D-Day: Pond provided an unhappy landing for glider pilot: Will Bennett reports on the bravery of one early casualty of the invasion

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The silence was intense as Geoff Barkway flew his glider down towards the tiny landing zone next to Pegasus Bridge. D- Day was just 15 minutes old and he was among the first Allied troops to land in France.

The Horsa glider hit the ground with an almighty crash at 60mph, the nose of the wooden fuselage collapsing around the two pilots and the tail swinging round as it careered into a pond.

The impact knocked Mr Barkway, then a Staff Sergeant in the Glider Pilot Regiment, semi-conscious and killed one of the 29 soldiers, mainly men of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, travelling in the aircraft.

Mr Barkway, 72, a retired engineer with London Underground from Great Bookham, near Leatherhead, Surrey, said: 'The pond was not shown on the map and was about six feet deep. I was under water and frankly I didn't think I had much of a future.'

As the assault troops captured what is now called Pegasus Bridge at Benouville securing a crucial link between British paratroopers and the landing on Sword beach, Mr Barkway helped his co-pilot Sergeant Peter Boyle out of the wreckage.

He said: 'Somehow we must have wallowed or crawled around the outside of the glider. I was woozy with concussion and when I was challenged I did not identify myself properly and I was not quick enough to dodge the bullet.'

To this day he does not know whether it was a British soldier or a German who shot him in the wrist, almost severing his arm, in the darkness and confusion as he became one of the first Allied casualties of D-Day.

Four days later his right arm was amputated just below the shoulder because of gangrene. Mr Barkway was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for his bravery and the remarkable precision of the landing.

He was told three days before D-Day that his would be one of three gliders to land at Pegasus Bridge. The Horsas, 67ft long with a wingspan of 88ft, were released six miles from the bridge by their towing planes.

He said: 'The landing zone was a triangular field about half the size of a football pitch into which we had to get three gliders. It was a bit tight but we could not say 'well actually I would rather not do it'.

'Just before D-Day holes appeared in the landing field and it was thought that these might be for either anti-glider poles or mines. Our superiors said that they didn't know which but it didn't matter because we were going anyway. In the event neither was there.

'If you came to me now and said 'I want you to take this wooden aircraft with no engine, fly it six miles and land it in a field half the size of a football pitch in the dark' I would tell you to get lost. But we did it then.'

(Photograph omitted)