D-Day memorial to be held to one of our greatest heroes, Major John Howard

The Oxford Times: Derek Chivers lays wreath at grave of cousin Major John Howard Derek Chivers lays wreath at grave of cousin Major John Howard

One of Britain's greatest war heroes, Major John Howard, who lead the daring raid to capture Pegasus Bridge on D-Day, is being remembered this morning at a wreath-laying ceremony.

About 70 people including war veterans, family members and children from the local primary school have gathered for the service. 

Among the veterans gathered at the ceremony was Sam Langford, 91, from Didcot. Mr Longford was in the 5th Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment, when he landed on Juno Beach on D-Day.

He said: "What they achieved at Pegasus Bridge was wonderful. Afterwards I was with Major Howard in the Oxs & Bucks and he was my commander. I am very glad that I could make it here today."

He was joined by Bob Halliday, 94, from Didcot, who was in the Royal Engineers when he took part in the D-Day landings and was among troops who arrived at Sword Beach. The former Sapper said he was delighted to join fellow veterans at today's ceremony at the graveside of Major Howard.

He added: "I met Major Howard - and I met Monty too."

Derek Chivers, 80, from Sonning Common, is the cousin of Major Howard, and laid the wreath at the Major's grave during the service, which was attended by about 100 people including veterans, and a class of pupils aged 10 and 11 from Clifton Hampden Primary School.

Mr Chivers said: "I feel very honoured to have been chosen to do this and the whole family is delighted that this fitting tribute is happening on the 70th anniversary of D-Day."

Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Lawrence, 82, from Iffley, who was in the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry and the Royal Green Jackets, said: "I knew Major Howard - he was a great leader."

"It's a very fitting tribute here today as he commanded the unit which took the bridges over the Caen Canal and Orne."

"It was done silently in gliders and mostly they landed exactly where they should have been.

"They took the bridges with almost not a shot fired. His DSO was well-deserved."

During the service, Major Terry Roper, chairman of the Royal Green Jackets Association, Oxford Branch, received a text message from General Sir Robert Pascoe, the former Commander of the Royal Green Jackets, which said: "We have honoured John Howard and his heroic comrades at Pegasus Bridge.

"We salute you who are gathered likewise at his final resting place."

Major Howard's daughter, Penny Howard Bates, also signed the text as she is attending the commemoration in Normandy. Mrs Howard bates recently travelled from her home in Devon with her husband George and brother Terry to clean and renovate the lettering on her parents' gravestone.

The ceremony in Clifton Hampden near Abingdon has been organised by Oxford Branch of the Royal Green Jackets Association, to honour Major John Howard, who died aged 86 in 1999.

Commanding the 6th Airborne Division of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, Major Howard captured vital river-crossings of the Orne and Caen canal, which prevented German troops heading to the Normandy beaches.

Major Howard retired to Burcot, near Abingdon, after the war with his wife, Joy, and the ceremony will take place at his graveside at St Michael's and All Angels' Church, in Clifton Hampden.

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