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First national event to commemorate 60th anniversary of the ending of World War II
Published Thursday 24th March 2005
Former enemies stood side by side during a service of remembrance commemorating the 60th anniversary of 'Operation Varsity' the allied crossing of the Rhine. Pictured is Josef Bunder (76) of the Kampfgruppe K German infantry alongside British Veteran Paras at Hamminkeln railway station site of the fiercest fighting. 130 veterans from all over Great Britain are currently in Germany to commemorate what has been described as the most successful airborne operation and the last major offensive in Europe, involving some million men, before the surrender of Germany. Services at the Reichswald and Groesbeek war cemeteries took place on 24th March 2005 attended by the Veterans' Minister, Ivor Caplin MP.
A view of the Reichswald Forest Cemetary in Germany where some 8000 British and Allied servicemen lay buried. To mark the 60th anniversary of the Rhine crossing a service of remembrance took place on 24th March 2005 attended by the Veterans' Minister, Ivor Caplin MP, and 130 British veterans supported by the Parachute Regiment and their band.
The first of the national events to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War 2 was held at Royal Air Force Shawbury in North Shropshire on 20 March 2005.
500 civilians and Servicemen, including several former wartime assault glider pilots and airborne soldiers commemorated Operation VARSITY, the biggest and most successful airborne operation ever at a service held in a hangar containing a replica Horsa glider and a restored Dakota.
The commemoration was one of the largest ever held on the base. The RAF Chaplain-in-Chief, the Venerable Ron Hesketh, officiated at the 45-minute commemorative service which began at 1100 hrs.
There was a fly-past by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Dakota and a display by pipers and a military salute. Dakotas were used to tow the gliders into battle zones. Among the senior guests attending was the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, the son of Field Marshall Montgomery (Monty) of Alamein.
Operation VARSITY, the last major airborne assault before the end of the War took place on 24 March 1945 on the River Rhine in the Hammenkeln area using assault gliders. Although a large number of assault gliders were used on D-Day and at Arnhem in 1944, Operation VARSITY was unique in that a significant number of Horsa glider pilots were RAF aircrew who had been drafted in to make up the number of Army pilots lost in action at Arnhem.
The purpose of Operation VARSITY was to land 14,000 men of the British 6th and American 17th airborne divisions on the German–held east bank of the River Rhine, on an area five to ten miles wide and five miles deep. The task was to suppress German artillery and small arms fire from opposing 21st Army groups crossing of the river, which was a quarter mile wide at this point.
Each glider was given the task of landing right on top of its specific objective. 392 Horsa gliders and 14 Hamilcar gliders were used in this operation. Many of the Horsa gliders were flown by Royal Air Force pilots attached to the Army Glider Pilot Regiment.
Significantly, 60% of glider pilot casualties on VARSITY were RAF pilots.
Following the service held in one of the base's hangars, was a lunch for guests, a display by pipers, a fly-past and a military salute. Also on display were the Assault Glider Trust's three aircraft which are being prepared as public exhibits in the West Midlands:
The majority of the 3500 Horsa gliders constructed between 1942 and 1945 were built in Birmingham. Many were assembled and test-flown at West Midlands airfields including RAF Shawbury.
The Ministry of Defence is holding a series of events commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the ending of World War hostilities in Europe and the Far East. World War 2 in particular involved more countries than any other conflict in history and resulted in millions of deaths around the World and the events this year will honour veterans of modern as well as older conflicts.
Their efforts and sacrifice has resulted in a more peaceful and settled future for subsequent generations. The MOD is the lead government department for a series of events in the Capital, including a unique "Veterans Awareness Week" (VAW) to be held in St James Park from the 4th-10th July 2005 and alongside a "Living Museum" (LM) to attract young and old to join in the commemoration activities. Each evening, from Sunday 3rd July 2005, Buckingham Palace will be the spectacular backdrop for projected wartime scenes.
The first commemorative event to be held in the Capital will be on Sunday 8th May 2005 in Whitehall, when a Memorial Service and a wreath-laying will be held at the Cenotaph marking VE Day - the end of war in Europe.
9th July 2005 sees an unveiling in Whitehall by Her Majesty The Queen of the Monument to the Women of World War 2 and on the 10th July 2005, National Commemoration Day, a service will take place in Westminster Abbey attended by Her Majesty The Queen.
National Commemoration Day will include a lunch for veterans at Buckingham Palace and a Ceremonial event in Horseguards Parade including a flypast by wartime and modern aircraft.
VJ Day – the end of the war in the Far East – will be commemorated on the 21st August 2005 with a Memorial Service at the Cenotaph and the commemorations will draw to a close on 18th September 2005 when a Battle of Britain Monument is unveiled on the Embankment.
See the WWII 60th Anniversary Commemorations website for more details and the Ticket Application Form and full details of these events from May to September are also available on the Vetarans Agency National Events Calendar.
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