- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Staff Sergeant John Free
- Location of story:
- Earlscolne, Nr Colchester and the Rhine
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 24 September 2004
Staff Sergeant John Free trained as a parachutist in 1942 and served in North Africa and Italy. In 1944 he transferred to the Glider Pilot Regiment of the Army Air Corps and trained as a glider pilot. He achieved the rank of staff sergeant and served with 'B' Squadron, No 1 Wing the Glider Pilot Regiment and took part in the crossing of the Rhine - Operation Varsity- the largest airborne assault ever on March 24th 1945.
Reveille was at 04.00 that morning and after an early breakfast and a great deal of preparation, the Squadron took off at 07.30. On board his glider, Staff Sergeant Free carried a jeep and trailer, a heavy motorcycle, miscellaneous wireless equipment and seven personnel from the Royal Corps of Signals. The trip took 2 and a half hours and the glider landed at Hammelkin on the Rhine in Germany at almost exactly 10 o'clock. There was a good deal of enemy opposition as they landed, consisting of Ack-ack guns and small arms fire. Nevertheless, the glider landed intact and personnel and equipment were evacuated safely, finding themselves in the thick of fighting that went on for the rest of the morning. Initial opposition was dealt with fairly swiftly and troops rendezvoused at Hammelkin Village and dug in expecting some form of counter attack. However, the remnants of the German troops in the area withdrew past the task force during the night. They could be heard talking as they retreated.
At this point, the operational involvement of the glider pilot regiment was officially finished and Staff Sergeant Free and his colleagues were transported to Eindhoven airfield in Holland from where they flew home with R.A.F.Transport Command. Their gliders were of course left on the Rhine plain. The soldiers from the 6th Airborne Division whom they had transported went on into Germany engaged in continuous fighting until they met up with their Russian allies. In total, 100 Army and RAF Glider pilots were killed on this operation and Staff Sergeant Free counts himself a very lucky man to have survived.
Staff Sergeant Free is still living in Cambridge today.
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