South West Region


A contribution authored by and photographs copyright of Andrew Wright, Wareham

The brother of a brave soldier who led a vital and dangerous mission to Normandy just minutes into 'D-Day' 1944,  joined 300 people for a poignant commemorative service at the former RAF Tarrant Rushton Airfield from which the Army officer flew in a wooden Horsa glider 70 years ago. Major John Howard led the men of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry who flew in six gliders from their base at Tarrant Rushton, between Wimborne and Blandford, to seize important bridges over the Orne river and the neighbouring Caen canal just 20 minutes into 06 June 1944. The top secret operation, codenamed 'Operation Coup de Main', was vital because the troops had to seize two bridges in order to stop German re-enforcements from being sent to counter the allied forces attack on the Normandy beaches, the largest and most daring maritime invasion in history. On Sunday 08 June 2014, 82-year-old Roy Howard, the youngest brother of the late Major John Howard attended a poignant service by the former airfield's entrance gate, in the shadow of one of its original hangars, to remember the three dangerous 'D-Day' operations flown from Tarrant Rushton by Halifax tug crews and glider pilots. RAFA140608~TarrantRushton58A~RoyHoward#AndrewWright Members of the public, including the children and grand-children of veterans who served at the former top secret Royal Air Force base, took part in the gathering above the village of Tarrant Rushton attended by principal guest and reviewing officer, Wing Commander Shane Powley, Chief of Staff for the tri-service Headquarters Defence School of Communications and Information Systems, based at Blandford Camp. The service was conducted by Reverend David Dennis and Wing Commander Powley was invited to review the various organisations present under the direction of Parade Marshall Spencer Hare. Featuring two hymns, a Bible reading and an address by service organiser Flight Lieutenant Dennis Hart, the service included prayers, the playing of the Last Post, a two minute's silence and the playing of the Reveille.  After the act of remembrance, the laying of wreaths at the former airfield's stone memorial and reciting the 'Kohima Epitaph',  the Reverend David Dennis gave the blessing. A similar moving service first took place at the airfield's memorial, shortly after the large airfield closed and was demolished back in 1982. RAFA140608~TarrantRushton01#AndrewWright After the memorial service, a delighted Dennis said: "It was a wonderful and very uplifting occasion, very moving and poignant, and the weather was perfect with blue skies, sunshine and a gentle breeze." "It was great to see so many people, both old and young, at the service, many of which were the children and grand-children of people who served at Tarrant Rushton during its Royal Air Force days, during the airfield's Flight Refuelling period, as well as current Air cadets from several local squadrons. Tarrant Rushton airfield was built for the training Halifax bomber crews in the dangerous towing of wooden troop-carrying Horsa and tank-carrying Hamilcar gliders.  As well as the springboard for 'Operation Coup de Main' late in the evening of Monday 05 June, 1944, Halifax bomber tugs from Tarrant Rushton airfield also towed two waves of troop-carrying Horsa gliders and tank-carrying Hamilcar gliders over to Normandy on 'D-Day' itself: 'Operation Tonga' and 'Operation Mallard'.  Months later, the field aircrews and soldiers supported the invasion of Arnhem in Holland during September, 1944, and the crossing of the Rhine into Germany in March, 1945. RAFA140608~TarrantRushton06#AndrewWright RAFA140608~TarrantRushton30#AndrewWright Donations in memory and recognition of those who served at Tarrant Rushton during the Second World War can be made to the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund's Wings Appeal. ENDS     Photographs: copyright Andrew Wright, Wareham. RAFA140608~TarrantRushton46#AndrewWright RAFA140608~TarrantRushton51#AndrewWright

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