World War II pilot behind Glider Regiment memorial at Manchester Airport returns for 100th birthday
· Peter Davies was a Glider Pilot during WWII, and celebrates his 100th birthday today
· He helped raise funds for a dedicated memorial to his regiment in Manchester Airport’s onsite Memorial Garden
· Friends and family of Peter’s, including some airport colleagues, arranged a surprise visit for him
A World War II hero returned to Manchester Airport today for a surprise party to celebrate his 100th birthday.
Peter Davies, from Bollington in Cheshire, was a Glider Pilot during WWII, based at RAF Chilbolton in Hampshire. He flew Hamilcar Gliders, most notably as part of Operation Varsity (the largest airborne military assault ever launched) to gain a foothold across the River Rhine into Germany in March 1945. These gliders were amongst the largest aircraft produced at the time and were designed to carry heavy cargo, including tanks, and deposit them behind enemy lines. Peter's glider was hit several times and crash-landed, but remarkably he made it out.
RAF Ringway, the name given to Manchester Airport during WWII, was a key training school for the Airborne Forces, and was the location of the first military glider trials in 1940 – the success of which led to the founding of Peter’s regiment.
Many years later, after relocating to the North West, Peter helped raise funds for a dedicated memorial to his regiment in Manchester Airport’s onsite Memorial Garden. The Glider Pilots’ Association set up a four-person committee, with Peter as the Treasurer, to raise funds and build the memorial – which was unveiled on 23 April 1997.
Peter, who turns 100 today, was given a guard of honour in the Memorial Garden by around a dozen veterans from across the North West, and by serving members of 653 Sqn Air Army Corps based at Middle Wallop, Hampshire, who had travelled up to Manchester especially for the event.
Airport Chaplain George Lane conducted a brief service, and wreaths were laid for friends Peter lost during the war, before the group moved to the Runway Visitor Park, where they held a surprise party for him.
Peter said: “It’s an unbelievable surprise, this must have been the best kept secret going. It has been wonderful to see so many faces here to wish me a happy birthday.”
Among those organising the celebrations was Kevin Hainey, a friend of Peter’s and the Head of Motor Transport at Manchester Airport, as well as being a decorated veteran himself.
He explained: “I have known Peter for 8 years; we meet each year in the Memorial Garden outside Olympic House at the airport, at the annual Service of Remembrance.
“With the momentous occasion of his 100th birthday approaching, we knew we needed to do something special for him, to celebrate a man who put his life on the line for his country all those years ago and to ensure that we gave him the chance to honour the friends he lost, which is very important to him. Their regimental motto was ‘Nothing Is Impossible’ and they proved that time and time again, but they paid a heavy price.”
Chris Woodroofe, Manchester Airport’s Managing Director, attended the service and laid a wreath in the Memorial Garden, and added: “It was a privilege to welcome Peter back to Manchester Airport today.
“The Glider Pilot Regiment, which traces its roots to RAF Ringway, made an indelible contribution during the war and sadly, the number of people who can personally remember their sacrifices is diminishing. However, thanks to Peter’s efforts in establishing a memorial here, they will never be forgotten.
“I’d like to thank all of his family and friends, many of whom are colleagues here at Manchester Airport, for organising his surprise visit, and most importantly I’d like to wish Peter a very happy birthday.”