Mr. Wallwork speaking after Saturday Night's Awards Dinner
British glider pilot Jim Wallwork was among the first allied troops to land in Normandy France on June 6, 1944, D-Day.
A few minutes after midnight, Walwork's Horsa glider, manned with 30 light infantry troops silently touched down just feet away from its objective -- Pegasus Bridge. The orders wre unequivocal: seize Pegasus Bridge and "hold until relieved." Upon landing, the light infantry men (the "Oxfs. & Bucks") quickly disembarked the aircraft and charged the bridge. Within minutes, the objective had been secured.
Wallwork's glider was the first to touch down. Due to his immense skill -- and that of navigator Staff Sgt. John Ainsworth -- the assault force was able to surprise the Germans and achieve the objectiove. But the landing took its toll on Wallwork. "I went through the nose of the glider," Wallwork said. "They thought I had lost an eye, but I was just damaged a bit." In this particular operation, which included seizing two bridges spanning the Orne River and Caen Canal, Glider pilots were designed as noncombatants. The operation's commander, Major John Howard, informed the pilots that if he could not use them to fight they had better make themselves useful by carrying ammunition - an equally dangerous task. Apart from Wallwork's landing mishap, he made it through the oepration relatively unscathed. Had Wallwork run into bad luck, he might have been saved by chit supplied to him and the other glider pilots. "We all got a chit signed by God - who in those days was known as Bernard Montgomery." Howard quipped. "It said 'This chit belongs to a British glider pilot. Please do all you can to return him safely to the United Kingdom.'"
After Normandy, Howard's next big operation was the ill-fated Arnhem Bridge assault in September of 1944 - part of Operation Market Garden. Unlike the Pegasus Bridge assault, in this operation Wallwork and his fellow glider pilots joined the infantry men the second they touched down. Due to heavy concentrations of anti-aircraft guns near Arnhem Bridge, the operation's planes directed the gliders to land several miles from the objective. "We walked three or five miles," Wallwork said. "And the opposition was much greater than we thought. We were kept in the dark about the German panzers." After arriving at the bridge, the assault team realized just how bad their situation was. "We held one end of the bridge and the Germans held the other - and they wouldn't give it up," Wallwork said. "Not too sporting of them." The British were driven back, but Wallwork lived to fight another day. His final glider assault occurred on March of 1945 when he flew his planet across the Rhine River into Germany. At war's end, Staff Sgt. Wallwork had served many years in the Army. He had enlisted in August of 1939 and joined the Glider Regiment when it was formed in 1942. His first glider assault was in Sicily, giving him a total of four missions.
In 1957, Wallwork moved to Canada where he still lives with his wife of 20 years.
Last year, Wallwork returned to Pegasus Bridge for the commemoration of a museum dedicated to his famous assault. Officiating was Britain's Prince Charles, who was delighted when Wallwork donated the Distinguished Flying Medal he received for his role in Operation. "I thought it would be better in the museum than in the top drawer of my dresser under my socks," Wallwork said.
Today - 57 years after Wallwork's historic assualt on Pegasus Bridge - he is a popular speaker at various events. John Howard often joined him at these speaking engagements until his death on May 5th. Wherever Wallwork speaks, he tried to set the record straight on one important point. "When John Howard and I spoke, we were often announced as the first people to land in Normandy," Wallwork said. "This isn't true. That night there were all sorts of people landing -- the Army was dropping in to give instructions to the underground. The Navy was tossing about on the beaches. Normandy was very active. The only claim we have is that we landed in the first minutes after midnight. We started the fighting - and everyone else carried on."
|Mr. Wallwork with a picture of his first wife in her wedding dress. The material used to make the dress was from a spare parachute respectively removed by Mr. Wallwork from a dead American GI during WWII. The wedding dress was then recut to make a christianing gown, which each of Mr. Wallwork's children and grandchildren have worn. Mr. Wallwork retold the story to the convention attendees in honor of the dead American.|