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Winged men

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Bénouville, site of Pegasus Bridge
Image: Normandie la memoire

Run to Pegasus

Project 65 will honour the memory of the men who captured the bridges on the Caen Canal and River Orne in the early morning hours of D-Day. A team of volunteers will leave Tarrant Rushton Airfield today and run 65 miles, arriving at Pegasus Bridge to celebrate the 65th anniversary of D-Day on June 6th.

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Pegasus Bridge / Image: Ballymena

On the night before D-Day

Bénouville was the scene of the first - and possibly most vital - battle of the Allied invasion of Europe on D-Day. From 12.15 am, a reinforced company of glider-borne troops from the 2nd Batt. Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, led by Major Reginald John Howard, landed around the bridge over the Caen Canal at Bénouville in three Horsa gliders and captured it from the Germans in a dramatic attack.

Control of this bridge was vital to the success of the whole Operation Overlord invasion, because it would be the route of any German counter-attack against the seaborne forces which were due to start landing a few hours later on Sword Beach.

At the same time, another Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire glider-borne force of sixty men captured the neighbouring bridge over the River Orne, about a quarter of a mile away, near Ranville. (Account taken from Wiki)

Champagne

Waking up to black masked troops running over the bridge and realizing they were British, M Gondrée who owned and lived in the Gondrée Café, rushed out to his garden to dig up 99 bottles of champagne and celebrate his liberation with the airborne forces.

Pegasus Bridge (renamed in honour of the Airborne's winged horse symbol) and the nearby Gondrée Café are known worldwide and are the scene of pilgrimages and commemoration ceremonies, particularly around June 6th.

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The taking of Pegasus Bridge is depicted in the movie The Longest Day. The role of Major Howard was played by Richard Todd, who actually participated in the real Allied defence of Pegasus Bridge, having been the 7th Parachute Battalion's Intelligence Officer on D-Day.

But how was it really?

This report hardly does justice to the deadliness of the fighting and the courage and energy of the men. Here is an account - Peter McCambridge's actions with "B" Company, 7th Parachute Battalion - that will give you an idea -

This NCO was one of the parachute troops who landed behind the German lines in Normandy on the night 5th/6th June 1944. During the fighting for Bénouville bridge on the 6th June, McCambridge's platoon was responsible for holding the village of Le Port. At one period his section became detached from the platoon and the fighting, which went on for 21 hours almost without pause, was particularly fierce.

McCambridge noticed that one house dominated the scene of the fighting. By skillful use of a smoke grenade and displaying the greatest dash he got his section across a road swept by Machine Gun fire and into the house. He used anti-tank grenades to smash open the garden gate and the door of the house. Once inside the house he was completely cut off from the rest of his company, who actually had withdrawn slightly, but he was in a dominating position and became the target for the enemy who greatly outnumbered his section and were surrounding him.

So well did he dispose his men however and so splendid was his leadership that he held this isolated house until the seaborne troops eventually entered the village from the other end, several hours later. At times the enemy were close enough to try and beat down the door by beating it with their rifle butts - McCambridge dealt with such attacks by having grenades dropped on them from the upper windows.

. . .the holding of this dominating house seriously weakened the enemy attacks and greatly assisted the battalion to carry out its job of holding the bridge.

On the 20th June at Bois de Bavent during a company attack, Sgt McCambridge, together with another NCO, saved the life of his platoon commander, who had been wounded and whose phosphorus bomb was burning in his pouch. Between them they extracted the burning bomb and dragged the officer to cover despite heavy and accurate mortar and Machine Gun fire.

McCambridge has shown himself throughout the three weeks continuous fighting to be a truly magnificent NCO. He is calm, cheerful and always reliable.

The account is taken from Peter's Distinguished Conduct Medal. He survived. Hundreds of thousands fought courageously and died. They all have our thanks and our dedication to the liberty for which they risked their lives.

Comments (4)

Derek Price:

Just read the account of Peter James McCambridge. He was my Grandfather and this is the first time I have read this detailed account. It is difficult to describe emotions after reading this but it is indeed true to say that this is definitely "Brits at their best"! Thanks.

paul denvir:

HI,
PETER McCAMBRIGE WAS MY GRANDFATHER, A MAN WHOM THE WHOLE FAMILY CIRCLE WAS AND STILL ARE VERY VERY PROUD OF WE STILL MISS HIM VERY DEEPLY AS HE WAS A HUGE INFLUENCE ON MY LIFE AS TOO IS MY GRANDMOTHER WHO WILL ALWAYS SPEAK HER MIND WHICH I RESPECT ALOT, HE WAS ALWAY CALM POLITE AND NEVER JUDGEMENTAL, TO OTHERS AND COULD ALWAYS SEE THE GOOD IN PEOPLE

David Fawke:

I am looking to trace knowledge of private David Fawke - my uncle. Who took part in the invasion of France in 6th June 1944

Andrew John Myers:

I'm very interested in what went on that night on D-Day as my father Robert Alan Myers landed in his glider from Tarant Rushton that night, he was RAC Para, I have been over there a few times to see were all this happend with intrigue, his glider landed at Renville, he has never spoke of it and has never been back since that time, I felt very humble being there and could understand what went on as ive also served in the RAC having done my full service and have worked here in Iraq for over 5 years now

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