans is being honoured 75 years on.

'We must never forget - thank you.' His words moved many other veterans and attendees to tears during the service.'

After the war Mr Jenkins worked as a bus driver then as a crane operator at the Portsmouth naval base. 

Proud of his country and being a dedicated to his service, he went on to serve in the Territorial Army for many years, rising to the rank of Company Sergeant Major.

He is a lifelong Portsmouth fan

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