100-year-old British paratrooper recalls pre-D-Day silence and tension in Normandy

D-Day Veteran Peter Belcher at Broughton House in Salford
-Credit: (Image: Peter Byrne/PA)

A former British paratrooper recalls the wait for the D-Day invasion after flying in on a glider.

Corporal Peter Belcher, now aged 100, and his colleagues from the Airborne Regiment, 4th Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry were flown in on gliders to capture vital bridges ahead of the seaborne invasion.

As the D-Day invasion was being prepared, Corporal Peter Belcher and his unit had already touched ground in Normandy.

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Departing RAF Harwell in Berkshire at around 8pm on June 5, 1944, he recalls sitting in the back of the glider with five colleagues, accompanied by a six-pounder anti-tank gun, as they circled over England before finally landing in Normandy near midnight.

Speaking to the PA news agency at Broughton House veterans' care home in Salford, Greater Manchester, Mr Belcher said: "I was scared. It goes very quiet. You hear the drone of the plane all the way, you see, and then suddenly it goes quiet. You can hear a pin drop."

Mr Belcher was speaking ahead of the 80th anniversary of D-Day
Mr Belcher was speaking ahead of the 80th anniversary of D-Day -Credit:Peter Byrne/PA

Mr Belcher, who grew up in Wiltshire but moved to Manchester after the war, got to Normandy after the first arrivals and then had to "dig in".

He said: "Our job then was to keep low until we heard the guns from the sea at 4 o'clock in the morning."

He said between 4am and 6am they heard the gunfire from the beaches.

"Some of the shells come over amongst us," he said.

"We had casualties but nowhere near as great."

"When you go into action, the planners, even for the troops landed by the sea, allow 50% casualties. Half of you are going to be out of action, that's what they assess. That happened on the beaches, more so with the Americans on the beaches."

"I couldn't tell you how many casualties we had. We had the first one, but as a battalion on D-Day I don't think we had a lot, nowhere near expected."

The former paratrooper has been back to Normandy four times
The former paratrooper has been back to Normandy four times -Credit:Peter Byrne/PA

By the end of the day, soldiers had advanced from the French beaches to the bridges one of which was later renamed Pegasus Bridge in tribute to the operation.

Mr Belcher recalled: "A piper from the 51st Highland Division was leading them up. Then there was almost a battle between us and the 51st Highland Division because they put the Highland Division sign on the bridge and they hadn't been there! ".

The former paratrooper has returned to Normandy four times, the most recent being the 40th anniversary where he participated in a parachute re-enactment before meeting the late Queen.

Mr Belcher served in the same battalion as his elder brother, Sam, who was a sergeant major.

Both survived the war, continuing after D-Day to fight in the Battle of the Bulge the last significant German offensive and Operation Plunder to cross the Rhine.

He said: "We had 110 killed and 265 that were unfit to carry on in the two hours of landing. A lovely morning, the sun shining and they knew we were going."

When the war ended, Mr Belcher was on the Baltic coast and later went to a concentration camp where he saw bodies "piled up", and some survivors.

Asked if he felt proud of what he had done during the war, he said: "I've never thought of it that way at all really. We had a job to do."

"If you join the forces you're trained to fight and trained to kill. So you must expect some of you are going to be killed. My brother and I, we were lucky."

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