Staff Sargeant James Wallwork & Daphne du MaurierSaturday, November 11, 2006
On the early hours of June 6, 1944 (0007 minutes after the invasion of Normandy had started) Staff Sargeant James Wallwork, glider pilot, cast off his Horsa glider from the Halifax bomber that was towing him. At that instant, the invasion had really begun. There were 156,000 men prepared to go into France that day, by air and by sea, British, Canadian and American, organized into some 12,000 companies. D Company's 160 men under the commmand of Major John Howard in 6 gliders (Number 1 was Wallwork's) led the way. It was the only company attacking as a completely independent unit. When Wallwork cast off, D Company was alone.
At 0016 Wallwork's No 1 (Irene) landed (a controlled crash) very near the Bénouville Bridge(later renamed, most famously, the Pegasus) on the Caen Canal. The crash sent Wallwork and his co-pilot, Staff Sargeant Ainsworth out of the cockpit, through the perspex canopy and into the ground. Wallwork was the first allied soldier on occupied French soil.
This magnificent performance and that of the other 5 Horsa gliders was praised by Air Vice Marshal Leigh-Mallory, commanding the Allied air forces on D-Day, as the greatest feat of flying of World War II.
When I called James Wallwork (British born but now a Canadian) yesterday he told me he was 87 and was getting ready to march today with the troops in Ladner. He will not be seeing this blog because his wife Genevieve has disconnected "the magic lantern" for 6 months.
In 1942 when Britain's first airborne troops were formed, the 1st Airborn Division, Daphne du Maurier, wife of the commander, Major-General F.M.A. 'Boy'Browning, suggested a maroon beret for the troops. Bellerophon was to be astride winged Pegasus as the airborne shoulder patch and symbol, pale blue on a maroon background. You can see Wallwork (above left) with his maroon beret as I photographed him in 2004. The other photograph is of Wallwork in London in 1943.