Magnificent men and flying machines

The Daedalus D-Day 70th flight over Portsmouth Harbour. Picture: Lee Flying Association.

The Daedalus D-Day 70th flight over Portsmouth Harbour. Picture: Lee Flying Association.

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No doubt you will all remember the 70th anniversary of D-Day in June.

One June 4 there was a fly-past of eight (DC3/C-47/LI-2) Dakota aircraft, from eight countries including America, Finland and Hungary.

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The Memorial Airborne Invasion Dakota formation took off from Daedalus aerodrome at Lee-on-the-Solent and flew north to pass over Southwick House, the D-Day headquarters, then south over Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight and across the Channel to Normandy.

There the planned drop by 100 parachutists at Carentan had to be postponed because of high winds, but the crowds were thrilled by the fly-past of the largest Dakota formation seen in Europe for many years. Nine more Dakota para-dropping flights were completed across Normandy between June 5 and 8 with more than 650 individual jumps made.

The cross-channel invasion flight had been preceded on the evening of June 3 by a public seafront D-Day 70th Memorial Service organised by Pat Prior of the Royal British Legion’s Lee branch.

The service was followed by a memorial flypast organised by Lee Flying Association which included the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Lancaster and Dakota, and two Spitfires led by a P51 Mustang.

Those three aircraft represented the RAF, Fleet Air Arm, Royal Canadian Air Force and United States Navy – Spitfires, Seafires and Mustangs that flew 435 missions over Normandy from Daedalus on D-Day.

Closing the Flypast was a poppy-drop from a Dakota which had flown from America to take part, led by a Beech Expeditor in Fleet Air Arm colours as flown at Daedalus in 1944.

The whole event was organised by the LFA led by Jon Butts, the chairman of the Daedalus D-Day 70th Airmen & Airborne Commemoration.

His second-in-command was Lt-Cdr Geoffrey Pell who was in command before the Royal Navy withdrew leaving the aerodrome in civilian use.

There were also 80 air and ground crew plus 100 parachutists from the Round Canopy parachute team from all over the world, including New Zealand, who needed accommodation on June 2 and 3.

They were put up by local people who had offered up to 250 beds for each of those nights. This was a major accomplishment for the team led by Jock Thompson and Stuart Ashworth of Lee-on-the-Solent Residents’ Association.

The LFA was the prime sponsor of the commemoration and, with help of members and Kirsty Thompson, raised the additional funds and goods in kind required from local companies.

One woman donated £500 to the fund as her late father-in-law was Vice Admiral Richard Bell-Davies VC. He died in 1966 aged 79 at Haslar Naval Hospital.

It was a fantastic feat of organisation and the LFA, aerodrome and local community did itself proud.

At the end of accounting there was a surplus of £1,895 which was increased to £1,944.66 and donated to the Royal British Legion.

A presentation took place last Saturday at the LFA headquarters, a D-Day Seafire hangar at the aerodrome. Guests of honour including veterans Tony Mullins, a Seafire engineer at Daedalus on D-Day, Sylvia Bell, a VAD Nurse at RN Hospital Haslar on D-Day and, Maurice Bell a parachutist who served in the Far East from 1941.

Eagle European Aviation flew Mr Bell and D-Day 70th volunteers on a local flight in their Cessna 421 Golden Eagle, and Maurice had no need of a parachute on this occasion.

In the main picture we see the Daedalus D-Day 70th flight over Portsmouth Harbour on June 2, 2014. The bi-plane is a Beech Traveller flown by the Royal Navy in the Second World War as one of 50 communications aircraft loaned by the United States.

It moved key naval personnel and orders around the UK in the run-up to D-Day and beyond.

The middle aircraft is a Beech Expeditor in Royal Navy ‘Admiral’s Barge’ colours. This was a key aircraft used for moving RN top brass to and from HMS Daedalus, the home of the Fleet Air Arm.

The third aircraft is a C-47 Dakota, and this aircraft is a D-Day veteran. It flew a parachute-dropping mission on D-Day (and further missions in June 1944). The owner had the aircraft flown from Oxford, Connecticut, to participate in the 70th anniversary commemorations.

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