ON his 22nd birthday, Staff Sergeant Laurie Weeden landed a glider with 30 troops on board into France under the cover of nightfall ready to fight on D-Day.
The pilots and troops on board the six gliders were tasked with attacking a number of bridges in the early hours of June 6, 1944, to prevent German troops moving in to attack the British who were landing by air and sea.
Seventy-five years later and at the age of 96, Sgt Weeden paid tribute to his comrades at the memorial wall at The D-Day Story museum in Southsea and shared his story with The News about entering France via a plane with no engine.
He said: ‘Machine gun fire passed just in front of us, I don’t know whether that was bad aim or the aircraft had hidden us.
‘But we came out of the cloud and the skipper of the tug plane who we were in telephone communication with the tug said there it is and down there on the left was this pond.
‘The radio operator in the tug came on the blower and wished me a happy birthday.’
Sgt Weeden had been in the army since 1939 and despite being only 22 at the time of D-Day he says the army made him ‘mature fairly quickly’ in order to deal with what was happening.
He said: ‘That night we were apprehensive certainly but it wasn’t for us to be scared it was for the passengers in the gliders. We had something to do which made all the difference.’
Sgt Weeden also spoke about the 50th anniversary for D-Day and remembers meeting the Queen, American President Bill Clinton and prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
Although he won’t be attending the D-Day 75 celebrations in Portsmouth, Sgt Weeden is pleased his fellow troops are being honoured.
He said: ‘Unfortunately I can’t travel down on the day but my son is taking me for lunch for my 97th birthday and I will mark it on my own.
‘It does feel like 75 years ago as it was very long time ago now but I think it is very nice that so many people will be here to mark what happened so many years later.’
Ahead of Sgt Weeden’s glider was Staff Sergeant Geoffrey Barkway DFM who was part of the Pegasus Bridge operation.
His daughter Jane Barkway Harney had a brick placed on The D-Day Story memorial wall to mark her dad’s contributions.
She said: ‘My dad was also 22 when took part in D-Day as part of the Glider Pilot Regiment. As a child I had really no idea what he did, to us he was just dad but he was incredibly brave and landed a glider with no engine or navigating system to a tiny patch of ground in enemy territory.
‘It wasn’t until the 40th anniversary that we realised what dad had done. I am massively proud of him.’
Sgt Barkway passed away in 2006 after an infection following knee surgery.
Jane added: ‘After everything he did it was a hospital infection that saw him away. He had a wicked sense of humour and was a great dad. It is great to honour him at the memorial wall and I go to the Normandy commemorations every year.’