100-year-old North Wales war veteran tells of flying 'mosquito made of plywood' gliders used for D-Day

A 100-year-old North Wales war veteran has told of his experience flying "mosquito made of plywood." gliders, used for the D-Day landings - which is celebrating it 80th anniversary on June 5 and 6..

Brian Latham is one of two surviving members of the Second World War Glider Pilot Regiment (GPR) who stressed the importance of the wooden aircraft on D-Day, who said “it couldn’t have been done another way”.

Gliders, used to transport troops and supplies, were towed by bombers over northern France before gliding into the landing zone in Normandy, reports PA.

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Soldiers were then able to capture bridges over the river and canal at Benouville, hampering the movement of enemy troops and allowing Allied forces to press forward from the beaches. The GPR has said it is not aware of any surviving members of the unit who were involved on June 6 1944.

Mr Latham, of Llandudno - who is now able to hear again thanks to hearing aids under a Give Back programme open to all available from Hidden Hearing - flew a glider carrying troops and supplies into Germany during Operation Varsity, just a few weeks before VE Day.

He said of the glider: “It was a very useful thing towards the end of the war and it was vital on D-Day, the gliders landed ahead of the troops and they took various important things like the Pegasus Bridge. They lost a hell of a lot of people, I do know that.”

Asked what it was like to fly, he went on: “It was quite an experience, there was no soaring, you just went straight down. It was like a mosquito made of plywood.”

Peter Davies, 101, of Bollington in Cheshire, flew a Hamilcar glider as part of Operation Varsity, which targeted the Rhine in Germany in 1945.

He said of the glider: “It’s very different from flying a powered aircraft because once you’re towed and you’re committed there’s only one way, and that’s down, it’s like flying a brick.

“It’s a question of making a lot of judgments, I suppose. it was just the job, you didn’t think about it, it was how you did it. When you landed, you had 30 men around you, unlike parachutists who were spread all over the place.

“It meant the unit was a unit. How would you get a tank or 17-pounder gun on the ground? By putting them in a bloody big aircraft.

“It just so happens that the glider didn’t have any engines, but we probably carried more troops than ever jumped out of an aeroplane.”

However, Mr Davies said he would be “amazed” if the glider was mentioned as part of the D-Day news coverage, saying “we’re all old men now”.

He went on: “The guys who flew the coup-de-main and took the bridges, it couldn’t have been done any other way, that couldn’t have been done by parachuters.

“In one case there was three gliders all landing within 50 metres of the bridge, that was the epitome of navigation, timing and skill.

“These guys spent hours practising and flying certain compass headings for so long… without the bridge being taken that flank of the landing zones would have been vulnerable.”

In 1952, shortly after the death of King George VI, the Glider Pilot Regiment were given the very important task of transporting the luggage belonging to the young Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Phillip, along with all the staff who had accompanied them on their trip to Kenya.

The new Queen had just learnt of the sad passing of her father, making her heir to the throne at the age of just 25.

The 3000+ mile trip from Kenya to London took over 20 hours in those days, with many fuel stops. Mr Latham remembers the pilot dropping down to 500ft as they flew over the African plains and seeing a pink sea of flamingos and many other game – saying it was like being on a private safari.

They landed back in London, and went for a nice meal before travelling back to their base in Topcliffe, Yorkshire. Mr Latham remembers receiving a thank-you letter from Queen Elizabeth II, which he thought was a lovely gesture.

However after being around noisy aircraft for such a significant part of his life, Mr Latham has ‘Shackleton ear’ – noise-induced hearing loss named after the Avro Shackleton which was a patrol aircraft used by the Royal Air Force.

Mr Latham receives a war pension as a result of the damage caused to his hearing. Although he wore standard hearing aids from the NHS for many years, he just couldn’t get on with them.

Mr Latham says that looking after your ears and hearing health is essential; you can miss out on so much and people often think you are not listening to them or ignoring them, he said.

After being booked in for a free hearing test at Hidden Hearing’s Llandudno clinic, Mr Latham was delighted to be fitted his new hearing Oticon hearing aids by local audiologist Harvey Shaw.

He thinks they are amazing and look very smart and can’t wait to join in the D-Day 80 Celebrations knowing he won’t miss a thing this year.

Finally, when asked what his secret is to living a long and healthy life, Mr Latham said he remembers his father telling him not to smoke, and he has never once picked up a cigarette in his life. He also believes keeping fit during his time in the RAF has helped him live a long and rewarding life.

Family members of glider pilots involved in the D-Day operation are to visit Normandy.

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