Huddersfield hero killed aged 24 on D-Day 'left off local war memorials'

Preparation ahead of the Grand Vigil, an event organized by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as part of the 80th D-Day anniversary commemorations
-Credit: (Image: Photo by Artur Widak/Anadolu via Getty Images)

A Huddersfield soldier who volunteered to fight with airborne forces was one of the first to be killed on D-Day, June 6, 1944, during the Allied invasion of German-occupied France.

Sadly, the name of Sergeant Eric Lightowler, 24, of Moldgreen, appears to be missing from local war memorials, according to historians with the Kirkheaton History Group.

Today, the 80th anniversary of the Normandy landings, the History Group has remembered Sgt Lightowler's brave deeds that day.

Read more: Yorkshire town at the centre of a 'forgotten massacre'

Born in 1920 he was the son of Albert and Edith Lightowler, of Moldgreen, Huddersfield. He enlisted in the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (The West Riding) and then volunteered for the airborne forces. He spent many weeks training to be a pilot, first in powered craft and then in gliders which could either carry up to 28 troops or, as an alternative, heavy equipment and fewer soldiers.

On June 6, Sgt Lightowler was co-pilot in one of more than 600 Horsa gliders used to carry the British 6th Airborne Division into Normandy. The pilot was Staff Sergeant John Brabham. The glider had on board a bulldozer and five Royal Engineers.

Disaster struck as they approached the French coast and the towrope broke between the glider and the aircraft pulling it along. It was forced to ditch in the sea around a mile offshore. Three of the engineers survived.

One, Sapper Ronald Howard, later explained what he saw. He said: "We came down in the sea ….. about one mile from the French coast ….. The pilot we never saw. The co-pilot (Eric Lightowler) was wounded and drowned almost immediately.

Sgt Eric Lightowler of Huddersfield was killed in action on 6 June 1944, aged 24 -Credit:Kirkheaton History Group
Sgt Eric Lightowler of Huddersfield was killed in action on 6 June 1944, aged 24 -Credit:Kirkheaton History Group

"The rest of us straddled the fuselage. The sea was very rough, and the glider broke up completely in five minutes. As each wave came along, we had a job to keep together. We missed Sapper Powell and Driver Gibbons after the first five minutes. Neither of them could swim and they didn’t have life jackets. That left three of us clinging to the tailpiece, which went down a few minutes later. We managed to get ashore and, as it was daylight, ‘Jerry’ saw us and took us all prisoners."

The bodies of Roydon Powell and Ellis Gibbons were never found, while those of John Brabham and Eric Lightowler were washed onto the beach. Eric Lightowler was buried at Villers-sur-Mer but was later re-interred in Ranville Cemetery in October 1945. His brother, Geoffrey, landed with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment on the Normandy beaches a few days after D-Day. He later learned his brother had been killed in action.

Sgt Lightowler was one of hundreds of men from across Yorkshire who were killed, injured or captured during the Normandy campaign.

Source: Operation Tonga - The Glider Assault: 6th June 1944 by Kevin Shannon and Stephen Wright. The Kirkheaton History Group website can be found here.

FILE - American soldiers and supplies arrive on the shore of the French coast of German-occupied Normandy during the Allied D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944 in World War II.
File photo of Allied soldiers and supplies arrive on the shore of German-occupied Normandy during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944 -Credit:AP Photo, File

Get all the latest and breaking Huddersfield news straight to your inbox by signing up to our daily newsletter here.