Jim Wallwork: Decorated glider pilot who took part in D-Day and Operation Market Garden

 

Jim Wallwork was often described as the first allied serviceman to set foot on French soil on D-Day. It was a description that caused him some mirth since, after crash-landing his Horsa glider next to the Caen bridge 20 minutes into 6 June 1944, he was thrown head-first through the Perspex windscreen and hit French soil on his belly. Staff-Sergeant Wallwork, of the army's Glider Pilot Regiment, was flying the first of six Horsas carrying soldiers of D Company 2nd Battalion Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in Operation Deadstick to capture two key bridges.

Control of the Caen and Orne bridges was vital, to prevent Panzers from reaching the beaches where allied forces would land a few hours later but also to create a supply route for the 6th Airborne Division. Wallwork received the Distinguished Flying Medal for the daring operation, in which six gliders, each carrying around 30 soldiers, were towed by "tugs" – Halifax bombers – before breaking free and gliding to their targets under cover of darkness. "It was one of the most outstanding flying achievements of the war," said Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory.

Despite injuries to his head and knee, Wallwork dragged his co-pilot Sgt Johnnie Ainsworth from the wrecked cockpit and carried ammunition for the men of the Ox & Bucks, led by Major John Howard and with their faces blackened, as they stormed the Caen bridge and captured it within minutes. The bridge was later renamed Pegasus in honour of the Glider Pilot Regiment, whose emblem was the mythological winged horse and whose motto was Nihil est impossibilis (nothing is impossible). The Ranville bridge over the River Orne was renamed the Horsa bridge in memory of the gliders, built by Airspeed in Hampshire. The operation was immortalised in the 1962 film The Longest Day.

Wallwork, who emigrated to Canada after the war and spent the rest of his life there, always played down his role as first man on the ground on D-Day. "France was a very busy place that night," he said. "Our only claim to fame is not that we were the first to arrive, but that we were the first to fire a shot." Two of the men in the coup de main operation were killed and Wallwork's own injuries got worse as the adrenalin receded. "By daylight my legs had seized. I ended up at Ronkswood Hospital in Worcester."

But soon he was taking part in Operation Market Garden and flying another Horsa glider at Arnhem in September before wielding a rifle himself as an infantryman west of the Arnhem bridge. "We held one end of the bridge and the Germans held the other – and they wouldn't give up," he recalled. "Not too sporting of them."

The following March he took part in Operation Varsity, flying a bigger glider, a Hamilcar, to transport a 17-pounder anti-tank gun to troops crossing the Rhine in the final push to Berlin. Again, he found himself fighting on the ground before being ordered back home as the Germans retreated. "It was short, sharp and a good clean way to go to war," he recalled.

James Wallwork was born in Salford in 1919, the only child of Harold Wallwork, an artillery sergeant in the Great War, and Alice. He attended Salford Grammar School, where he was a useful rugby player and had the nickname "Handsome Jim". He joined the army as war clouds gathered: "You could smell it coming ... I joined the war to cover myself with glory, and medals and free beer for the duration, surrounded by adoring females."

By May 1942 he was training with the newly formed Glider Pilot Regiment, part of the army but trained by the RAF, not always an amicable arrangement. After training in North Africa he flew a commando-carrying glider behind enemy lines during Operation Husky, the allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, where bad weather and mistimed release by "tug pilots" led to the loss of almost a third of more than 130 British gliders, most of them into the sea. Wallwork narrowly reached his target, where he met heavy resistance: "Luckily, the Italians were rotten shots."

Back in England he began training at RAF Tarrant Rushton in Dorset for a secret mission. A few days before D-Day they were told their objectives, the two Normandy bridges. A Halifax bomber towed Horsa No 1 (nicknamed Lady Irene) from Tarrant Rushton at 22.45 hours on 5 June 1944, flown by Wallwork and Ainsworth. Behind them were 30 fighting men with blackened faces, including Major Howard. "Howard encouraged the men to sing so that none got airsick," Wallwork recalled. "It was a midnight crossing in a rugby dressing-room atmosphere with songs and jokes. At 6,000 feet, when we heard 'cast off' [from the tug], the singing stopped and that was when six Horsas tiptoed quietly into two little fields in Normandy and released 180 fighting men ... to give the German garrison the surprise of their lives. I could see it all, the river and the canal like strips of silver in the moonlight."

Wallwork hit the ground at 95mph and ploughed through barbed wire defences before the cockpit collapsed and the glider ended up on an embankment closer to the Caen bridge than he or the troops could have dreamed of. After the bridge was secured, Howard and his men held it until the arrival of Lord Lovat and his commandos, led across the bridge by his personal piper, Bill Millin. Wallwork helped, he said, to "liberate the first building in France" the local café whose owner Georges Gondrée appeared with glasses of champagne.

Wallwork attended several reunions at the Pegasus bridge, including 2004, when Prince Charles unveiled a replica Horsa at the site. Wallwork also donated his DFM to the D-Day museum there. "I thought it would be better in the museum than in the top drawer of my dresser under my socks."

Wallwork emigrated to Canada in 1957, where he became a salesman and later a livestock farmer. He died in hospital after falling ill last month.

James Harley Wallwork, glider pilot, salesman and livestock farmer: born Salford 21 October 1919: married 1945 Dorothy Colgate (two daughters, and one son deceased), 1977 Genevieve O'Donnell; died White Rock, British Columbia, Canada 24 January 2013.

Suggested Topics
News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people
News
people
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes