Tuesday 9th May 2023
Welsh RAF reservists returning from Normandy have told of their emotion at seeing the beaches where their grandparents landed and discovering connections with D-Day.
The reservists were part of a Staff Ride from Cardiff-based Number 614 (County of Glamorgan) Squadron in late April, where they visited the D-Day invasion beaches and battlefields of Normandy to find out about the sacrifices made by the those who fought there.
It was the first trip of its kind for the squadron and its reservists from different professions within the RAF came together to research and commemorate the events which took place in June 1944.
In the months of planning ahead of the exercise, the participants immersed themselves in the history of D-Day, retracing the footsteps of those who fought in northern France. Armed with this research, they assessed how the events fitted into modern UK military operations and explored the military tactics used during the Normandy campaign to gain insight into the strategies used by UK forces then and today. For the trip, they were led and informed by MACR Tom Lee, an experienced Staff Ride facilitator based at RAF Brize Norton, who brought a wealth of knowledge and insight to the visit.
AS1 Jack Pritchard, 27, from Cwmbran is a driver in civilian life and with the RAF. His grandfather was part of the 3rd Infantry Division for the landings and he said:
“It’s an extremely humbling experience to stand where my grandfather landed on D-Day. To think that he was almost ten years younger than me at the time, it’s incredible really.”
AS1 Terence Cadogan, 38, from Cardiff had a remarkable connection to the D-Day landings. His company grew as a result of an engineering innovation from the Second World War much used in Normandy. He said:
“The firm I work for in Cardiff was heavily involved with these special combat bridges – Bailey Bridges. It was fascinating to see one used in the landings preserved here.”
An early director of Wales-based firm Mabey Bridge used parts from these temporary Bailey Bridges after the war and improved on them to expand his business of hiring temporary crossings around the world.
Among the operations they learned about were the daring airborne raid to take Pegasus Bridge and the harrowing attack on Omaha Beach famously depicted in the film, Saving Private Ryan.
The officer in charge of the expedition, Flight Lieutenant Jude Simpson said that everyone had found it an intense and emotional experience:
“The research everyone did uncovered some powerful stories. Hearing of the bravery showed here was truly humbling and reminded us of the huge sacrifices people made.”
Officer Commanding Number 614 Squadron, Wing Commander Olly Walker said that he was glad squadron members had the chance to learn about the D-Day landings where they happened.
“I’m thrilled that we’ve been able to visit the invasion beaches as a squadron and learn some big lessons about this great operation and how it fits with the UK military today. Those lessons will help them be better aviators who are proud of their heritage and mindful of the sacrifices of those who went before.”
The members of Number 614 Squadron in Cardiff come from a range of civilian jobs across Wales and the West Country and serve in roles as varied as driver, intelligence analyst, photographer and RAF Police.